Jess Wertz

Posted by Bismuth Studio Collaborator on

I grew up all over the place. Mainly Seoul, Korea and Okinawa, Japan. I had my own version of “Coming to America,” (without the rich parents) when I was 18 and fresh out of high school in Korea, and somehow ended up in Delaware. I had a serious case of culture shock and ran off to Hong Kong pretty quickly. But then of course, after jumping in and out of country for 3 years on a 3 month tourist visa, I finally got nabbed by immigration and deported. New York seemed like a natural place to try next. I think my childhood in Seoul and Okinawa created this conflicted ideal of city life vs. nature life that I’m always grappling with.

This is my very good friend John Copeland’s studio and shop. I found the place on a craigslist ad years ago. Someone posted a real crappy picture of the corner of the floor. But I looked at the price, size and location and thought… is this the Autumn Bowl? Sure enough, it was. This used to be the bowl our friends skated, and then John had the first of the ten bike shows we had been producing together in this place, the Brooklyn Invitational. So it had all this sentimental value. And of course it’s awe inspiring. You walk in and look up and the 40 foot ceilings just kind of weaken you in the knees. So much time and history there. Anyway we signed the lease right away, not even a second thought. We used to share it, now he just lets me store all my bikes there and my sidecar. So I go there and hang out with him and he helps me work on my bikes.

Oh, yeah, I race sidecars. I’m the monkey. That’s what they call the person goofy enough to hang off the side to help steer the thing. It’s wicked fun. This rig is an amalgamation of the motor from my old rig, R75/5 BMW from the 70’s and my race partner’s chassis. He works out all the geometry and welds them together. He’s a brilliant fabricator. Anyway, he’s got a job as some big shot fabricator for the movies now, so I inherited the rig but I’m still flapping around looking for the right partner. It’s a real acrobatic thing. I have to swing around left, right, and center, switching between hand and foot holds going 100 miles per hour, so there’s a lot of trust between the two people working the turns together. Too much brake or throttle between moves and that’s it, you’re off the thing and you’re both flipping through the air. Anyway, I used to be a welder in a metal shop and the guys there would take bikes and sidecars to race. I’d go with them to wrench. One day they threw me on a rig because the guy that usually monkeyed was tired. I got screamed at the whole ride. I was shaking, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. Had no idea what I was doing. But I thought to myself, I have to figure this out. So… long story short, I got my racing license, got a rig, threw the thing into my truck and drove down to Georgia and registered for a race. During the rider’s meeting I asked them to make an announcement, they said, “some crazy woman is here with a sidecar rig so any o’ y’all want to help ‘er race it today she’s right therr!” Haha. That’s when I met my first race partner and learned how to race the thing.

New York is a hard place. Everything has sharp corners, you know? You have to create sanctuary for yourself. Like I said earlier about the city life / nature life thing, it’s hard working my ass off and finding the time and facility to enjoy nature enough living here. But I yearn for it always every day. So I figured, fuck it, I can’t have a vacation house, I’ll have a house on the water that I can take anywhere in the world = sailboat. My theory is, you want to learn something just get it and figure it out. So I answered this ad and bought this thing from this 73 year old guy up in Port Washington dirt cheap having absolutely no idea how to sail. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve been laughed at since. I use it as part house in nature and part new thing to learn how to do. The whole thing keeled over skimming over the water is a whole new form of exhilaration for me. I’m in love with it.

There was this moment in Hong Kong. The $500 I came there with had run out. I had no friends or contacts to help me, and I was sleeping on someone’s couch I had just met, going every day door to door to look for a job. I had just gotten yet another rejection, “no visa, not hirable, sorry.” I remember this specific feeling, it was like sand in my teeth. I slumped down on the curb and just sat there crying. Going back “home” wasn’t an option. I had no options. This is what desperate felt like. Anyway, I’ll never forget that moment because I had to just will myself back up. I had to keep trying. But it was this intense urge to survive that I had been intimate with all my life and in this moment it forced me up. A few days later I med DC Bull, General Manager of Drop Bar and got my first job in Hong Kong that turned everything around. Life is crazy you know everything sits on a razor thin line.

Stella, you’re my hero. Since I’ve had your clothes in my life I have worn them every single damn day. You can’t believe how long and how much I’ve been searching for this. Thank you thank you thank you!