The Way We Were
Raber’s Parts Mart
I was chatting with Tom from the old Raber’s parts Mart and missing that iconic dealership in San Jose, Ca. Bob and I spoke recently and he is well. Son Mike is now gainfully employed outside the motorcycle industry or as my father would have said “has a real job”. I wrote of the auction in the September 2018 Bulletin but some details were left out. Tom and I reminisced about these and I thought you might find them interesting.
Bob Raber had purchased a building in San Jose that had been a tortilla factory having moved from the old Brooks cycle shop. The tortilla factory had a liberal coating of grease on all surfaces from the tortilla making process that meant a huge job degreasing the place. Bob was in a part of town that eventually earned a homeless shelter and service center a few doors down. By the time Bob decided to auction off the shop the area had degenerated substantially. We had taken a couple weeks to assist in getting bikes running for the auction and helping with parts organization. I loaded some tools in my old toy hauler trailer and along with Marla and Dominique we set off for San Jose.
We landed in a trailer park around the corner from Rabers and across from the main highway. On our first visit to the shop we noticed extensive tent structures along with abandoned cars and extensive trash pile surrounding the shop. Indeed the trash extended most of the way between our temporary home and the shop. We settled in at the Sleepy Hollow Trailer Court for our first night in San Jose.
There was a shopping center across the street and a Chinese restaurant next to our trailer. First indication that this was anything but “Sleepy” was the bar across the street blaring live and awful music. It was hard to decern but we made a game of trying to decide what song the “Band” was playing. The band knocked off at 11 pm just in time for the street department to set up jack hammers about 50 feet from our coach and proceed to jack hammer the street apart until the paver showed up at 2 am and made a stinky job of repaving. The whole crew cleared off by 5 am just in time for the Chinese Restaurant to receive their shipment of live ducks. These unfortunate critters seemed to sense their future and quacked loudly in protest. The quacking was to be our morning wake up for our entire stay.
We went to work at Rabers every morning at 9am. Arriving at the shop there were usually a few unkempt folk hovering about looking rather sad really. There was an old motorhome that turned out to be the home of the “king” of that street. Bob had an agreement with the man who mostly kept the constant flow of homeless people from doing harm to Bob’s place. We noted a man across the street writing on a wall with a large crayon, except it wasn’t a crayon but something disgusting he had made himself. Note to self: don’t lean on the walls! Inside the shop was a wonderful trip back in time, with great times working on bikes and talking with the staff. It reminded me of the old days in my shop in Whittier.
We were drawn back to reality quickly when leaving however. On our way back to the trailer we noted a large woman sitting in the rose garden on a major street corner. Noteworthy because she was in her underwear only and was alternately throwing roses or whole rose bushes at passing cars! When we got back to the park there was a traffic crash at the intersection . The two cars chased each other into the parking lot across the street and took turns chasing each other around the lot crashing into each other until one quit and the other ran. After the racket of the night before we looked forward to a quiet night. Not so however. Turns out the park was under the flight path of the airport and next to the metro link line. All that had been overshadowed by the jack hammer and band the night before but that night and the rest of the 10 days we were there we were serenaded by planes, trains and the intersection of the never ending traffic collision.
On the third morning we were awakened by the usual serenade of ducks but then another noise. A man was walking through the park yelling at the top of his lungs “Nuke em’ Jesus!” he yelled over and over. A nice lady came out of her trailer that had obviously been in that space for decades. “Are you alright young man?” she asked. He responded by screaming at her “Burn them up Jesus!” With that she retreated to her coach. For our part we laid low waiting for the retched creature to move on with his religious mission. Metal illness is so terrible to see and my heart felt for that man but I wasn’t equipped to be of any help then and probably never for him.
On the day before the auction the city showed up with a loader and dump truck. It was amazing to watch as they probed the extensive trash piles and tent villages for people. Once sure that there were no people the loader scooped up tents and trash and filled dump truck after dump truck. Bob had made a deal with the king of the street and the day of the auction there was neither tent nor derelict motorhome. Indeed the street was cleared and clean!
Then there was the guy who ran a red and left a 1/4 mile skid mark just missing us by inches. Or Dominique caught in a drug deal gun fight while loading a truck with the fork lift. Not much cover on a fork lift and they don’t move very quickly to get out of harms way. During the auction a fellow pushing a shopping cart wandered through the shop and back lot. When asked why he was there he said he was from the homeless shelter. Thing was that Wood Auctions had issued wrist bands to attendees that happened to be the same as the ones issued by the homeless center for meals down the street!
The auction was an adventure in frustration for the low prices most lots reached. My guess would have been for sales 3 to 4 time more than what Bob got. For my part I bought enough stuff to fill 2 large rental trucks and my 3/4 to Dodge and toy hauler.
San Jose is a sad town with signs of its former glory evident through the destruction. In our time there we worked 8-10 hours a day getting bikes running that had been sitting for decades, a task that was remarkably rewarding.
Would I do that again? To help a friend like Bob yes.
Seeing the way many of our fellow humans live I am grateful for the place I am.