From Junk Bonds to Junk Motorcycles
I am often asked “How in the world did you accumulate so many motorcycles?”
Well, in 2005 I was responsible for managing a huge high yield corporate bond portfolio for the infamous New York based insurance company known as AIG. High yield bonds are also referred to as junk bonds because they are risky and more prone to possible default. The junk bonds that we managed were performing very well but my big problem was that AIG was committing accounting fraud within the portfolio. AIG also invested heavily in the sub-prime mortgage market which, by 2009, caused AIG’s complete collapse and ultimately required a $200+ billion bailout from the Federal Reserve Bank.
Back then I was living in the greater Houston area and had witnessed first-hand the human carnage of the massive fraud and subsequent bankruptcy of Houston-based Enron. My neighbor and friend had been Enron’s Chief Accounting Officer and he was sentenced to 5+ years in prison for his role in the Enron fraud. He had three young kids the same ages as mine. Because I was determined not to be a participant in AIG’s fraud, I blew the whistle to outside regulatory authorities. AIG immediately responded with a campaign of retaliation against me and soon I was fired. I had been thrown under the bus at the ripe old age of 54.
In response to my firing, I hired the brashest, cockiest, most arrogant New York lawyer that money could buy, and we threatened legal action against AIG for retaliation. Before 2005 ended we reached an out-of-court settlement with AIG and I then found myself unemployed but with a very large bank account that would allow me to take the rest of my life off. How cool was that? This was the most incredible opportunity I had ever experienced. I was freed from the often-heavy burden of working for a living and could now choose whatever path in life I wished to follow. I had been used to working long hours for over 30 years and now my calendar was empty. What was I to do?
For me the answer was to follow my true passion and to vigorously pursue the acquisition and restoration of vintage (and often very junky) motorcycles from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. These were the motorcycles that I lusted after as a kid but could ill afford while making $1.25/hour pumping gas.
My daughter had recently moved to Colorado, and I began taking regular driving trips to Denver. During these many trips I would get off the tedious major highways and wander the small towns in search of buried treasures in the form of lost and often forgotten junk motorcycles. As a result of these many road trips, I cultivated a network of private collectors, independent motorcycle shops, and salvage yards. When I pulled into a small town I would often stop at automotive garages and inquire about any local folks that might have old motorcycles to sell. More often than not I would get a few leads. I had essentially become my own version of an American Picker and, much to my wife’s chagrin, I was bringing all these “ugly” junk motorcycles home. But I was finding and restoring old motorcycles, living my dream, experiencing my passion, having fun, making friends, exploring my creativity, honing my mechanical skills, and building a large vintage motorcycle collection. Little did I know where all of this would lead.
Over the course of the next 16 years, I would tap into numerous other sources of old motorcycles including Ebay, Cycle Trader, Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace, swap meets, and a well-developed network of fellow collectors. Central Texas also proved to be an unexpected and unique source for many rather obscure Eastern European motorcycles, perhaps due to the influence of the military. By 2021 my collection had grown to 63 vintage motorcycles. It was then that I purchased a 1930’s era Ford dealership building in Johnson City, Tx. and the dream of having my very own vintage motorcycle museum became a reality.
I feel extremely fortunate because whistleblowers often must endure very tragic consequences for their courageous and ethical deeds. Frequently whistleblowers must deal with unemployment, financial woes, bitterness, and being socially and professionally ostracized. But for me blowing the whistle was not only the ethical and moral thing to do it was also my one-way ticket to financial freedom. It has been this freedom that has given me the opportunity to truly follow my passion and we all have to thank the heavens above for our passions which can so often help sustain us through the inevitable dramatic changes in our lives.
So, let’s all give a “shout out” to the corrupted folks at AIG back in 2005! Without them little of my very good fortune would have ever been possible.