Life in California for the past 17 years has included some great experiences, places and people. At the top of the list of people continues to be someone I was lucky enough to call friend, and he was kind enough to refer to me as “The Tea Lady”….a wonderful man called Bud Ekins. Bud was and still is a legendary figure – a great motorcycle racer, the stunt man responsible for the Great Escape jump and a wonderful raconteur. Until you were accepted into the inner circle, his ability to completely ignore was almost as impactful as the classic one-liner putdowns. But once he’d decided to grant membership; the opportunity to just spend a few hours listening to stories, re-visiting old races with him, or just hang out quietly…..they were all such special opportunities.
My first meeting was intimidating to say the least. The Saturday crowd (a collection of old racers, friends and gear-heads) had already assembled at his workshop. Bud was holding court; sitting on his bar stool, occasionally waving his finger and chain-smoking unfiltered Gauloises (he raced in France during the 50’s, and came back with the name Chanticleer & penchant for their cigarettes); with an incredible collection of early teen motorcycles and automobiles as the backdrop to his tales.
Clearly an outsider due my gender & lack of motorcycle knowledge, I hung back to let my then husband talk all things Triumph with him, for a while. The sign above his pool table “Women Keep Out”, was pretty self-explanatory; so I just listened. Bud was electric, and the audience ADORED him. It’s a strange phenomenon, to see grown men in the presence of their real life hero………….
A few visits later, I warranted a smile or two; and then one day the world changed completely. Bud and the ex were heading to a motorcycle related something, and happened to be also dropping something off to me at the office. Walking away from the car, I turned back to wave goodbye – and received one in return from Mr. Ekins. It was a magical experience & from that day on, & I was part of the team. A slightly different membership category, as my racing stories were limited at best. So instead we would talk about his racing days in East Anglia, memories of travelling with his wife Betty when they first married, endless excursions to Ireland for his participation in an annual motorcycle rally…and anything else that just went “quite nicely, thank you” with a cup of tea. The pool table wasn’t used much when we first visited, so I persuaded Bud to teach me. A born winner, and highly competitive; he was still happy to tolerate my endless appalling attempts at scoring anything when we played – simply because I think it always amused him that I refused to accept that I really wasn’t very good.
Over the following ten years, I grew to know and love this old curmudgeon dearly. We were lucky enough to go to motorcycle auctions, racing events, car and bike shows with him. The number of fans that he had never diminished, in fact with each passing year the affection and respect seemed to deepen.
Our friendship seemed to percolate from the routine of tea with milk in the yellow cup, and he would make many visitors wait for my to show up with it before he’d pay them any attention. It wasn’t hard to spend hours listening to his stories, as they always came with an affectionate twinkle in his eye; but even more importantly I came to understand that Bud was a great man to have in your corner. He loved women, in a “they’re tough, really are the stronger sex, can do anything” way. He never doubted my ability, even when I was faced with situations that didn’t seem so easy.
Unfortunately Bud’s health deteriorated, as his body started to pay for all those years of riding, racing or occasionally throwing himself off a bike in the name of a great movie moment and; so towards the end our visits were to his home more often than anywhere else. The routine stayed relatively simple – ordering fish & chips from “Pizza Man” (because he delivers!!), whilst I was in charge of pouring his whiskey (2 fingers, easy ice) and we just spent evenings talking about nothing in particular. It was more about the opportunity to be with a man I had certainly come to consider more like of father than even a friend.
And then in 2007, we lost Bud. For all of us that knew and loved him it was, & still is, a void that can never be filled. I managed to see him one last time in hospital, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to tell him how important his support. understanding and friendship had been.
To celebrate the man, his life and the legend, a memorial service was held at Warner Brothers lot on 2nd December. I’m not sure what the studio expected, but it was a truly incredible day. More than 750 people showed up to pay their respects one last time, and remember this great man. Assorted stories were told by racing legends and automotive aficionados, but the moment that bought us all to tears was hearing Donna & Suzie (Bud’s daughters) recount the alphabet the way Daddy had taught it….from Aprilia to Zundapp.
For me, there are some great memories, some special moments and then of course the tag line he gave me, that still makes me blush and smile….”It’s the tea lady. I like to see her come, but I love to see her go”!!!!
(For more information about Bud’s racing history, go to http://www.budanddaveekins.com)