Longform

LOWRIDER, HIGH HOPES

Page 5 of 6

"I'm in trouble," he says.
Morris checks it out. The misalignment is barely noticeable, but there it is. "I think you should enter, anyway," she says, stroking the frame like the mane of a fine thoroughbred. "You know, you learn something every show. I think it's a beautiful bike."

James kneels next to it, hands hard on his head, discouraged.
He gets up, parks Wicked just outside the door and returns to check on a model car he left with Tyler overnight for some custom upholstery work. People are coming in and out of the shop, parents, members of Seductive's bike club, kids just hanging out. Once James had plans for another bike, but it was stolen last summer: He stopped to play video games at a grocery store, some guys fed quarters into the machine for him, and when he went back outside, it was gone.

Wicked is his baby.
"I think I need to get me some new fenders," he says to himself.
He does not notice the kids hovering near the doorway.
"I want a bike nobody can hang with."
Too wrapped up in thought to realize what is happening.
"A real eye-catcher."

Outside, his fellow artists, the little Michelangelos, are buzzing over his custom mirrors.

His friend Steve Vasquez gave him the idea for the mirrors, but it was James who made it work. He is coy about how. The mirrors are regular mirrors, but black-and-white Aztec images stare back, like one of those messages pressed to the glass in a fortunetelling eight ball. The images blend in so well, it's hard to tell whether they're etched in there or planted illustrations or what.

But James Cano's mirrors have generated an uproar in these circles, so Morris lets James display them in a showcase alongside sissy-bar slipcovers and mini mud flaps and custom tire valves. James says he'll ask for $2 over the price of each mirror he customizes, if anybody decides to order one. It's like he's embarrassed to ask for more. The attention surprises him, and he tries hard to conceal his pleasure.

As time ticks down before the big show in Mesa, bike clubs hold weekend car washes up and down 43rd Avenue to fund last-minute work. Successful clubs demand serious attitudes, because taking a bike from frame to gem requires dedication, and they don't want to be embarrassed in a show. Members pay dues, and are expected to put in their share of labor at fund raisers. Some are so fussy about appearance that their bikes don't hit the streets without a bottle of Armor-All strapped to the seat.

James meets with members of his club, First Impressions, at a community center in Maryvale for sanding and bondo sessions. James' bike is the only one near done, and considering the time remaining, it's hard to believe any of the others will be soup by then.

"This is the biggest show," Steve says of the event. Witness the $25 entry fee. And the $200 prize. "You know, those big bikes, like Gold Rush, my bike can't pass them. But hopefully I'll get something."

Gold Rush, a gold-and-chrome masterpiece from Oxnard, California, is one of the badder bikes out there, one of the few to make the magazine as a centerfold pullout. Another is "Schwinnbad," a '66 Schwinn with scimitar forks cut from steel and a fantastic dragon-and-sorcerer mural that stretches from a broad tank at front to a bondoed sheet-metal section in back. "Field of Dreams," "Felix the Cat"--these are their Mona Lisas, their Rhapsodies in Blue.

One afternoon, the two friends admire similar artwork in the latest issue of the magazine.

"Check out that bondo."
"Nah, check out the handlebars."
"That looks like a Harley."

Sal Jacobo, one of Seductive's co-presidents, walks in with a bevy of kids attending an organizational club meeting at the store. He pulls something out of his pocket, a mirror he's designed, and shows it to Morris. "Look," he says. James watches without being obvious. The mirror is the same concept as his, except there's a color photograph of Jacobo's car in there.

"Hmmm," Morris says, nodding cryptically.
One of the kids goes: "You did that?"
Jacobo: "I draw good, huh?"

Tyler smiles wryly. Yet another idea that didn't belong to one person for very long.

James is out on the porch fixing a loose chain on his sister's bike when the phone rings. He drops his work, goes and answers the phone. It's Nancy Morris from Build-A-Bike.

"Oh, really?" he says after a moment. "Wow!"
Moments before, Morris tells him, a burly man and his two sons had come to Build-A-Bike for the second day in a row, and this time, dad is sure: He'd like to order a pair of mirrors, one for each of his boys. He's got one of the mirrors in his hand. That's some nice work right there, he says.

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Marc Ramirez