A West Oakland man, who worked as a bus and truck driver for more than 20 years, now spends his days building double-decker bikes from donated parts, some of them for neighborhood kids who have earned top marks in school.
Paul Brown, 59, who goes by the name Tall Paul, beamed as he throttled a tall orange bike — its pedals, rims and even chain pimped-out in gold.
“Man that’s my favorite color… gold,” Brown said. “I love gold, I don’t know why. I used to have some gold teeth.”
Six decades later, Brown is still taking bikes apart — fashioning strange and funky new models from their parts.
“I just love bikes, Brown said. “Just working on them — being creative with them.”
There was a time in his life when Brown did the regular old job thing. He drove a Greyhound bus and then big rigs over two decades. Finally one day on his way home from New York, he decided he’d had enough. His bikes were calling. Now he lives in an archaic RV, eeks out his living by recycling — and builds his bicycles. People donate items for him to recycle, which he hauls to nearby salvage yards. The theme of his current existence harkens back to a dream he harbored as a kid growing-up, not far from where his RV is now parked.
“I always said to myself I want to have the baddest bike in the world,” Brown laughed.
Brown built bikes for his own satisfaction. A chopper bike with forks extended like the tusks of a walrus was for trick-riding. He started building the double-stack bikes after spotting a guy riding through the neighborhood on one. He’s even built a bike for the president, although he has yet to claim it.
“I made that bike for President Obama,” Brown said pointing to a double stack blue bike. “I want to see the president ride that bike.”
But Brown is just as excited to see neighborhood kids ride his bikes, or at least bikes he’s tweaked with his personal pimped-out style. Recently he gave a pair of his bikes away to a couple neighborhood kids who displayed report cards boasting three A’s apiece. It set off a gold-colored spark in Brown’s head. He decided to launch his own one-man program to try and inspire other kids
“Any little kid — boy or girl, black, white, Spanish, Chinese,” Brown said, “If the kid got more than three A’s on their report card I’ll pimp their bike for free.”
Brown said he’s hoping to deliver some of his bikes to nearby schools — possibly even making an inspirational pitch to the kids during an assembly. He said he’s trying to build the perfect bike for the occasion, where the school could raffle it off to dutiful students.
“The excitement on the kids’ face when I pimp their bikes out… wow,” Brown said, his voice choking up.
Neighbors and workers around the industrial West Oakland neighborhood all know Tall Paul’s bikes. They drop off loads of steel to recycle. Sometimes they bring him food. People often stop to photograph the bikes or to ask Paul how he gets off and on the tall bikes without breaking his neck. He shows his secret feature — a golden peg which he uses to climb on and off. They’ve witnessed the irony of a man with little, building things for others.
“Some families might not have the money to buy a new bike,” said neighbor Paul Victor. “But who needs a new bike when Paul can pimp-out a bike and make it better than a new bike. It’s custom, one of a kind.”
Although Brown scrapes by, he doesn’t lament his situation in the life. He’s doing what he’s always dreamed of — the bar he set for himself decades back — building the baddest bikes in the world.
“You would think I don’t have too much,” Brown said, leaning on his tall bike. “But man, I got everything I need. I got happiness. I got that.”
More information is available on Tall Paul's Facebook page.