Monday, September 10, 2012

Tired Out

What the hell was I thinking? Oh yeah, I remember now. When I bought my son,Jiro, a bicycle I thought long and hard about exactly where we would purchase it and who we would pay for it. 

I finally decided to go with the local mom and pop shop over the bigger and cheaper retail chain. That way I thought I would keep the money circulating in the neighborhood plus take advantage of the excellent repair services offered by the septuagenarian couple that ran the place if the need ever arose. Well, that need finally did arise in the form of a deflated tire late last week. 

Comes early this morning I roll the bike up to the doors of the shop. There just beyond the door frame are two mothers with toddlers in tow. All of them are patiently waiting with their eyes riveted on the bike repair master as he works his magic, massaging a myriad of mechanical parts strewn across the floor back into a working bicycle.

For my part, I had the whole morning perfectly planned out. Drop the bike off, head over to the coffee shop for a cup of steaming joe and a pastry, saunter back and roll along home on tires filled with fresh air. So I wheel the bike into the shop. Even though I bought this ride there over two years ago, the silver haired duo who tend the store somehow remember me and the elderly woman asks how my son is. 

All of a sudden I'm just filled with the same kind of warm glow that I'm sure preferred customers in Mercedes Benz showrooms experience all the time. I explain the problem with the bike and the woman shakes her head knowingly before racing off to a back room. She returns seconds later with a crumpled brown bag from which she pulls out a clenched fist. Opening her hand, she pours into the air four small rubber tubes no bigger than macaroni noodles which I miraculously manage to catch before they hit the floor.

"That will be fifty yen (about four bits)," she says. Suddenly I'm not too sure what's going on. Things aren't going exactly as I had pictured. I never figured on a charge but since it's so small, I assume it's just for appearances sake. All done for the benefit of the other customers so it doesn't look like I am getting any special treatment (it's probably what they do at Mercedes Benz). 

Then all of a sudden she deflates all of my high hopes for the day when she says, "You can fix it yourself right?"  I look left then right at the other two customers who have their sights fixed dead on me waiting for me to make my next move. That's when I look grandma gear head right in the eyes and all my illusions about this quaint little bicycle business come crashing to the ground. It's obvious that she is laying down the gauntlet in what's a clear challenge to my masculinity. "Sure," I fire back as I shrug my shoulders with a gesture that implies "it's a piece of cake." She had played the gender card and she was about to lose big time. After all I'm as mechanically inclined as the next guy.

Sizing up the intricate gadgetry in my hand, all I can think about is the coffee shop running out of fresh brewed coffee and delectable danish and why the heck I didn't buy a bike from that guy with the vest and tie who works in the nice air conditioned three-story shopping emporium right down the road. I couldn't concentrate on anything let alone all those little pieces of rubber melting in my hot palm and where on earth they might possibly fit into the complicated puzzle that is my son's bicycle.

Then she suggests I stick the pieces in a big red bucket filled with brackish water they have sitting in the middle of the workshop floor before I try to "stick one into the tire valve where it's supposed to go." I stand there for a full minute, trying to absorb all the information but the impatient old lady yanks one of the pieces from my hand, dunks it in the dirty drink and motions with two fingers for me to unscrew the tire valve. 

Once it fully sinks in that it's pretty much a do it yourself shop, I resign myself to the task at hand and begin moving around the tight submarine-like quarters of the the bicycle garage with agile moves perfectly choreographed not to interfere with the work of the master mechanic who, through it all, lifts his head only once to look at me with a pained expression. It's a pain I now share.

Moments of fear tend to freeze in time and the whole ordeal that seems like an eternity to me is actually over in the span of fifteen minutes. Who knows, had I gotten the hang of the operation quicker, my senior partner might have put me to work on the next customer's bike. Enslaved to the master mechanic, there's just no telling when I would have gotten out of there. 

As it turns out my big American fingers were just too fat to manipulate the delicate "made in Japan" parts I had to work with and the old lady wound up doing the bulk of the job herself. My hands are better designed for putting together monster trucks and such. The truth is, if I hadn't been in the way (i.e. if I had been at the coffee shop), I think she could have been done in seven and a half minutes flat. My only hope is that the next time I walk in there to get my bicycle fixed she remembers me and before she asks me to fix it myself she asks herself, "What the hell am I thinking?" 

Related post:

Money Don't Grow on Trees but Bicycles Do

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