By Eric Harris Pavony
"No matter how big he got he always remembered how important the people around him were, and that meant a lot."
It’s a Thursday afternoon at Indian Larry Enterprises, the garage is open and the sounds of the world’s greatest motorcycles being built drift down North 14th Street, merging with the rest of Williamsburg’s industrial noise. The East River is calm and somber, like the workers in the shop, who seem to be moving without knowing why, lost in the beauty of their bikes. Indian Larry is gone.
He died doing what he loved, but that’s because he lived it, everyday. Standing on top of “Grease Monkey” his favorite bike, riding fast with his arms spread wide, his hair in the wind; that was happiness. Unfortunately, while performing this stunt at a bike rally in North Carolina on August 28th, in front of 8,000 elated fans, the bike began to shake and he fell. He sustained a serious head injury and later passed away after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.
Larry was real, a man of many trades, but every one as genuine and selfless as the next. He was the biker, the artist, and the performer, revered and loved as each, remembered and celebrated for all.
Larry’s shop, which hugs the water and overlooks the Manhattan skyline, is filled with everything and everyone he adored. The crew at the shop continues working not even a month after his fatal accident, building bikes and packing boxes with shirts and photographs for his fans.
“We will keep it going,” says Larry’s manager, Elisa Seeger, as she tenderly recalls her friend while sitting beside an array of bikes that bear his name and his spirit. “We hope everything and everyone will keep on going. We owe it to Larry. He loved everything about what he did, the building, the riding, the art, as well as the celebrity. It was all so natural to him; he was so good at it.”
The shop felt empty, although it looked as full as ever with remnants of a recent tribute to Larry that found whatever space was left amongst the motorcycles and metal parts.
“Larry really enjoyed having an annual block party outside of the shop,” Elisa said. “He wouldn’t have wanted us to have had a memorial anywhere else. He would have wanted us to celebrate his life and gather at the shop so his family, his friends, and the people that never met him but who he touched could see the bikes and feel close to him.” Elisa wasn’t surprised at the number of people that made their way to Larry’s shop; it was how they came to pay tribute to her friend that she found comforting.
“We knew that Larry had touched a lot of people and judging by the emails and letters, we knew there would be many people at the tribute. But they came from everywhere, and came on their bikes! Riding their bikes to Williamsburg was the best way to honor Larry; he would have really liked that.”
Paul Cox, Larry’s friend and building partner, shared seven different bike shops with Larry over the past twelve years. He was brushing and shaping one of his illustrious bike seats as he would on any other day. He talked of Larry while clutching the unfinished seat.
“He was an intense person. Good or bad, to Larry too much was never enough no matter what it was… He never tried to hide anything. He never had his guard up. He didn’t care if people knew his history, or what he was about, or what he was thinking.”
Paul continued working on the seat, retracing lines as he spoke.
“What stands out in my mind is that Larry would always make a point to tell people that he couldn’t do all ‘this’ without so-in-so and then he’d list a bunch of names. He never forgot to say that, and that shows the class of person he was. No matter how big he got he always remembered how important the people around him were, and that meant a lot.”
Paul, who lives in Williamsburg, looked forward to seeing Larry across the shop each day. He was inspired by him and shared similar ideas and bike concepts. Paul spoke with a respectful candor, while sitting at his work bench he remembered what Larry had taught him and laughed, as if he had learned something new right then.
“Larry constantly reinforced the idea that you realize at some point in life not that you don’t know it all, but that you know nothing. Realizing that you don’t know anything and questioning everything opens doors, it leads to learning from each other. Larry taught me that I know nothing,” he laughed, “I learned a lot from that you can say.” Paul resumed working on his seat.
Across the shop Keino Sasaki, Larry’s right hand man when it came to building, was hard at work on a bike that carried the question mark symbol, representing Larry’s constant quest for answers to all of life’s questions.
Keino lives on Driggs Avenue, a short stroll from the shop. He worked with Larry for the past four years, a time when Larry’s fame and national recognition soared after winning the Discovery Channel’s “Biker Build Off”, a show that brought not only Larry’s talent into the lives of other choppers and bike enthusiasts, but his personality and perspectives, which only bolstered the fact that they had found their rightful champion.
“I spent everyday with Larry,” Keino said. “When all of the TV shows, commercials, book deals and movie deals were happening he was always with me, he was by my side. I thought; was this really happening? Larry was getting bigger and bigger but he was still the same grease monkey, the same biker.” Keino paused and placed his hand on the bike. “It’s hard to believe he is gone. He was my master, my mentor, my boss. I didn’t realize until after he passed away that I looked at him as a father figure… I still feel like he is there. Like he is just gone doing a show, but will soon come back with a suntan and a happy smile.” Keino spoke softly. He remembered his days spent with Larry in the neighborhood.
“We used to eat at Kasia’s, a Polish place on Bedford Avenue. We would meet for breakfast. When I walk in now I know he won’t be there. If he was he would be sitting with a freshly squeezed glass of carrot juice and Eggs Benedict,” he grinned fondly.
Keino wore a greasy black t-shirt with the name “Indian Larry” across his chest, but that’s where the name was and always will be regardless of the t-shirt he puts on. Keino spoke with a sweet sadness in his voice. Larry was more than his boss, more than a teacher, more than a friend. Keino spoke of owing much of who he is to Larry. When asked what he had learned from Larry he responded with a grateful, big refreshing smile.
“Everything! Everything I am now I learned from Larry. Beyond bikes…life. I’m not going to try to be Larry, I will try to be like him and live like him, his attitude; his lifestyle. That’s what I can do.”
Keino said that Larry enjoyed his ten minute walk from the “L train” to the shop everyday; that he used that time to think. He thought about bikes, the projects he was working on, and the many questions that defined who he was. Whether or not those questions that spawned Larry’s adoration for the question mark symbol, which hangs outside his shop and adorns many of his bikes were answered, doesn’t matter. The answers that Larry’s family, his friends and his fans found in him, beyond bikes, equaled the sum of all of his life’s questions, and he would have been content knowing only that.
Brooklyn Is Old School
By Chris Ward, Indian Larry's friend and biographer
Brooklyn is old school. Where Manhattan is a melting pot of be’s and wannabees. Where Queens is desperately seeking suburbia, Staten Island seeking to leave, and the Bronx longing to rename itself “Yankeesburg”, Kings County sits alone in the city as the keeper of old New York. As such it made perfect sense that Indian Larry; “King of Customized Bikes” would set up his amazing shop in Williamsburg.
The Brooklyn terrain mirrored Larry’s life in an exquisite way. At his hipster coolest and most creative, finally living a bit large on the overnight success it took 40 years to get, he rode the “L train” every morning, in sweat pants and flip flops surrounded by the unsmiling 20-somethings with their manicured messiness who already marched to the beat of their own inner celebrity. They had no idea who he was, a reassuring response for Larry since he didn’t know who he was either. “I don’t know anything. I’m just a buffoon. That’s why my logo is a question mark, ‘cause I don’t know.”
He may not have known anything but Brooklyn knew where he had been. Brooklyn was there when he was a homeless junkie living on the streets and eating out of dumpsters somehow finding himself time and time again sleeping on a bed at the Bedford-Atlantic men’s shelter surrounded by crack-heads and the unforgettable stench of homelessness.
And Coney Island knew Larry. Coney Island was Larry. Coney Island, the broken down former amusement center of the universe that was a magnet for the lost arts and lost souls looking for God on a creaky wooden boardwalk, drew Larry to it in a spiritual way. To most of the world, Coney Island had died in a fire long ago. And to most of the world Larry had died too, engulfed in the flames of selfdestruction, for a long time he appeared a ghost of what was, and dead to the idea of what could be.
But Coney Island never did really die. And that lifeblood of creativity and spontaneity mixed with the death defying thrills and cyclone like spills never left. In Coney Island, Larry laid on a bed of nails and had blocks of ice broken on his chest with sledgehammers by beautiful girls. In Coney Island, he got out of strait jackets and into a marriage. A marriage to the luscious Bambi, The Mermaid. A Brooklyn marriage sealed by law, but more importantly sealed with a kiss at the top of the Wonder Wheel while the cheering throngs of assorted and distorted humanity looked on with a love that could only happen in Brooklyn.
Someone said, “Everything old is new again” and they must have been talking about Larry and Brooklyn. Because whether it’s an old school borough or one of Larry’s old school bikes, everything truly is, new again.
Chris Ward is currently writing a biography entitled “GREASE MONKEY, The Amazing Life of Indian Larry.”