PARKERSBURG, West Virginia --
Calvin Kirby lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia with his wife, Angel, and his step-son, Adam. Calvin runs a motorized bicycle shop in the backyard of his home. There are a number of individuals who visit Calvin in the backyard while he is working, these people who frequent the backyard include neighbors, customers and at times, complete strangers who are just looking to have a conversation.
“It got to a point where random people would start appearing and say ‘Hey, I heard about you, can you build me this bike?’ and I’d kinda go from there.”
Calvin, along with his wife, Angel are both recovering addicts. While homeless, the two of them established a sober homeless encampment, formally known as Sobriety Point, along the Ohio River in Parkersburg. Throughout, Calvin gained an excessive amount of knowledge and wisdom from his experience through places and people he interacted with. Using this knowledge throughout his life when he was homeless, he is now able to project optimism onto people who spend time around him.
In their time after Sobriety Point, Calvin, Angel, and her son Adam, moved into a home in the middle of town. Upon moving into a new living space, the three of them had secured a source of income with each having their own job at a local metal processing plant. In March of this year, Calvin lost his temper while working and was fired from his job. Calvin has always had an interest in fixing vehicles. He went to school with the hopes of professionally repairing automobiles and worked at an auto-body shop shortly after leaving school. After being fired from his job at the metal processing plant, he decided to take this interest in vehicles and do something meaningful with it.
“When I moved here and lost my job when I lost my temper, my wife said she wanted me to get into something that would keep me not as bad. So, I figured I would go ahead and just try this. And I was doing excellent, I didn’t think it would come out this good.”
Calvin talked about how his business got its initial start,
“What really started it (the bike shop) off was, I met one guy named Steve Ramsey. He had a bicycle on Facebook saying ‘I need work done, can anybody help me? I don’t have a lot of money.’ When I went up there and got his bike going and to see another person just as happy as I was when I got mine, made my day. It made my life enjoyable. So, I started doing it more, and I just keep meeting more and more people.”
Calvin asked, “Why give up something when it’s helping other people? It’s costly and it is expensive, but it is meaningful.”
“When I helped Steve, he had degenerative disk disease”
“When I helped my friend Rex, well Rex just wants to be in his youth again. And he does feel young again. Rex is in his sixties and this (the bikes) brought him back to youth again.”
“Another guy I helped, he’s getting back and forth to work.”
“Dave can get out of the country (referring to land outside of downtown Parkersburg), 20 minutes away from town and ride his bicycle into town and come and meet people.”
“When it’s nice out, they (Angel and Adam) ride theirs back and forth from work.”
“It does more help than it does harm.”
In the state of West Virginia, the law regarding motorized bicycles and mopeds are defined as a motor-driven cycle that:
• Has 2 or 3 wheels.
• Has foot pedals to assist with propulsion.
• Has a motor that produces no more than 2 brake horsepower and has a displacement no bigger than 50 CC.
• Has a maximum speed of 30 MPH on a level surface.
• Has an automatic drive system that does not require manual clutching or shifting.
In May of this year, Calvin and his close friends were riding around town on their motorized bicycles when Dale Akers, one of the individuals riding a motorized bicycle, crashed into the back of a van in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The van had failed to yield for a right turn, catching Dale completely off guard.
Shortly after the crash, the Parkersburg City Council was set to consider an ordinance that aimed to amend and re-enact Section 373.16 and 373.99 of the codified ordinances of the City of Parkersburg. In other terms, this consideration would ban the motorized bicycles inside Parkersburg.
As well as addressing their concerns to members of Parkersburg City Council themselves, Calvin and ten of his close friends traveled around town and managed to collect over 500 signatures to oppose the consideration. At the city council meeting, there were a total of 26 members of the Parkersburg community against the consideration to ban motorized bicycles within city limits, and 5 members in favor of the consideration. With their efforts, the city council sent the vote to a public committee.
The West Virginia law regarding motorized bicycles is still in effect, allowing individuals to continue using the motorized bicycles as a form of transportation in Parkersburg.
The next day following Calvin voicing his concerns to the Parkersburg City Council, two officers from the Parkersburg Police Department arrested him for a crime he committed in 2012 in Hancock County, Mississippi. Calvin was extradited to Mississippi for a total of 70 days.
“It hurt me.”
Calvin says, regarding his relationship he formed with new customers whom he never saw again after returning home from extradition.
Calvin mentioned a specific incident of this occurring, “But when I went to jail, that 70 days, I had a few customers that went and bought off of somebody else. And now they are completely against them (the bikes). They bought junk. If it’s on my side, I fix that problem.”
These customers had never owned a motor bicycle, but knew they needed one. Because Calvin was not present, they decided to purchase from somebody else who either were not experienced with assembling a motor bicycle, or simply just wanted to profit. Regardless, they are now turned away from the bicycles in their entirety. “Their quality of work was not great. But it’s fine, you know? It happens.”
Despite being in a situation where his business was hurting and there was nothing Calvin could do about it, he expressed a vast amount of optimism on how to heal his relationships.
“I still have my old customers … The ones who’s been around me understood that you know, if it was in my past, it was in my past. There was nothing new.”
“Slowly but surely it’ll come back up again. I have faith in it. I have faith in God that God will put me back where I need to be at.”
“It killed my business but made me stronger.”
As well as building and repairing motorized bicycles, Calvin and his close friends ride them around the City of Parkersburg when the weather is nice on the weekends. This group of friends Calvin created and named themselves “The Descendants” while they are out riding. This group consists of eight members all of which are in active recovery from addiction. They originally were called “The Misfits” because they normally cause a ruckus, you’re a nuisance, and because of that, you stand out.
Calvin was drawn to the name Misfits because when you’re clean, you’re still different in your own little way. Shortly after finding out that a motorcycle group in Parkersburg is also called The Misfits, Calvin looked up synonyms for Misfits and found the word Descendants. This name stuck with him because it means different.
“It gets you to where you can hang out with people who are clean, and ride around responsibly. Still working on getting them to ride in a straight line but it’s a work in progress" (audible laugh)
“It’s enjoyable. Everybody smiles and enjoys their selves, you get to sit down and chat. You don’t talk to the same person you always do, you get to branch out talk to somebody you haven’t talked to in a while. I like it.”
At the end of each day, Calvin locks up the fence in his backyard, zips up his work tent, washes his hands and eats dinner with Angel and Adam with whom he spends the rest of the evening with. The next day, Calvin is ready for a new range of interactions.
“I love this so very much. I am finally able to do what I want to do and help others at the same time.”