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Friday June 21, 1996

In life, there is a thin line between a good job and a bad job, and perhaps no one knows that better than a motorcycle mechanic.
A good job means hello, open road.
A bad job means, well, the end of the road.
The motorcycle mechanic who always chooses to do the good job can name his price. But J.J. was the kind of guy who gave away what he had, his friends said. He was happiest in Raleigh with a bike and a wrench. Money didn't mean that much to him.
His friends made coffee Thursday morning and spoke of J.J. as they got ready to give him the highest biker tribute: The Ride, a thundering, ground-shaking procession to send off a brother on another road.
On Sunday, James Walter "J.J." Jasulewicz sat on his couch and counted out 41 quarters for the laundromat. He flipped on the television, propped his feet on the coffee table, put his hands behind his head and died.
Massive heart attack, the doctors said. Probably never knew what hit him.
He was 36.
Word shot out -- to his mother and sisters in Cleveland and to points radiating from North Raleigh Cycle Shop, where for three years J.J. happily coaxed that unmistakable, gobble-'em-up growl from Harley-Davidsons that had been on the wrong side of that thin line.
"He was too young. That's not enough time to get all his fun tickets punched," said shop owner John "Mississippi" Brokaski, who has lost the best worker he ever had.
J.J. was 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, with a full, inky beard. He fled the Lake Erie winters in 1980, and he raved to the folks in Cleveland about the place and people he found in North Carolina.
"He and John would bet on anything, and they would spend all kinds of time trying to get out of paying," said Theresa Brokaski, John's wife. "They would bet on silly things, like what type of Lok-Tite glue was stronger. He spent $5 in long-distance to win that $1."
Gentle, quiet, generous, if J.J. had a fault, he was awfully pokey with repairs. But he believed a good job is worth the wait.
"If he took a dozen bolts off a bike," said Ross McDowell, "he would put them in a Ziploc baggie and study them for a long time. Every single thing that came off or went on was thoroughly inspected."
When Mississippi heard the news, he went to J.J.'s workbench -- every wrench aligned as usual, every wire coiled, everything put up or away -- and cleared it off. He stored the tools in another room.
"Couldn't stand to see it," McDowell said.
No rain was falling from a heavy sky when The Ride, 38 bikes strong, rolled out to Spring Forest Road for a service at the Brown-Wynne Funeral Home on Millbrook.
The Rev. Bob Pitts, a Southern Baptist who entrusted his Harley to J.J. many times, recited Psalm 23, which includes the walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He said J.J. had lately spoken of a premonition.
"A lot of guys who ride have that, because every time you throw your leg over your bike, you know what can happen," Pitts said. "But you accept it. It's a way of life."
Marie Jasulewicz stood. She was about to take her son home for burial in Cleveland, and she thanked his friends for filling his life.
"I couldn't sleep last night," she said. "I thought: Here I am, in a strange city. Then I got to thinking that life is like a road. You bikers know that. You know there are no road maps. We do the best we can."
She drew a breath, then said: "I love Raleigh because of how good you all were to my son."
The hearse was loaded with the casket, crated for air delivery. The bikers turned over their ignitions almost as one. J.J.'s mother walked along the line, shaking hands and waving.
Since they were in a funeral procession, they didn't have to wear helmets. They got a sheriff's escort. The long, smooth ride to the airport was peaceful, a perfect time for J.J.'s friends to think about on which side of life's thin line they rode.


Gone But Not Forgotten