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The cycle of celebrity

American Chopper and the bickering, bike-building Teutuls are still going full throttle.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published November 13, 2005

MONTGOMERY, N.Y. - Somewhere between long, long ago and most certainly by now, this Orange County Choppers stuff should have ended.

That's how this works. People like snap bracelets or stone-washed denim or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and then they don't and that's okay. But these guys' 14th minute of fame just . . . keeps . . . going.

Paul Sr., Paulie and Mikey Teutul of the Discovery Channel's American Chopper are still staring out from the Big Gulps at the 7-Eleven. They're still hawking auto parts on those commercials for NAPA. They're still the stars of the show that gets Monday night's No. 1 nonsports cable ratings.

"Everything's basically the same," Paul Sr. says one recent morning at OCC headquarters in this small village in New York's mid Hudson Valley.

Senior is Senior: arms crossed, that bushy, gray mustache of his, those big, bare biceps and the black boots that mean business when he puts them up on desks.

"Except we did a European vacation," he says.

It was for the show.

"We drove tanks," OCC general manager Steve Moreau says.

"We stayed overnight at the Braveheart castle."

"And we wore skirts," Paul Sr. says.

Kilts?

"We drove around on motorcycles in kilts," he says.

Paul Sr. is eating grilled chicken salad from a local place called CB Driscoll's. His usual.

"I was just on the cover of Muscle & Fitness," he says.

He puts down the salad and pulls the glossy magazine from a drawer.

"Big Strong & Mean," the cover says.

"We were on Tony Danza yesterday," Paul Sr. announces.

He looks over at Michele Paolella, the public relations person. She's new.

"What was the other one we were on?" he asks.

"ESPN Hollywood," she says.

Paul Sr. started Orange County Choppers in 1999. He already had a successful ironworks. The spinoff was just an excuse to have some fun and for Paulie to mess around and build some bikes.

In the spring of 2002, though, two guys in charge of a pilot project cold-called after doing a Web search and showed up all of two days later with a camera crew.

American Chopper was what folks in the industry call an "out-of-the-box" hit.

Since then, the Teutuls have built custom bikes for Will Smith, Lance Armstrong and the New York Yankees, have done a Super Bowl commercial for AOL and have been on TV with Leno, Letterman and Conan and on a VH-1 show in Los Angeles where they sat next to Green Day, Maroon 5 and Nicky and Paris Hilton.

Right now, though, Mikey is eating a gas-station sandwich in his office. Yes, Mikey, all glasses and floppy blond hair, has an office, with a desk and a computer and everything. And fake poo hanging from one of the ceiling tiles.

"It just doesn't make any sense," Mikey says - talking about the Choppers' continued popularity, not the poo. He likes the poo.

"I just can't understand it. I think it should've peaked and fizzled, to be totally honest, given the life spans of most reality TV shows - even successful ones."

But this family's unique brand of bikes and bickering flat-out works.

"It's my father," Mikey says. "He's a spectacle.

"You know what's the interesting thing about him? Children love him. I think it's because he looks like a cartoon character. I swear to God. Kids cry when they see me. But they smile when they see him. They go for his mustache."

"We're real," Paul Sr. says. "It's real reality."

He leans back in his raggedy chair in the middle of the main office.

"What other show is a real reality TV show?"

Craig Piligian is the producer from Survivor who worked with Discovery in 2002 to put the Teutuls on TV.

"It's a relationship show," he says. "It's father-son. It's brother-brother. It's what it takes to work with family. Everyone can watch that show and say, "God, that's how I grew up.' "

The Teutul "everymen" have a video game and a coffee-table book and cologne called Full Throttle and an 8,000-square-foot retail store just down the road that breaks fire codes.

"I've seen Alaska plates," OCC vice president of retail and licensing Joe Puliafico says.

Just in the past year, they've hired a PR person, they've started talking with publishing companies about a book, and they say a cartoon show on a major network is coming next.

The black leather couch in the main office with the pressed-in "OCC" logo is new. So are the OCC mouse and mouse pad, the OCC sports drink, the OCC silver-ink, felt-tip Sharpie for fancy-looking autographs and the pictures on the shelves with Regis Philbin and the Yankees' Jorge Posada. Those photos look nice next to the one with Gov. George Pataki.

Even the building is new. It's 34,000 square feet and they've been in it for barely more than a year. They've finally filled all the offices with staff, and now they're looking into putting up a 60,000-square-foot facility on 6 acres in neighboring Newburgh.

Paul Sr. says it's going to be like a museum.

"So people can have an experience," he says.

This is going to end sometime. All of this.

Right?

"Man, what about when I'm a has-been?" Mikey says. "Are people going to treat me like Vanilla Ice?"

But until then . . .

Mikey's in his office, under the poo, on the phone with a reporter from the Hartford Courant.

"Badminton," he's saying. "I play badminton. I love badminton.

"I talked to Conan O'Brien.

"Jay Leno seems like a nice guy."

A man in slacks and a golf shirt stops by to drop off for Paul Sr. the kind of Corvette regular folks can't get off the lot just yet.

"One of the first 50," the man says.

The car is shiny black, low to the ground and has fat tires. Someone says something about 505 horses. Paul Sr. climbs in and speeds off, and the growl can be heard even after the corner has been turned.

Paulie's standing in a garage bay near the side of the building. He has on an OCC shirt and OCC shades set on top of an OCC cap.

"I guess you have to be in the mind that it's not going to last forever," he says. "But sometimes it seems like it is."

The inside of the shop is clean and open and smells of welding. The parking lot outside is jammed with a white Hummer and a pewter Hummer and a long shiny trailer for moving motorcycles and all sorts of sport utility vehicles with wide tailpipes. A father and a son are walking around the building, together, taking snap shots with a Fun Saver.

- Michael Kruse can be reached at 352 848-1434 or mkruse@sptimes.com

AT A GLANCE

American Chopper airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on the Discovery Channel.

[Last modified November 10, 2005, 13:42:04]


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