It’s not every day that cast members of a popular television show visit Mount Airy, and when it happened Saturday afternoon everyone made the most of what some called a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Paul Teutul Jr. (also known as Paulie or Paul Jr.) and his brother Mikey of the cable series “American Chopper” were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at a stage erected by Carolina Carports Inc. at the Willow Street/Independence Boulevard intersection.
The Teutuls, whose show now is the highest-rated program on The Learning Channel, were here to deliver a custom-built motorcycle to Carolina Carports during the Autumn Leaves Festival.
Of course, the brothers have been involved with many special bikes since “American Chopper” began in 2003 and recently evolved into a “Senior Vs. Junior” format that reflects a feud involving their father. But their appearance here took the word special to a whole new level.
People arrived hours before the scheduled delivery at 3 p.m. By 2:30, they were standing five and six deep over the entire stretch of Independence Boulevard from North Main to Willow streets. At least two medical calls were dispatched for people who had fainted during 80-plus-degree temperatures under a searing sun.
“We drove from Cherokee,” said Mike Manchester, a former Mount Airy resident who returned to town with his wife Melissa just to see the “American Chopper” personalities.
“We’ve been here since 11:30 a.m.,” Melissa added. The couple’s early arrival paid off with a spot near the front of the stage behind a temporary metal barricade monitored by numerous police officers. Similar barriers lined both sides of Independence Boulevard all the way to North Main, leaving just enough space for Paul Jr. to eventually ride in on the shiny red-and-chrome chopper with a Mount Airy police car leading the way.
But due to having to wait for a film crew to get set up and other delays, Paul Jr. didn’t arrive until about 3:20. And in the meantime the waiting throng was entertained by Mikey, who appeared on the stage to loud cheers from the audience.
Mikey’s usual role on the TV series is to provide comic relief as the team often struggles to get its choppers built on time. And the New York State resident exhibited that same humor Saturday as he attempted to appeal to a Southern gathering.
“How many people had biscuits and gravy this morning?” he asked, as those watching responded with applause and laughter. “I’m really trying to appeal to this crowd.”
“Go Tar Heels!” Mikey said at one point, which was followed by “Go NASCAR!” and “Go Bass Masters Classics!” And as the minutes passed and Paul Jr. still had not appeared, the long-haired heavy-set Mikey added, “He’s really letting me fry up here, huh?”
Meanwhile, one person in the crowd held up a sign saying “Junior Rocks,” and Mikey filled more time by saying, “Can we get a Junior chant!” — which the people responded to immediately.
Finally, one of the city police department’s new Dodge Chargers with its lights flashing was seen rounding the turn from North Main to Independence in the distance. It was trailed by Paul Jr. on the rumbling chopper as onlookers pressed further into the metal barricades to catch a glimpse.
The ovation for him grew as the reality-TV star slowly approached the stage and drove the bike up a ramp to a platform for all to see.
Once onstage, he addressed officials of Carolina Carports who had gathered to officially receive their custom-built chopper.
Adela Herrera, one of the owners of the business, told a reporter later than the new motorcycle was dedicated to the memory of her father Catalino, who died 19 years ago. “I like the bike,” she said of the shiny red chopper accented by lots of chrome.
The “American Chopper” crew seeks to personalize its creations as much as possible, and the bike built for Carolina Carports was no exception. Paul Jr. explained that its gas tank was designed to resemble one of the company’s carports and the metal also has a similar appearance to that used for the structures.
He said his crew tried to maintain that theme “all the way around” in building the chopper for the local company.
“We spent a lot of time hand-making this tank,” Paul Jr. said of the component with a paint job bearing the company’s name.
“It was just altogether a pleasurable project,” he added. “It is a great company and it was a great project for us ... just a great experience.”
Herrera said the bike won’t be ridden, but will be on display to illustrate the structures Carolina Carports produces and hopefully aid its sales representatives. “It’s great to have a bike like this,” she said.
Several local dignitaries, including Betty Ann Collins, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, the Autumn Leaves Festival sponsor; Mayor Deborah Cochran; and Commissioner Todd Harris offered remarks both at the opening and closing of Saturday’s program.
After the special chopper had been delivered to Carolina Carports, which had many of its employees on hand for the occasion, the mayor presented a key to the city to Paul Jr., who responded with some humor of his own.
“I’ve always wondered,” he said, “will this get me into any building in the city?”
Mikey also offered a last word that included some gentle teasing about the fact that fall colors haven’t appeared on the leaves yet as they are supposed to have done in time for the Autumn Leaves Festival.
“You can all go back to ... bobbing for apples, and maybe the leaves will turn,” he joked.
“We love your show,” 8-year-old Colten Wall, a student at Shoals Elementary School, then shouted to the visiting celebrities — with Mikey hinting that they might return to Mount Airy in the future.
“When are we coming back? As soon as you want us back,” he said to another round of cheers.
“Great For Mount Airy”
Those who witnessed Saturday’s event said it is an experience they’ll not forget.
“This is something we’ll never get to do again in our lifetime,” Mike Manchester said.
“The traffic is going to be insane after this,” his wife added in reference to the many others with the same idea.
Meanwhile, Kevin Draughn of Mount Airy, who was leaving the program with his family, one of whose members was in a baby carriage, said, “I loved it! I’ve watched the show since Day One.”
Draughn added the chopper itself was intriguing enough. “I’m a bike fan — I love motorcycles,” he said.
But having that mixed with the opportunity to see Paul Jr. and Mikey up-close was something he never imagined would occur. “It’s great for Mount Airy,” Draughn said.
“I think it’s probably one of the largest things that we’ve ever had here,” the chamber’s Yvonne Nichols, Autumn Leaves Festival director, said of the appearance by the reality-TV stars. “I think they were surprised to find this many people here.”
An added benefit was that Iron Horse magazine, a publication dedicated to the technical and racing side of motorcycling, was represented at the event, said Nichols, who believes this will result in a good promotion for Mount Airy.
Commissioner Dean Brown, a longtime city resident who was in attendance, agreed that he had never seen anything quite like the “American Chopper” turnout here.
“Mount Airy continues to amaze me,” Brown said.
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com or at 719-1924.