James's 10-day visit to Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad, was not a political statement, he says. "Whether you're for or against the war ... you look [the soldiers] in the eye and they see the difference they're making in that country. They're working hard every day and they believe in what they're doing. So how can we not have their back?" On his last night, the troops gave James an American flag. "I was expecting to go over there and leave what I could leave and not take anything with me," he says. "That made a big impact on me. I wish I could do more."
"I'm the epitome of what they're defending," James says of the armed forces. "I'm the American dream." Building custom motorcycles for the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Keanu Reeves, the 6′3″ former bouncer parlayed a rough-and-tumble childhood into a business empire anchored by West Coast Choppers (see box). But he's most famous for his extreme vehicle makeovers on Discovery's Monster Garage. "I weld really good, and I get treated like a rock star for it," he says. "So if I'm not the luckiest guy in the world, I don't know who is."
HIS SOFTER SIDE
For starters, he makes a killer almond tart. "I baked the most perfect one Saturday night," he says. Yes, James may bench-press 350 lbs. and talk freely about smashing paparazzi cameras, but he also loves pedicures ("I won't even trim them myself now"), tried a body wrap once ("It was horrific. I swear she threw in a handful of red ants") and listens to—yes—the Spice Girls on the treadmill.
James lives in Long Beach, Calif., within walking distance of his kids Chandler, 11, and Jesse Jr., 9, from his first marriage to Karla James (he also has 2-year-old daughter Sunny with ex-wife Janine Lindemulder). He revels in listening to "the sound of a carefree kid, which I don't think I ever was ... to hear them scream and play; they just have a blast." To a point. Daughter Chandler is "11 going on 21," he says. "I made her go up and wash makeup off her face the other day. The black eyeliner was getting a little too dark." As for Bullock, 41, his children "totally idolize and love her," he says. Are more children in the cards? "I love kids; I would have 20 of them. If it happens, it happens."
"It's awesome," he says of married life. "I'm older and smarter. The same work ethic I've applied to every other aspect of my life, now I'm applying it to my marriage." James fell hard—and unexpectedly—for Bullock after she brought her godson to West Coast Choppers (they wed last July). James admits the two look like an unlikely pairing. "Stand us side by side, and everybody goes, 'What the —?' But we're so similar, it's scary." Bullock "understands the way my head works and my passion for work. I've never met anybody that works as hard as I do; she does. She's nonstop." The relationship, he adds, "makes me feel like I can do anything. I can go to Iraq. It really does make me feel like I'm Superman. She pushes me to be a better person."
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