We pull up the driveway past the old mailbox, past the pond, past the grandchildren scurrying happily, not grasping the gravity of the day. First gear chugga, chugga, chugga and lean left, kickstand down, motors sputter to a halt under the car port, then quiet. The quiet strikes me. Apropos. We are at our friend Greg Estes’ house. He is inside. A real biker and a friend to all who ever threw a leg over. The call came to our mutual friend Steve Heffernan an hour before. “Better get here, today is it, we don’t know if he’ll make it through the night!” We left Killer Creek Harley and were
there in less than an hour. It had been several weeks since I had seen him last. His big frame had suffered the ravages of the cancer even from the last time I was with him. I knew what to expect seeing him now. Visiting a terminally ill pal is an odd experience. To do so on our scooters was fitting, as our old friend Greg was a biker though and through, the real thing.
We stopped short of the car port and walked quietly towards the back door. Steve knew the way as had been a close friend of Greg’s for many years. The grass behind us is freshly cut. I smell it. Someone tends to the yard. Someone tends to kids in the kitchen as we enter. We are met by his daughter, Candice. Large tears rolling down puffed cheeks, striking contrast with the big smile that greets us. I feel no anxiety as one usually does. The family is sad, but happy to see us. We walk down a darkened hall to a back bedroom. I hear him before I see him. Labored breaths. As we enter the room our friend, Greg, the big man himself lays supine in a hospital bed surrounded by loved ones. There is the peaceful tranquility that a hospital room robs you of. He is in his home, thank God for that. I have been in this scene before. The hospice care nurses, who are angels, help make the last days manageable. My father passed amidst family, friends, neighbors all in the comfort of his familiar bed in his loving home. I pray God I pass through to wherever amidst such a scene. Family and gray bearded biker friends around me, scooters dripping oil in my driveway. Could it be that we get to our end that lucky?
Steve leans over his friend and tells him he loves him. I feel my throat tighten, I swallow hard. Steve, a tough, loud, tattooed biker, whispers something in his friend Greg’s ear. I do not make it out. I guess what it is. Greg is not conscious. We trust he hears us and we speak peaceful words of encouragement. I pray they were heard. Everyone smiles. Strength is evident from their demeanor. My throat tightens further. Greg’s daughters rub his hand. His girlfriend, Melissa, speaks encouragingly and lovingly to him, despite no evidence he hears us. I pray he did. My eyes water and burn, I swallow hard. Bikers we are, but tears roll on.
Greg Estes, biker, businessman, philanthropist, Dad, friend, loved one. He rustles in the bed ever slightly. Movement is difficult. The disease has not robbed him of his hair. It is long and straight and brown with flecks of gray. Not banded but free flowing, over propped pillows. My mind races. He looks to me as a Viking waiting to cross to Valhalla. Large, barrel chested, tattooed. His eyes open but for a second.
Flitting, they are clear, though not focused. His family responds to his cues, his small movements, his breath. He wears no shirt and is bare chested, hair like a great Russian bear. Elaborate Celtic tattoos on his chest, winding, circling, knotted, and never ending. Complex like that whom it marks. Below it are large letters of black ink, fresh and beautifully scripted across his mid section. I’ve never seen them before. I try to read them without being too obvious. I ask when he had them done. ‘A few months ago’ Melissa tells me with a smile. Clearly after his diagnosis: “THAT WHICH DOES NOT KILL ME SHALL MAKE ME STRONGER.” I am stunned. I do not know what to say. In the face of death he taunts the reaper. He knows his fate. He did not retreat. His was not to cowl, but to celebrate. To mark the occasion. TRUE BIKER SPIRIT!
He is dying. I know this. We do not speak of that but we all silently accept it, the new art, his way of daring his cancer, staring it down, and winning even in death. Strength shall be his in that next life. Strength has been his in this one. Passed to the people in this room. Through his actions, through his words, his lessons, and generosity. All hold strong. There is no hysteria, just strength and love. Tears drop, hugs exchanged, hands held in that great anticipation. We reminisce a while and walk to our bikes. Talk of bike weeks past, parties, fundraisers, and good times. Friends arrive as we leave. More well wishers. A steady stream. A testament to a giving life.
I had known this man about 10 years. I knew him in business and I knew him socially, that being ‘biker socially.’ I was his lawyer. I was his friend. He’d hosted countless parties that I attended. He hosted countless fundraisers we all supported. His popular bar “Fat Cats” was and is an epicenter of biker friendly activity. He hosted parties to raise money for The March of Dimes, Juvenile Diabetes, Breast Cancer Research, Injured Police Officers, Animal Shelters, you name it, he gave us his bar, his parking lot, his support, to make it all possible. He donated office space to the state ABATE committee, where they still enjoy rent free accommodations. He asked for nothing in return except ‘tip your waitresses and get home safe.’
I ride the 40 miles home, v-twin chugging a lonesome song. I think of nothing but Greg. I wonder if he is still on this earth as I arrive home. Yvonne has dinner ready. We rush to a preplanned show at the Fox Theatre. It’s Intermission and my phone rings. “J.B.Walker” shows on the dial. “Hello, J.B., What’s up brother?” “He’s gone Steve, thought you would want to know” he says, in a voice even raspier than usual. I swallow hard. “Thanks.” I hang up. I sit in the theatre’s darkness and shed a few tears, unknown to the world. All bikers have lost a friend. All bikers have lost a supporter. All bikers have lost a voice. God Bless Greg Estes. May we all ride through this life inspired by his generosity and his kindness. May we ride into the next with a style such as his.
Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.