ROYAL OAK, Mich. - His name was Gregg. Gregg Glowacz, and his nickname was "Glovebox" because that is what it kinda sounded like to say his last name in the Polish enclave called Hamtramck, Mich., where he grew up. I called him Dickbro Glovebox because he became my friend and I call all my friends Dickbros. That's what my daddy did with his friends and that is what I do with my friends. This feller changed the way I look at life and I'm gonna tell you all about it.
I met Gregg for the first time as I walking down his street. Orchard Grove is a pretty little street in my town, and when I glanced sideways one day I see this dude polishing his Harley; rag in one hand and a can of beer in the other. "Nice looking scooter," I holler over the fence to him. He leans on the gate and I could see the cockiness beaming out from behind his dark sunglasses. "It's brand new but it don't go fast enough. I'm gonna put a bigger motor and a six speed tranny in this piece of junk. Then it will be a real motorcycle." I knew right then that this was a unique individual. And that was the day our six-year friendship began.
Vicki, his wife, was a real pistol as well. You could tell they had a good thing going. I invited them over to my house for our annual Run to Hell (it's a real town!) and we had a real blast with all the Dickbros. They fit right in and that's when I started calling him Dickbro Glovebox. The backslapping tomfoolery between us went on for another year until Fate invited himself into our party. Mr. Fate walked into the room and refused to excuse himself.
As I was doing my usual walk down Orchard Grove one sunny afternoon I see a disturbing sight coming in my direction. A stiff figure taking tiny, almost zombielike steps, raises his hand to wave hello. " Gregg, are you alright?" I query through stunned lips. He shakes his head and answers, "I don't know what's going on. I've had two seizures in the last few days. I've been to the emergency room twice. They are doing a lot of tests. I really don't feel too good. Will you walk home with me?" Of course I got my friend home. Then, one week later, I see him outside in the yard again. "They found an aneurism in my brain. The doctors want to do a risky surgery before the thing pops and kills me. They're gonna cut my skull open!" I assure him that the doctors know what they are doing and not to worry. And, "with it being just before Halloween, have them sew a couple of bolts into your neck to finish out the Frankenstein effect. You're gonna be alright and you will have the best Halloween costume," I nervously joked with a tightness in my gut. It did not turn out alright.
Immediately after the surgery the doctors told Vicki that everything had gone well. She was relieved and hopeful. Then the next day tragedy struck. For some unexplained reason Gregg suffered two strokes that left him immobilized. He was now and would remain a quadriplegic. The doctors were mystified and Vicki was devastated. When I heard the news I had one thought. I must visit my friend.
The first visit was unsettling to say the least. He could only move his eyebrows up and down to signal yes or no. Tubes were everywhere, nurses were everywhere, and the only tool I had to make us both comfortable was the sense of humor that we both shared. That was how we survived that first encounter with his new reality. It was cold in his hospital room, so on my second visit I packed a gag gift and I had one of the nurses open it up for him. It was a knitted sweater for a certain part of the male anatomy and I told him that my mother had knitted it for me when I was five and that I'd since outgrown it, so I was passing it along to him. The nurse didn't know what to do with the thing in her hand and we both laughed like a couple of juvenile delinquents. Mr. Fate had opened up a special door for me. It was my time to confront my fears and either go big with this friendship thing or go home. Gregg and Vicki didn't give me an option.
For the next five years it was a rollercoaster ride. In and out of the hospitals with various infections and complications, therapies that promised more mobility and a chance for recovery, twenty-four hour care from some real life angels in the form of home health care workers; these were all part of Gregg's daily routine. I would continue to visit him, and I learned to become more comfortable in his reality. His mind was always as sharp as it ever was, just trapped in an immovable shell. We learned to communicate quite well. He would use a pair of reading glasses with a laser light attached to point to a chart of letters that I would hold to spell out words. With enough practice I usually knew what he was trying to say before he finished spelling. Online he used emails and Facebook to communicate and you would never know he was disabled. Our sense of humor was always the thread of any conversation. We did a Halloween pub crawl one year and he decided to be Stephen Hawking. It was phenomenal!
Our friendship grew throughout those years. It blossomed. I still wonder how that could be. Mr. Fate was rubbing his chin and nodding his head at us. One day, Gregg says to me, "Let's plan a poker run together, I miss my motorcycle and want to see some Harleys!" And so we did. We spent six months grinding out the details. We mapped out a route, picked out the bars, lined up a band, and gaggled up a group of volunteers to do the dirty work. September 9th, 2012, exactly one year ago was our big day. Gregg wanted to ride along with the rest of us, so I lined up a sidecar with a rider named "Reddog" to bring Gregg along for the journey. I had never seen him so happy, thinking about that ride. We got his leather adorned with all his patches and even put a fresh shine on his cowboy boots. One week before the big run, Mr. Fate shook his finger at us. Gregg ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and missed the big poker run.
That was the last straw for my friend. He told Vicki to take him home and take him off the feeding tube. He was ready to make his peace. Five years was enough. Vicki announced to all friends and family that Gregg was home and time was short. Gregg wanted a party and he was gonna have a damn party. And party we did. Gregg liked his Patron tequila and I had gotten pretty adept at learning how to administer shots for him. Hell, what are friends for? He's the only guy I know that got to go to his own wake. On the second day of this ruckus, Vicki tells me Gregg still wants his ride. He still is dreaming of that sidecar. But we gotta do it quick. Like tomorrow quick. I called Reddog. "Can you be here tomorrow with that sidecar?" "You bet, partner," was the reply. The following night, Orchard Grove was abuzz. Friends, family, and neighbors all gathered around as Gregg was lifted into that sidecar. They witnessed what everyone knew was to be a most memorable motorcycle ride. Afterwards, some called it the "Last Ride." I said no way. We just call it "The Ride." We cruised into downtown, cruised up Woodward Avenue into Birmingham, then headed back to Orchard Grove. We pulled into Gregg's driveway to thunderous applause. He sat in that sidecar with his shades and leather on for the next hour partyin' like a rock star. I wish I could have bottled that joy on his face so I could pour a shot of it right now. That would be priceless elixir.
He didn't last much longer after that. My last visit with him he asked me to do one more thing for him. "Make sure I get a motorcycle escort for my funeral." "You got it Dickbro Glovebox," I believe were my last words to him. We escorted his cremated remains to the church via a motorcycle brigade in a chrome and leather urn. I was asked by his widow to carry his cowboy boots up to the altar as one of the pallbearers. I wrote and read a poem for my dear friend as part of the ceremony. And the amazing thing to me about this whole saga is how I met this special man. I walked the street called Orchard Grove every day. I was his letter carrier.
Here's the poem
We planned a ride, a ride to remember,
We met on a cool fall eve.
Friends, family, and neighbors, gathered together,
Finding a reason to believe.
We hoisted you into that sidecar so tight,
Gotta take off them boots.
After five long years, man, you get to ride;
We're getting you back on a scoot.
The look on your face, so full of delight,
You were grinning from ear to ear.
We roared down Main Street with our shining parade,
All that's missing was a case of cold beer.
We cruised up Woodward, you told us "Go faster,"
Always having that need for speed.
Hell, I know if you could, and you certainly would,
Have passed us and taken the lead.
When we got back to the house, cheers and clapping erupted.
We successfully completed that ride.
You stayed in that sidecar, drinking Patron with your buds,
So much happiness no one could hide.
With your lid and leather on, sitting in that sidecar,
I saw you look at your bride.
It was plain to see, for even a blind guy,
To know your love would always abide.
Don't know if there are Harleys in Heaven,
But that's something us scooter tramps like to believe.
When a dear Bro' passes, imagining you on a Hog in the clouds,
It's that thought that helps us bereave.
Dickbro Glovebox, I'm gonna miss ya man,
Life without you I still cannot see.
So down here and right here, it's perfectly clear,
You'll always be riding with me.
Photo: Gregg Glowacz and author John Dick take "The Ride." Photo by Beverly Roberts.