Even in this day and age there are rural counties whose claim to fame is that they don't do much of anything. Life moves at a snails pace because there are no factories, no corporate office buildings, no tourist attractions, just a string of almost empty downtown areas, one after another. There are dozens of crossroads, with the remnants of a different time all over those rural counties. Some of the counties are so poor and so wild they offer the perfect places to operate illegal businesses as well as legal ones.
One of those fly specks on the map is the crossroads town of Portage. Portage had never been a thriving center of commerce, but it was once home to a small market, a small farmer's exchange, and a service station.
All those business closed during the Peek of the Walmart era. The Restaurant had somehow survived. Probably because even country folks need a meal now and then.
The old service station became a tiny combination of all the stores which had closed. One could fill his gas tank, buy a pound of butter, even find a screw driver for sale at the Portage Market. Most likely you could also get a dime bag of pot as well. The former three bay service station made an acceptable country store. Though it still looked like an abandoned three bay service station with a face lift.
The law was enforced by several Sheriff's Deputies who roamed the county. If there was a major crime, the state police investigated it. It would have over whelmed the resources of the deputies. As I said, Portage was just fly shit on the big old county map that hung on the wall in County Seat.
On the first Monday of every month, the traffic in County Seat tripled as the circuit court came into session. Portage was just part of the whole sleepy 'God, guns, and pick up trucks, movement, that the politicians made fun of during non election years.
Over the winter the residents of Portage had seen a woman visit the old brick building several times. That building was last used as a small grocery store twenty years before. The building seemed to interest her enough to come meet with the Realtor twice.
On the last of those trips she brought what might have been her sugar daddy. The couple had eaten lunch at the Main Street Cafe. The Cafe was a reminder of the days when state roads ran through the countryside linking cross roads towns together. Along those rural state roads cafes sprang up to feed the motoring public. The state had taken the highway designation away from the road to Portage, but the cafe remained.
The food for the most part was fresh and tasty, if your taste ran to the simple things, as Greg's taste did. Since he was a retired enlisted Marine, he had never acquired a taste for the finer things.
The first time they ate at the cafe, Greg, and the much younger woman with him were on a mission. Their mission was to scout out a location for their businesses. The first time that they met with the local Realtor, They ate lunch at the cafe, then moved on to scout other locations.
By the time they ate in the cafe again, they had decided that they would settle either in Portage, or an equally small town several miles away. Since there were small buildings abandoned along many of the former state highways, their search had been long. The building in portage would require the least renovation, and the price was right. It also was in a designated rural service zone for the lady's business.
Greg had waited until after a hard rain to decide which of the two buildings he would make a lease, with the option to buy, offer. His motto had always been keep it simple stupid, so that was his frame of mind at the time of his lunch with Maggie.
He liked things simple because he was no spring chicken. He was a fifty-five year old man with a twenty-five year old daughter at his side. They had the lunch special on that early spring morning while they waited for the Realtor to show. Greg could see the empty former grocery store parking lot through the window of the cafe.
"Well Daddy, what do you think?" Maggie asked.
"I think your Momma would be proud of you," Greg said.
"Enough with the compliments, which building are you going to lease?" She asked.
"I guess it's the Portage in a pear tree," Greg said with a very infectious grin. "So are you going to miss the big city?"
"For about ten minutes, besides we can get into Lucille in ten minutes. Lucille has everything we need.
"Well I have lived in some pretty isolated places over the years but you haven't. You might find you miss the variety available in a larger place.
"Trust me, Colleges are pretty isolated. If not by miles by attitude," she informed him.
"Well it should be interesting, You sure as hell are not going to get rich in Portage," he informed her.
"No I won't, but neither will you," Maggie said.
"I don't have to get rich, my life is mostly over," Greg said.
"Let's just move the conversation along," she suggested smiling at her father.
Maggie had tried to explain her career to him a few times, he just didn't get all the intricacies of the new ACA. She had a masters degree in nursing from the state university, so under the new medical system she was entitled to operate a primary care clinic. She had explained ten times that her clinic would be the entrance gate to the grounds of the medical establishment. She was like a security guard, she explained.
She was there to help those she could, but also to send those who needed more help to the right place as efficiently as possible. For that she could bill the government a ridiculous fee. The government had provided the financing for the clinic.
From the stories she had been told about her type clinic, she learned that the government never let them fail. They also never allowed them to make as much money as they had before the ACA. She was trading a government financed and instantly approved clinic, for a lot of money down the line.
His business unlike like that of his daughter was going to take longer to get a foot hold. Nobody cared if Greg was a success or not. Unlike Maggie's clinic, the Federal government had no vested interest in his success or failure.
Maggie's clinic was up and running much faster than Gregg's bike business. There were at least two good reasons why.
One was simply the ACA promise of a huge improvement in rural medicine, so the pressure was on for clinics like Maggie's.
The second reason was that Greg had more things to physically do before he could open. Maggie on the other hand just unlocked the door, unpacked the equipment which came with the plug and play package from the Government. The price she paid seemed steep to Greg. He admitted that he knew nothing about the price of such things. So when Maggie told him the individual equipment would have cost if purchase separately he believed her.
The government most likely had no idea what the cost of the equipment was. They only knew that they wanted the clinic open. It was a campaign promise that every politician made. Improve health care and lower the cost. They were at least trying to throw money at the problem.
Two days after the clinic arrived on the back of a truck, it was open for business in the grocery store's parking lot. The availability of utilities quickly was one of the reasons the ACA administration approved the location so quickly.
Meanwhile the motor bicycle business was still in the building renovation phase. The two bathrooms were a mess and only one of them was fully operational.
Greg scrubbed the toilet and sink and thanked god that he had at least one functional toilet. The janitor's sink in the large storage room required a lot of cleaning but it was also functional.
Gregg and Maggie had their two week anniversary lunch at the dinner. "So Mags how is business," Greg asked.
"Well it didn't start with them lining the parking lot, but I'm going to stay open for sure. There are enough indigent people in the county and enough EMS evaluations for sure to keep the doors open. I have treated six patients brought by EMS and forward just as many on to the ER at James County General.
Strange that I get some of the Gang members from Lucille ten miles away. I have no idea why they would drive all this was to visit a clinic with less equipment and services," Maggie commented.
"I have no idea, but be careful with those punks. Most of them are high and it doesn't take much to set them off. Some of them are just mean, and some of them are radicals. One is as dangerous as the other."
"So what are you going to do about a place for us to live. Your little condo is too far away for us to keep commuting," Maggie said.
"I'm not selling it for sure," Gregg said. It's paid for and it don't eat."
"Mind if I made a suggestion," Maggie asked.
"Could I stop you?" Gregg asked her.
"Probably not," she admitted. "That storage room you have across the rear wall, turn it into an 'on call' room. Most hospitals have something like it. We could both use it. We could easily fit a couple of cots in there. And a cabinet with a microwave and dorm refrigerator."
"I could actually build that. I have all these tools here, so why not?" he agreed. "I will need a plumber, since you need a shower."
After that lunch it took three more weeks before Gregg even began working on a bike. He had amassed thirty broken or working bicycles and cardboard boxes of parts galore.
Gregg had a place for everything and it was all in it's place on the Wednesday when he started on his first motobike. That was how he planned to market them. He also planned to push the limits to squeeze the most out of the government rules and regulations on motor assisted bicycles.
Most everyone had come to accept that the actual motor could be run using more volts than the specifications suggested. They might run a year less than the ten year estimates, but they performed better. The Ampere pull of the engine had to remain within specifications to make sure there was no large over heating problem.
His, so called assist motor, was supposed to run at 24v 30amps so the motors were rated at 750 watts. At seven hundred and fifty watts the motors were legal by a good margin.
Gregg had experimented and found that the motor ran just fine on 36volts and the 30amps. At that configuration they ran at a little over the federal regulations for total watts. That was the bad news, the good news was that the motor still met the seven hundred and fifty watt specification at least on paper. Greg thought of the modifications as a super charger.
Greg hung his giant KISS sign over the assembly station and began work. Since mountain bikes had the strongest frame his first bike was built on a red one.
His plan called for a front hub motor, a battery pack mounted over the rear wheel. Other wise the bike would be a standard mountain bike configuration. Each of his project bikes were going to have a coded label attached. The code would advise him of the amount of money he had invested in each part of the bike.
His first build had been purchases for $14 dollars at a yard sale. His total work had been to remove the wheels and tires from the frame, clean it as best he could and even put a cute sticker over a scratch.
The wheels had light rust on the rims, but the tires were in excellent condition. The front one was almost perfect.
The light rust came off with just a quick rub with a soft wire brush. The front tire went onto the new front wheel hub motor.
Greg fitted the electronic onto the Motobike and then added the off the shelf rack over the rear wheels. He didn't like the way the rack attached so he decided that it would be the last off the shelf he purchased. He made notes on the price of the hub motor and the price of the off the shelf rack before his turned his attention to the Batteries.
Like everything else Gregg built his own batteries. He had learned to build battery packs on one of his assignments. He was in charge of a guard detachment on a radar station in the arctic. The Marines guarded a new kind solar array the panel. It had been new and super secret technology fifteen years before, but the battery technology wasn't any longer a secret.
The batteries weren't the new Lithium designed, they had been a gap battery. The gap fifteen years earlier had been an experimental light weight inexpensive Nickel battery. When Lithium hit the market the Nickel battery was doomed, except as a light weight standby battery in electronics.
The demand was limited so the technology was passed over for years. The thing about the Nickel batteries was they could be left on standby with only a trickle charge. They could be left like that for years without any damage. It made them almost as effective as the Lithium, if care was taken to refresh them before use.
Greg found a recycle company willing to sell him the batteries from junked out government equipment. He had to take the batteries as is. He got a good enough price to buy 20% more than he needed.
When they arrived he found that the batteries would no longer hold the top end charge amount, but they would hold the lower charge just as long as they always had. Instead of the 1.35 volts per cell, the never used batteries had a top end of 1.3 volts. His 12volt build had eleven cells instead of ten. Otherwise the performance was about the same. The weight was a 60% less than a traditional lead acid batteries but they weighed 25% more than a lithium battery. He had no idea what the life of the battery was going to be.
He kept his supplier and the formula for building the packs a secret. He did not intend to have his supply of useful batteries diminished by the competition, should any arise.
Since the first bike that Greg built was on a mountain bike frame with the standard suspension, he had to modify the suspension to accept the hub motor. The rear wheel mount would have required more finesse and Greg was a sledge hammer kind of guy.
He tested the mountain bike, then made a few adjustments. It had been built in less than a day. He put it on the web for sale at $800 without a battery or $999 with a 12ah battery. It was a fair price.
When everything was added up the code told him he had $600 dollars in the bike. It was a lot, but it was a bike that could be sold for almost a grand.
Of the two of them Maggie was the first to begin work. She was also the first one to open for business. Not only that she was also the first to hire an employee. She hired a local man as a receptionist. His name was Ralph. Ralph was thin and very clean. He was also very effeminate and slightly black.
"Ralph, this is my father Greg. Daddy this is Ralph Samuelson, he is going to be answering our phones, keeping our calendar and helping out at the clinic."
"Hello, Ralph welcome aboard," Greg said trying to set his tone on the friendly side of professional. He didn't care for Ralph's obvious lifestyle, but that wasn't his affair.
Ralph went to work immediately. He took calls for the clinic, so that Maggie could concentrate on her patients. Even though she had said he worked for both of then, Greg knew better.
A couple of days later Greg began work on a second bike. For his second build he used a motor which was brand new, but designed for a large electric motor scooter. It was 24v 700 watts and it required him to build a custom mount. He had designed and built one before in his workroom inside the condo. That workroom he emptied to give Maggie a place to hang her clothes and get away from the clinic where she did her residency
Greg and Maggie had reconnected after years of little or no contact. Her mother had kept them apart for reasons he didn't really know or understand.
One day Maggie just show up at his condo door and demanded she be taken to dinner. She had chosen the town where Greg resided to do the clinical part of her training. He lived in the town because it was close to his last duty station. When they reconnected he was in the final stages of retirement and was also floundering about.
Maggie and Greg hit it off instantly. They turned heads where ever they went. Maggie was a young thing with flaming red hair which caught everyone's eye. She also dressed in the new punk style clothes which her father did neither understand or approved.
Greg with his iron gray hair and ramrod straight back was almost an accessory to her good looks. The girls all though he was such a perfect gentleman, and Maggie was such a punk. The were the real walking contradiction.
After Greg got over trying to protect her and give her fatherly advice, they became good friends. She had slept on his sofa for a few months while she looked for a place. Finally he decided to pack his tools away and allow her the use of his guest room.
Greg knew that part of his appeal was his condo which was located in a small town twenty minutes from the North Carolina's Beach Communities.
Maggie loved the location and she discovered that she loved her, stick up his ass, father as well. They were good roommates as well. All that factored into here attitude when the Hospital administrator, for the even more rural county medical association, came to visit her. She jumped at his offer of grants and low cost loans. She didn't even discuss it with her father.
While Maggie stitched up a knife wound, Greg mounted his homemade engine to the badly used bike. His homemade bike had a motor turning a scooter wheel sitting on top of a custom bike. The wheel on wheel design was simple. It might not be perfectly efficient, but it was pretty damn good he knew.
"You know I had planned to use you for a place to live near the beach. I was planning to stay a few weeks till I got paid a couple of times then move out," Maggie said over dinner.
"Yeah I knew, but what the hell, I needed a kick in the ass to get started in a new direction." Greg admitted.
"And to help you cut back on your drinking," she said.
"That's your mother talking. I had already stopped drinking, more or less." Greg informed her.
"The government payments haves started to arrive. There is enough money to pay my receptionist and keep the door open for sure. I might even be able to start paying my share of the lunches," Maggie suggested.
"A three dollar burger is the least of my expenses," Greg said.
"Are you alright, I keep forgetting you are in business as well. I get so caught up in my own shit," she said.
"Honey, I'm fine. I just like to see you worry a little," Gregg suggested.
"I do worry, but not so much about your shop. If worse came to worst I could expend the clinic into the shop," she said. "So anytime you get tired of it or you get tired of me, don't hesitate to tell me," Maggie demanded.
"If that happens I will tell you for sure," he said. He was sure that she could see the pride he felt. She had accomplished so much under difficult circumstances.
"You know dad, you never ask me where I went when I took off for a couple of days at a time," she said.
"Do you want me to ask?" Greg commented.
"Well, I won't tell you, but yeah I would like to know you care," Maggie said while she toyed with her French Fries.
"You have that new Nurse Practitioner, who I haven't met, coming in tomorrow. I assume that means you are planning for more time to go to the beach. Is now the time to ask what your plans are?"
"Well Dad, my plan for now is to show the new NP the ropes, then spend some time catching up on my sleep." Maggie said.
"Good you need it," he said.
"So enough about me where are you on the bikes?" she asked.
"I have my first one built and I'm riding it all over hell. I have started the second type bike and I will have it in production now that I have figured out the mount," He informed her.
"Good for you," Maggie said and obviously meant it. Just then she got a call. "James county rescue has a delivery," she informed him.
"Then take the burger with you," he suggested.
Maggie stood to walk away. "You want me to get this?" she asked.
"Call it a going away present," Greg suggested.
"Okay but I'm not going anywhere. It's your condo and your studio apartment in the meat locker," she said with a laugh.
"You need to go," he said. "Now."
"Yes I do, see you later." Maggie said as she turned again to the door.
After Lunch Greg returned to finish his first Rhinobike. He named it that because of the motor and scooter wheel sitting on top of the front wheel gave the bike the profile of a rhinoceros.
The bells on his front door tinkled, so he turned his attention to the person who entered. "Hello there," he said to the middle aged man who entered.
"Hello, I saw your add on the Local Business line. I'm with the local TV station," he said.
"You mean Portage has a TV station?" Greg asked with false wonder in his voice.
"In a way, we cover news from all over the eastern part of the state. Today I wanted to interview you. Well I do, if you are the owner?" he asked.
"So, you are the one who got stuck with covering the old fart news," Greg commented with a grin."
"We like to call them stories with a local interest," he said smiling
"Come on, you do the happy news," Greg said. "Hey I will be happy to have you cover the story."
"Okay I'll be back tomorrow with a camera man," he said.
"You never told me your name. I don't watch much local news." Greg said.
"Ralph," he said. "Everyone just calls me Ralph."
"Well I'll see you tomorrow Just Ralph," Greg said.
Greg drove his old pickup the twenty plus miles to his condo after he finished with the rhino. He wanted a good night's sleep and a real shower before his TV debut
Ralph was right on time the next morning. They met at the diner where they did the off camera interview conversation, then went right to the shop and began filming.
"So what kind of range do these bikes get," Ralph asked the inevitable question.
"Ralph that is like a car. It just depends. In this area, with our standard battery, a hundred and twenty pound rider could get about a twenty mile ride. Trust me that's about all you want to do on a bike like this."
"So are you going to demonstrate it for our viewers," Ralph asked.
"I'm going to go you one better, I'm going to have my daughter's friend demo it. He has never ridden one of my bikes, so you will either see how easy it is, or how strong they are if he falls off it," Greg said. Needless to say Greg was a little worried. He needn't have been.