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Former Hernando drug addict finds purpose rebuilding bikes

The tools Kevin Davis uses to fix bicycles are just like him: perhaps imperfect and a bit battered, but more than capable of fixing bikes and putting smiles on children’s faces.
Published Dec. 22, 2012

After more than two decades of drug addiction, 33 days in jail getting clean and a month back at home trying to figure out how to stay that way, Kevin Davis answered a knock on his door.

It was a boy, 13 or 14 years old, who asked Davis if he could take the three junked bikes rusting away in Davis' back yard to build himself a usable one.

"I don't know what it was, but I could see the need in him. Sometimes you just can," said Davis, 48, a crew leader for the city of Brooksville Public Works Department.

"I said, 'Why don't I build it for you?' And that was the start of this whole thing."

Davis is bowlegged and stoutly built, an avid bowler with several 300 games to his credit and a former top-level amateur hockey player who likes to spit out his fake front teeth to prove it.

So he looks nothing like Santa Claus, and his back yard — crowded with jumbled tools and a half-dozen abandoned bikes he will fix under the shade of a Southern magnolia — is nothing like anyone's image of the North Pole workshop.

But it's hard to imagine anybody or any place as true to the Christmas spirit.

Since rebuilding that first bike in August 2007 — and witnessing the pleased expression on the child's face when he handed it over to him — Davis has fixed nearly 300 more of them, which he gives away not just at Christmas but year-round.

He does it, he said, "because I just have to see that joy."

And because building bikes has built up the self-respect he lost when he was drinking beer, smoking crack and lying about it to his parents and brothers.

And because it keeps him busy.

"That's what I heard talking to so many people about recovery: Idle time — beware of it," he said.

"This is what I do to fill it."

Davis started drinking heavily after graduating from high school in his hometown of Dearborn Heights, Mich., when he got a job at a plant that rolled steel for car bodies and bumpers.

He drank with the members of the softball team he played with five nights a week.

Because local blue laws forbade the sale of alcohol before noon on Sundays, his bowling buddies stocked up on Saturdays. That way they could get good and buzzed before the start of their Sunday afternoon league.

They also smoked marijuana and eventually crack cocaine, he said, "and one guy always had speeders."

Davis got a good job running a printing press, which he kept for 20 years, despite his habit.

"I called myself a functioning drug addict," he said. "I was there every day."

He moved from Michigan to Brevard County in 2004, but the print shop that had hired him soon closed. He then moved to Brooksville, where he was pulled over in June 2007 for running a stop sign, which led to his arrest for possession of crack cocaine.

It was a "tiny piece" of crack, he said, and his father offered to bail him out. But "I told him, 'No, I'm right where I need to be.' "

He committed himself to religion and promised himself, as well as his fathers in Michigan and in heaven, that he was done with getting high and drunk. When he left jail, he went through a Christian-based 12-step program and started attending Hillside Baptist Church east of Brooksville, where he sings in the choir and plays piano.

Some of the bikes that Davis fixes are donated by congregation members, who also help distribute his reconditioned bikes to needy families.

He also scouts out abandoned bikes as he drives around the city on the job. What he looks for are chains so rusty they cannot bend.

"When I see that, I know (the bike) hasn't been ridden in probably a year," he said. "I think nothing of knocking on people's doors, asking them if they mind if I take their bikes."

And when he leaves work and comes to his house just north of the city, he heads directly to the makeshift shop in his back yard.

His work bench is a stack of plastic shelves. Some of the tools are rusting, as are all of the formerly "garbage-bound" bikes scattered in the grass.

Davis works past dark on many evenings, taking apart the bikes, cleaning and lubricating the parts, putting them back together. He sands down rusty frames and suspends them on a clothesline tied to a magnolia limb and sprays them with paint.

"It's disorganized, but they always look good when I'm done," he said, wheeling his latest project, a newly restored chopper-style bike from his back porch.

It's heavy, about 45 pounds. And the materials and construction of the original were never of the highest quality.

"It's what I call a 2-cent bike," he said.

But the chain and every gear are sparkling clean. The frame has been freshly repainted in a stylishly menacing flat black.

And, he said, "To some kid who doesn't have a bike, this is a Cadillac."

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