Friday, May 20, 2011

The Old Bicycle Shop

When I was a kid, when things hadn't yet gone mega-hyper-extreme everywhere you turned, we used to take our bikes, for repairs, to a small bike shop five minutes from the house. We'd bought our bikes there and we always had them fixed there.

When I would walk in with my dad, a forest of bikes seemed to go on forever, though there were probably only twenty in the whole place; it was about the size of a big living room. My dad would take care of the business with the mean lady and her mean husband who would both yell at me if I left fingerprints on the chrome, and I would wander around looking at the cool machines. Dad would pay, we'd leave, and I would go home and hop on my newly greased and tightened bike. It always felt like it went twice as fast as before.

Today, my wife and I have pretty nice bikes. They're well-kept and have received earnest, if inconsistent, use since we bought them more than ten years ago from a hyper-mega-monstro sports outlet. With spring coming, we thought we would get them tuned-up.

We'd both been to the little bike shop as kids and we knew it was still there, so I took them in. The only thing is, now, my dad wasn't there to protect me from . . . the lady.

I went anyway.

Her husband is dead now. She greeted me with a simple, yet nasty, "What's the problem?"

I looked around quickly for my dad, but he was five miles away, at least. "No problem at all. I need to get these tuned-up."

She looked at the bikes. Her son, balding, pleasant-faced, emerged from the workroom like a mouse scenting cheese. He looked a them. He almost smiled, but she gave him a look.

"Wow -- these are in good shape," he said.

"Treks," she observed. "They're no good anymore."

"These are pretty old," I said. "At least ten years."

Her expression changed. She looked at the bike some more. I looked around the shop and had the feeling the dust layer over the chrome fenders hid my own boy-sized fingerprints.

Sadly, no one buys bikes from shops like that anymore -- or, at least, not from this one. I wondered how they even stayed in business and figured they probably live above the place; the building's probably all paid off so they open the shop up the same way they have done for years, hoping to gather whatever cash they can. I've never seen another soul in there.

The light inside was dirty, because the light-covers were dirty and the windows were not only dirty, but nearly obscured by thirty-year-old Schwinn posters.

"The lady" was grey and tired and her son seemed pleasantly resigned to life in mom's bike shop. He was greedily tinkering with the bikes by the time I followed her to the counter.

Then, she changed. She started telling me about her family; talking about the Royal Wedding; asking me about the T-shirt I was wearing. All the while, she was writing a thing at a time on a slip of paper, pleasant and gregarious. She asked me what I did for a living and when I told her, she told me about her grandson who is trying to get certified as a teacher . . .

We (she) talked for nearly a half of an hour while her son disappeared into his work, talking softly to himself about it. She was oblivious to my body language: slightly turned toward the door; keys out. Finally, I said, "Okay, so when can I come back for them?"

Her tone changed. She was mean again. "A week. Don't leave it too long, or we add five dollars a day. In ninety days, we will sell them."

She glowered and lit up a cigarette and disappeared into a little, messy office. I was -- quite clearly -- dismissed.

I drove home, thinking (surprising to my regular audience, I know).

That little shop is a microcosm of all of our lives -- of all we hope for and all we dream about and how we react to the reality of the way things eventually pan out. Our needs, our inadequacies, our pain, our love, the walls of our cages -- they're all there, in that dusty old bike shop, right along with the buried fingerprints from the visits of a little stranger, like objects preserved in a cracked museum case.

We'll all live in our own version of that shop, someday. How the place looks, who's with us and how we carry ourselves within will depend upon a million things.

No comments:

Post a Comment