Over the course of my adolescence and adulthood I’ve made many attempts to stop biting my fingernails. They’ve all ended in failure. As a reminder of this weakness I’m left with nubs so useless I’m forced to use paper clips to open pop cans, credit cards to scratch bug bites and tweezers to fasten necklaces.
It’s pitiful. And gross. My hands are ugly. Looking at them as I type this post, I’m reminded of the brief times in my life when I actually had real human nails. I can count these times on two fingers. (Pun intended.) Once: In 2007, when I went Kerouac-ing across the country. Twice: when I left the newspaper and a took a job in a marble yard . (Lesson learned from my marble yard experience: Having visibly filthy hands all day is the best deterrent to nail biting.)
So what does this have to do with a crushed bicycle you ask.
Well, let’s see here…
About a month ago I strapped my bike to the back of my car and drove to Sarasota to do some riding with Oma. (Note: I’m not talking about my sexy Bianchi. I wisely left her at home. I took Joe’s cumbersome, twice-crashed Specialized Crossroads – the one with Henry’s green seat mounted on the front.)
After enjoying a leisurely ride along Sarasota’s Legacy Trail and an ice cream on the way home, I pedaled back to Oma’s place feeling fat and happy. Giving little thought to my bike’s visibility, I laid it in the grass in front of Oma’s trailer and left to take Henry to the pool.
When I returned from the pool, I immediately noticed that my bike’s two most vital parts were in critical condition. The chain was limp and the derailleur was bent in half. At first I was perplexed. How could a bicycle get so jacked just lying in the grass? Last I checked, the squirrels in Oma’s neighborhood can’t bend metal, nor can the mostly elderly residents. Vandalism was unlikely.
I surveyed the surrounding area for clues. The only conclusion I could come to was that Oma’s sweet unassuming neighbor had rolled over the bike while backing out of her parking spot. Don’t forget it’s close quarters in a trailer park.
Since this sweet unassuming woman is Oma’s friend, I couldn’t voice an accusation without evidence. (Our suspicions would be confirmed two days later when this woman, upon overhearing park scuttlebutt that someone’s granddaughter’s bike was run over, would knock on Oma’s door and make a full confession.)
I sulked into the house, grumbling because it was half my fault for lying my bike in the grass. (Why didn’t I just get a kickstand?)
Oma sensed my disgust.
“Vhat is vrong?”
“My bike is broken,” I said.
“Vhat? Broken?! It vaz fine on the trail.”
“I think someone backed over it.”
“The chain is off and the gear box is bent.”
We walked outside to assess the damage.
“You are right,” Oma confirmed. “Someone drove over it. That is the only thing that could happen.”
Just when I was about to pronounce my bike dead on the scene, Oma interrupted with an enthusiastic suggestion.
“Ve should take it to the bicycle doctor,” she said.
“The bicycle doctor. Ve have one in the park.”
“You have a bicycle doctor in the park?”
“Yes – and he fixes bikes for fun. He von’t even accept payment. He fixed my bike once. Vouldn’t take a dime.”
“OK,” I said. “It’s worth a try.”
—– §§ —–
The bicycle doctor lives in what I like to refer to as the Reba McEntire tour bus version of an RV; the kind of rig that’s worth more than my house. Equipped with hydraulic slide-outs, it’s surrounded by tiki torches, lawn ornaments, pinwheels and an array of bicycles in various states of repair and disrepair. If you listen closely you can hear the sound of The Righteous Brothers playing through the screen door. The bicycle doctor loves old romantic songs.
In this motor home, he’s got everything he needs, including a small washer/dryer unit that he recently fixed because these days “everything is made to break.” According to his wife, when he’s not tinkering on bikes, he’s tinkering on the RV.
A small wooden sign near the driver’s side window says BICYCLE DOC. It was a gift from a nearby wood whittler whose Schwinn was recently repaired by the good doctor.
The guy’s real name is Cliff. He’s a retired businessman from Chicago. All his life all he ever wanted was to own a bicycle shop, where he could rent, sell and fix bikes; a dream he waited until retirement to pursue. Why? Because he never felt comfortable profiting off bicycle repairs. Some people just get off on being helpful. Cliff is one of those people.
He retired early. Sold his business. Bought an RV and found a warm place to spend his winters. When he realized the Royal Coachman Park was a hotbed of bicycle activity, he began to offer his mechanical services pro bono. Word quickly spread. News travels fast in a trailer park.
Most of the busted bikes he sees are damaged due to negligence. People are lazy when it comes to kickstands and careless when it comes to parking. Cliff once saw a $2,500 Cannondale after its owner had leaned it against the back of a pickup truck. The bike was twisted into a pretzel. Its injuries were fatal. With the cyclist’s blessing, he used it for spare parts.
Cliff is passionate about kickstands. If he installs one on your bike, don’t be surprised if he glues a golf ball on the end of it. All cyclists in Florida should have golf balls on their kickstands. With such sandy terrain to contend with, a kickstand needs all the help it can get.
The bicycle doctor is opinionated. He’ll readily explain the shortcomings of the Obama administration even if you have an Obama 2012 sticker on your kid’s bike seat. Though you may be tempted to object, you absolutely must hear him out.
When someone is fixing your bike for free you listen to everything they have to say.
Take this exchange for example:
Bicycle doctor: “You’ve probably got no problems fixing your own bike.”
Me: “Well, it depends on the problem. I wouldn’t know where to begin with the gear box.”
Bicycle doctor: “Some ladies aren’t willing to get their hands dirty. By the looks of those fingernails I don’t think that would be a problem for you.”
Me: “I … uh … yeah … I guess you’re right.” [sad face.]
Bicycle doctor: “Is that a nervous habit or just general maintenance?”
Me: “A nervous habit.”
Bicycle doctor: “Well, it certainly gets the job done.”
—– §§ —–
So there you have it. The real reason why I’m not biting my nails. When a bike mechanic comments on your grubby paws, you know you’ve got a bad habit.