Big Mo says he has gone legit. And I believe him.
The first car of Mo's that I worked on was a '64 Chevy low rider. A low rider sits close to the pavement. It has spoked wheels, a big stereo, and a hydraulic suspension that lets it hop. I saw a photo of this car 40 inches in the air at a show in Las Vegas. I made the structural modifications necessary for the car to do that sort of thing and live to tell about it. We also chrome-plated the underside and the top, restored the electrical system, and replaced all the trim.
I don't ask guys where they get their money, but a guy who works at Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn't normally have the cash for the kind of work I do. I later found out that Mo had the chicken job to keep his parole officer happy.
I've made Big Mo angry twice. The first time was when we were working on the low rider. He had an alarm system installed on the car that didn't agree with the work we had done to it, and the very expensive alarm died. He thought it was my fault. I knew it wasn't, and he got good and mad.
Big Mo always traveled with a large crowd in those days. Two vehicles, huge sound systems and video screens, lots of gold jewelry, and big attitudes. He filled my office with boys big enough to blot out the sun, and we settled our dispute by agreeing I would do some work later on another of his cars to cover the damage.
The customer is always right.
But I wasn't worried about having to prove up; most of this crowd gets locked up before they have a chance to come back for more work.
But come back he did. He brought me a DeSoto Firedome. Several things had changed in the two years since I had seen him last. Big Mo was, well, bigger. Not small to begin with, he was maybe a hundred pounds heavier. He'd used the newfound surface to fine advantage, though, with several new tattoos.
There was another, more important change: Big stickers and untucked T-shirts and sideways baseball caps with his new record label on them. Big Mo was now CEO of his own record label. He had rented a building in the most dangerous neighborhood of America's most dangerous city and started recording new rap artists.
How about that?
I like rap as much as the next scared white guy, so I was all questions. Mo really seemed to know his stuff. The DeSoto was to be kind of the company flagship. Flashy paint and graphics. We traded off the bit of work I owed him, and the job went swimmingly.
One day Big Mo got a good laugh from us. Nobody at my shop is exactly scared of Mo and his buddies; we're just thoughtful. He came into the shop after we had done the sides of his car in pearlescent purple candy over black. It was spectacular, and he let out a scream of delight. Which turned into peals of laughter after a couple of my guys jumped back in terror at his outburst.
The job got sticky at the end, though, just as before. Mo and his buddies had been coming in and strutting around, adding one of these here and there. The price was getting pretty steep. But Mo didn't want to talk about details, he just liked issuing orders and saying, "I just want the best."
If I tried to bring the conversation down to earth he'd say "Hey, Dougie Fresh, I know you're taking care of me. Just get it done." Aw, man. I wonder what "Fresh" means? And what's going to happen when he gets the bill?
I found out when he hit the ceiling. So he brought in his entourage and bullied me. But I'd learned a thing or two in the couple of years since he'd gotten ugly with me last time, and I didn't bend. He reacted by ... paying his bill and having us do more work. He fussed about it, but it was clear to me that he appreciated being treated with respect and honesty.
We finished the DeSoto in fine style, and it won some shows. Another year or so went by before I saw Mo again. Actually, I didn't see him; I saw his girlfriend. She brought the low rider by and asked us to store it while Big Mo was away. I thought I knew what "away" was, so I made sure all the paperwork was in order so I could sell the car to cover the storage fees when no one came to claim it.
But she kept up with the fees and told me Big Mo had a gig in New York working with a major record label.
How about that?
Big Mo was in town recently and settled up with me for the storage charges. He was wearing blue jeans and a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate. A cowboy belt buckle. And cowboy boots. No sweat pants or sneakers or gold pendants. "Hey, what'd you do with Big Mo?" I asked.
It turns out Big Mo has legitimate employment. He found his niche in the recording industry. And we're not talking start-up outfit with guys in flashy cars. This is a job job. A "show up and get some work done" kind of job. He was in New York and impressed the big shots and they gave him Houston. Big Mo is a changed man. He's gone legit and he was as excited as a little kid to tell me about it.
He didn't ask for a whole ton of expensive work to be done, though. I haven't seen the low rider in some time, or the DeSoto. I'm storing a car for him that he bought new when we first met - a very tired Land Cruiser - until he comes up with the money to do some theft-recovery work on it, some body repair, and some much-needed routine maintenance.
So the Big Mo I got to see this time was a little skinnier, a lot lower on cash, and a whole lot happier.