Monday, March 30, 2009

Motorcycles, bicyles, and balance

When I was 23 I was selling motorcycles parts to motorcycle gangs. I actually was a marketing consultant for International Motorcycles Incorporated whose main customers were Warlocks and Pagans. IMI was selling chrome parts, front end extensions, fancy sissy bars, comfortable leather seats--anything that was needed to convert an ordinary motorcycle into a chopper. IMI was a profitable business; the company only started to have problems when the government cracked down on what they considered unsafe vehicles. Choppers disappeared; so did our business.

The owners of the business were a psychiatrist and his son. The father had financed the business to keep his son out of trouble, which was nearly impossible under any circumstances, but especially difficult since our primary customer base were some of the leading suppliers of illegal drugs on the East Coast. Interestingly, the other leading suppliers were some of the people from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn.

When the motorcycle parts business tanked we made a decision to go into the bicycle business. We did a little marketing research to see whether or not conventional motorcycle dealers, (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha) might be interested in adding bicycles to their product line, especially for the Christmas season. I went out into the field and in a month sold thirty or so dealers over a thousand bicycles. This impressive performance convinced the owner that we could make money selling bicycles; we placed orders for nearly 10,000 bicycles to be imported from Sweden, France, Japan, and Columbia, S.A.

This was in the early seventies when gas prices were booming and ten speeds were gaining popularity. The bicycle business was booming, too, and I became somewhat of a legend in the business by selling thousands of bicycles to dealers throughout the East. However, as I later learned, bicycles are a cyclical business. When they're hot, they're hot, when they're not they're not. The business dropped off quickly.

What added to our problems was the government was suspicious of our business. First of all, we had been involved with some of the sleaziest degenerates in the motorcycle business. Secondly, we were importing products from Columbia. The government actually seized one of our shipments, about two thousand bikes, broke into the boxes looking for drugs they thought we might be smuggling. They found nothing but claimed no responsibility for the damage they caused to our product.

We were stuck with thousands of bicycles in a declining market and many of them were damaged and unusable. The owner was under some serious pressure. He had invested hundreds of thousands to keep his son out of trouble and now the investment was very shaky. He announced he needed to get away and think about what to do. On a Friday night he left on a vacation to Tahiti. On Saturday, the next day, our warehouse with thousands of bicycles burned down. Not one bicycle was left.

No one, including me, was the least bit suspicious of this. We hired an insurance adjuster who did an incredible job of marketing the loss, getting the owner most of his investment back. Watching this insurance adjuster operate was an eye-opening experience. He led the insurance company's claims adjuster to value the loss in such a way that the maximum possible amount of money was paid out.

The thing that motivated me to write this blog and tell this little story was that I was thinking about whether or not a life of balance made more sense than a life of fanaticism.

Balance is boring; fanaticism is exciting.

While I was working at IMI, I was also pursuing my spiritual interests. I began an ongoing conversation with Norwood McTootle. They called him Woody. I was studying Indian philosophy at the time. Woody listened to my explanations and said very little. Finally he said he was going to tell me the secret of life. He said it could be summed up in one word. He would tell me the word when he thought I was ready. Finally after the warehouse burned down and the owner returned from Tahiti, Woody told me the secret. The word was BALANCE. I never forgot that.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog; it offer an interesting perspective...