Jan 29, 2019

These are the people in your neighborhood

The shop was a magnet for chatters this morning.

Before 7, there were already steady inquiries. One was a lady who looked like she might be early for a meeting asking where she could find breakfast. The other was unintelligible - a guy wanted to know if we had... something. He repeated it twice, and I finally said we didn't have it, whatever it was. A woman with a severe speech impediment and a kids' knit cap on asked where the 720 bus was.

Steve the brochure guy came a little after 7. He comes once a week to refill the rack of tourist fliers. He hits the road before 5 am to make his rounds, and every week we talk about how lucky we are to have jobs where we get to see the sunrise, talk to people (we nod at each other when we say this), and not be in an office. "Can't beat it," we say. Today I learned that he's a Hotwheels collector, and has a garage full of them. Among the Hotwheels, his absolute favorite is Marvin the Martian, and today after work, he was going to go track one down that he'd gotten a lead on.

As I was finishing lining up the cargo bikes, a kid in one too many layers of clothing walked slowly toward the shop and stopped a few feet away. I wondered if he was going to be a problem. I said good morning, a little wary. He said "Y'all rent bicycles?" Yep. He commented on the sunrise, and I agreed that it was amazing. He raised a fresh blunt. "Wake and bake?" I declined, and mentioned that I was at work. "Integrity, I like that!" he said. We chatted about the sunrise a while longer. He said he'd arranged it and I complimented him on the good work. I think he'd already started the waking and baking.

An older woman in all white walked by with a velcro walking cast on one leg, a styrofoam head in her hand, and a can-shaped toque made of tinfoil and tape wrapped around her head. I was just about to take a picture of her hat from behind, when someone grabbed my arm lightly. It was the tall Caribbean guy, who said once that he'd missed the boat back, stopping for our surreal daily chat. Today he said, "So I walked into a bathroom--." I stopped him and asked if I'd want to hear this story. "Of course! I walk into a bathroom. And there's a naked girl. And there's a cow. And I say, 'this isn't Victoria's Secret!'" He slapped his own thigh at whatever the joke was there. We did our fumbly blend of fist-bump, high-five and mutual arm-pat and he kept going toward the beach. He says he has a house in Malibu that survived the fires because he surrounded it with cacti. He said once that his name was Billy, but he didn't say it convincingly.

Across the street, a man walking with a sharp jerk shouted, like the slow chugga-chug of a steam engine starting up, "Motherfucker! Motherfucker! Motherfucker!"

Doug came for a repair (even though he always does it himself and is just short on time right now) and gave me a wink and a fist-bump on his way in. A transplanted New Yorker stopped to talk about how nice the weather was here for us east coasters, and then I swear he left with a subtle Wakandan salute. Two women who could have been Jersey girls except they were from Toronto stopped to ask how the Jump bikes work. They were skeptical, like how do you know if the bike has mechanical problems when you get on it? Who's checking it if you can just leave them anywhere? They said they'd rather get them from someplace like us. Three kids who probably should have been in school came in to fix a tire at the work stand. Two of them had crashed into each other and busted the tire. They were psyched that we had tools to use.

All the regular guys who come by for shower towels said hi. On a day when business is quieter, I love getting to talk to these people all day.

A wretched older homeless lady who looked like an ancient fertility statue disguised in a dirty dark blue hoodie and short red wig was causing problems outside. She threatened the guy at the desk, and he said she'd stared at a customer's kid and shouted, "You need to have your tonsils out!" Maybe she was a medical psychic. That'll be for mall security to figure out.

How do you go back to a desk job after this?

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