By Linda Dahl, Pics By Pete Alva
Most journalists have their dream interview. If I were asked “dead or alive”, mine starts with Princess Diana. But, Jay Leno has always been very high on my list. I have admired his history, his garage, his drive and his personality. I love his show and his cast (especially Kevin). When the opportunity came to scratch one off my list, I knew Princess Di was out of the question. So, when I got the chance to interview Jay Leno, I melted in my Harley boots.
I ran into Ron Bermudez at the Love Ride and he told me he worked for the Big Dog Race Team. He was so friendly and wanted to make sure Lori and I got to the front of the line in the sea of 20,000 bikes. He offered to meet us for breakfast and then show us exactly where to go. In the process, he proceeded to tell me he could hook me up with Jay’s garage manager, Bernard Juchli, which could then lead to asking Jay for an interview. He gave me the info and I jumped all over it. I want to take a minute to express my sincere gratitude to Ron for all he did to facilitate this dream come true for me.
The morning of the Love Ride, while we were meeting and greeting celebs, rock stars and wanna-be’s, I was keeping one eye to the left at all times, waiting to get a glimpse of Jay coming in. Hoping someone would let me know he was there. No one said “he’s here,” but the roar of the crowd told me something was happening in that area of the VIP section. So, I grabbed one of our October issue magazines and rushed over to the frenzy and had to elbow my way up to find myself face to face with one of my idols.
My palms were sweaty, yet I wanted to shake his hand, so I quickly wiped them on my jeans and showed him our magazine and blurted out “I want to interview you”. With the kindest, most gentle smile, he said “sure”. Suddenly I felt like I was talking to an old friend. No longer was I anxious or eager, it was awesome. I went back to Bernard and asked him if we could tour the garage before the interview and Bernard was so accommodating!! Whatever we wanted to do! It was simply amazing. NOW – I had just scored the interview of a lifetime and I get to see all of Jay’s 122 cars, 91 bikes and 5 steam engines.
How do you climb on your bike and ride in one of the biggest organized rides in history after that? I’ll tell you how, you stand in the bathroom line with Larry Hagman and he tells you that “hey – we all pee the same”. Now that’s just humbling! Well, all day Sunday I was taking deep breaths, wanting to tell our fearless Editor CD personally about the impending tour and interview. He was off playing daddy when I got the word, so I had to work hard to keep my excitement under control and not spill the beans to everyone I saw. I really wanted him to be the first to know. When I told him, there was more excitement in his voice than I have ever heard before. The sad part was Mother Nature grabbed CD by the throat and said “you’re staying home sick today”. He was very bummed. But Jay was still on. Lisa, Lori and myself headed to Burbank to the elusive garage somewhere in the dark ally’s of Burbank.
Rosalee Juchli is the garage manager’s wife and is the one who makes all of Jay’s cars shine. She gave us a tour and was able to describe in detail every aspect of every car and bike. She is the one who dusts, details, polishes, and makes Jay look great as he is cruising down the road. She knew details most of us would envy. She took us car by car, bike by bike and told us their history, their engine size, their every detail. She knew which ones had been restored, partially restored and never touched. She knew where each vehicle came from, she even knew the last time Jay drove or rode it! It was amazing and absolutely impossible to absorb every detail. She is an amazing woman. Jay could not have made a better pick when deciding who should keep his garage immaculate.
After the tour, we were told Jay was “in the house,” so we needed to head over to the other side of the building. When we walked in, there stood Jay eating a red Otter Pop! I guess I find that amusing because I never imagined Jay, Oprah, Sting or the likes eating anything but caviar and crackers, much less an Otter Pop.
Jay Leno is the absolute most gracious host I have ever met. He is so down to earth, and just a regular person. We started by taking pictures of him with his amazing collection. He is very particular about who takes pictures of his prized possessions so we definitely felt honored to be allowed to take the shots. As we were taking pictures and he was telling us about certain bikes, there was a beep going off in the background. Kind of sounded like a low battery warning on a smoke detector. So Jay went to investigate. He found that a charging unit to one of his battery powered bikes wasn’t working right. So he did a little troubleshooting and grabbed the electrical tape, and fixed it. It was cool to witness him actually doing some repair work on one of the bikes. I asked if he often did repairs and maintenance and he said whenever he could, he really enjoyed it.
With so many older model cars, bikes, steam engine cars and free-standing steam engines, you must wonder where he gets all his parts. The answer is, they make them right there in the garage! There is not a single part they can’t fabricate in house if needed. I was amazed at all the CNC equipment, the lathe machines and all the hydraulic hoses coming out of ceiling. A great case in point was when one of his steam engine cars needed a water pump… Now I am not a techy or mechanic but it was explained to me how they needed this specialized part, so they drew it up on the computer and abra cadabra, the old steam engine is on the road again. I guess this is what makes this a REAL garage, and not a museum – these are not on display to show the public, they are maintained in perfect running order so Jay can honestly take them all out and ride them, drive them or take them for a spin. Which he does to every single vehicle, 2 or 4 wheels, in his garage.
When it came time to start the Q&A, he broke the ice by telling us about his kitchen and offered us some designer salts to try. I know that may sound weird but he made all of us feel immediately at ease. His kitchen is something to be envied by anyone that can make even a can of soup. It was designed by Martha Stewart, they even did a taping for Martha’s show there. So we start firing questions; When I asked him what was the first car in his collection, he smiled and said he never really thought of it as a collection. He just buys the ones he wants and never sells anything. Nonetheless, the first real car in his collection is the car he drove to California back in 1979. He tells stories about how he was, for the most part, homeless and he slept in his car when the cops would leave him alone. A couple times the cops would pick him up and drive him around until dawn. Other times he would crash on a friends couch or at the home of a friendly waitress, but all his belongings were in the car. We saw that car, a 1955 Buick Roadmaster.
Lori asked what his opinions of helmet laws were. He was very clear that he personally preferred a helmet. Then went on to tell a story about a rider who was fully geared yet had a girl on the back wearing a bikini top and flip flops (we’ve seen this all too often) so when the biker made a bad choice, the girl had no hope of survival. The guy was standing on the side of the road, scratching his head, wondering what just happened. She never saw tomorrow. BUT Jay was quick to follow up that it’s a personal choice. And – he was very adamant about biker’s rights. It isn’t about helmet laws or whether you do or don’t want to be fully geared, it’s about being involved in your local AMA so that you always have a voice. He went on to encourage that we should never leave it up to politician to decide for us what is right. Most politicians don’t ride. They just see the story of the bikini clad girlfriend on the back of a bike that is doing wheelies and think they know what is best for all of us. He was concerned that legislators might think if they could take all bikes off the road, then they may save one life. I was very impressed with his passion for involvement with the AMA. “It’s important to pay attention to who your legislators are,” he said, and“Make friends with your congressmen, get involved!”
When I found out from his staff that he often cooks for them, it simply reiterated what a hometown, simple kinda guy he really is. He makes everything from steaks to hotdogs, complete with the fixin’s. He treats his staff like friends and family and takes very good care of them.
There were a hundred questions we all wanted to know about him, the following is a simple Q&A:
Q: Where did you grow up?
Q: When did you first come to California?
Q: Do you have a bucket list?
A: No – If I want to do something, I just do it.
Q: Is there a vehicle on your wish list?
A: Not really, when I get approached from someone to buy a vehicle I either say yes or no.
Q: Why do you do stand-up every weekend in Vegas?
A: That’s kind of like asking an athlete why he works out every day. It’s kind of like my way of working out. I don’t do it because I “need” to do it for the money, but it really is not natural for anyone to be on stage, so I do it to keep my skills sharp.
Q: What is your favorite bike in your garage?
A: Maybe the Kensington or the Vincent (he’s not much of a chopper guy, prefers to have more control). I kind of like the European style where you sit straight up and ride”.
Q: Carburetor or fuel injection?
A: Depends on what you grew up with. I grew up with a carburetor so that seems natural to me, but if you ask the young guys the same questions, they would tell you fuel injection is the way to go because you can dial it in to a computer and off you go. So it really just matters what you grew up with.
Q: Who is the one person – past or present – you would like to interview?
A: There are so many, but in show business I think I would have liked to have met Elvis and Jack Benny. You know Jack Benny was a big motorcycle fan. He rode.”
Listen to Linda’s interview with Jay Leno below:
So this man who was born in April 1950 in New York, then moved to Massachusetts when he was 9, really had meager beginnings. He came to California on a hope and a prayer. He worked hard and kept his eye on the prize. Getting there wasn’t so easy. But, he always made a living as a comedian. He never had to take a waiters job and he always had a dollar in his pocket. Although he did get arrested twice on Hollywood Blvd. for vagrancy. So, it only seemed fitting that the same place he was arrested was where they placed his star – yup, right where he got arrested. The cops even came down when he was being honored and helped commemorate this historical event.
The one thing Jay told me that I just can’t forget – when we were trying to get him to identify his favorite bike, car, steam engine or even employee, he would not budge!! He just kept saying he loves anything that rolls, explodes or makes noise.
You won’t be seeing a line of Jay Leno bikes anytime soon. He thinks you should stick with what your good at. He has helped build a couple bikes but just doesn’t think that is in the cards for him. He used the athlete analogy again, saying it takes natural talent to do things in life. A home run hitter can’t play football, we all doubt Mick Jagger could race in Nascar, so it just doesn’t seem natural for Jay to start building bikes or cars. He is a comedian and an entertainer and he is good at what he does. So sticking with what you know seems the smartest investment of time. And, he is good at what he does. He makes us laugh, he leads us on charity rides and he hangs out with us at the Rock Store and other regular places. He is a regular guy. He is not pompous, he is not pretentious, he is not concerned if you are 1%’er or a corporate guy riding a $40,000 bike, you are just as cool as the guy who walked through the door before you, but no cooler! He would talk to you in a crowd, and if you are lucky enough to get the tour of his garage he would easily spend an hour chattin’ with you in his kitchen. I hope all of you get the chance to shake his hand and I really hope some of you even get to tour his garage. For those who may never get so lucky, try the next best thing Jay Leno’s Garage website. Great site, lots of videos with Jay riding or driving, and talking about his toys.
Breaking News – Jay enters primetime! “The Jay Leno Show” (a working title) will air next year at 10 PM, on NBC. Conan O’Brian takes the helm at The Tonight Show. Asked at a recent press conference whether Jay would like to spend the rest of his career in his new 10pm slot, Leno said: “Probably. My mother’s from Scotland, so we tend to die in the mine, so yeah. It would be nice to have a stroke during a taping and that would be the end of it.”