May 29, 2019

The faded moms

I was finishing a draining and mostly circular conversation with the second customers of the morning, an older Australian couple who had a problem with their reservation. (The highlight was their certainty that if only the young man they'd spoken to on the phone yesterday were there, he would sort it all out. A cartoon scroll unfurled in my mind of the things he is constantly un-sorting out, but I smiled and said that unfortunately he wouldn't be in for a few hours. As it turned out, he would come a few hours later and be sent immediately to the emergency room, with symptoms of heart trouble. On his bike. But that's another story.)

I told two hovering moms with two little boys that I'd be right with them. While I was approaching a tentative truce with the Australians, I shooed the kids out from behind me and asked as nicely as I could for them to not run around the dense row of bikes, still lined up like dominoes that early in the day. The moms called the boys back. Then one slipped under the two-tiered rack. Dangerous! I asked more urgently that they keep them out. A mom hollered, and he climbed out and sling-shotted right out the front and toward the street. The moms watched without a twitch, as the other guy working sprinted after the kid.

While the blonde one slogged her way through the (brief!) paperwork, puffing on a vape pen, the brunette with a fanned-out topknot and dangly gold earrings was squatting on the other side of the desk saying, "Fuck, this fucking thing leaked all over the inside of my bag!" I didn't know what she was talking about.

They wanted to pull a wagon trailer behind a tandem bike. Can you picture that? It's a lot of bike. I said that would be long and unwieldy, but they insisted they had done it before. I reluctantly wrestled the tandem out, navigating it between the skittering toddlers, because I know I can be a little conservative about what's possible with bikes, and they seemed sure. The manager saw what they were going for and squashed the idea like a cockroach. "No way. It's too long. Can't do it." They insisted on getting all four people onto a single vehicle, so we wheeled the tandem back in and pulled out the Urban Arrow, with its long front bucket. Before they all piled in, I said it would be a lot of weight up front, and the driver might want to take it for a quick spin empty first to get the hang of it. Nah, they said.

As they were settling in, I realized what had leaked in the bag: a baby bottle that was now sitting in a puddle of milk on the counter. One of the guys ran the wet bottle over to them, along with the credit card they'd dropped on the sidewalk.

The driver mom gave a lurch forward to snap back the kickstand and put one foot on a pedal. In slow motion, the whole thing tipped onto its side. We ran over to help, and they laughed and said we should have gotten video. I rolled with it and said a boomerang would have been awesome, ha ha, and they agreed and offered to tip it again for the 'gram as the kids and mom crawled out. We asked them to please not.

They wouldn't put just the kids in a bucket bike with the other mom on a regular bike, the usual arrangement for this combination of people, because they said the kids would kill each other. So they very reluctantly agreed to the only sensible remaining option: two regular bikes with Yepp child seats on the backs – what we had originally recommended instead of the tandem. I gripped the counter as they finally rolled out, unsteady but enthusiastic, with the kids perched behind.

As they rode off into the morning, my coworker exhaled and said, "Dude, those moms were so high!" Then it all made sense. I went into the back to breathe a minute. 

A few hours later, they returned as they had left: lots of commotion, then the second one, red-faced and disheveled, slowed to a stop and tipped right over, kid still on the back.

When they were checking out, after one had dived back into the bike rack to rescue her oil pen from the bike bag, one of the kids started spinning the tall rack of sunglasses faster and faster. I asked if she could please have him take it down a notch so the shades didn't fly off. She did. "Evan, sweetie, stop spinning the rack," she said, side-eyeing me. "This lady doesn't have children."

May 2, 2019

You can't just give shit away

People with similar backgrounds come in mini-waves sometimes. Often there's a simple reason for it - three Brazilian or French families in a row reflect national holidays, a wave of fathers and sons from Arizona or New Jersey might all be in for a basketball game that night. But sometimes it's just because random events cluster.

I thought I recognized an accent, and asked a customer where he was from. Sure enough, he said he lived here now, but had come from Georgia. I told him I'd gone to school there. "Wow, what brought you out here," he asked, as if this were the first moment he'd ever heard of anyone making that move. "My husband's family is here," I said. "What brought you out here?"
"I moved out here to get sober. Ten months now."
"That's great, congratulations. One of those places in Malibu?" I asked, already sure that it wasn't.
"No, I'm just taking it day by day, right around here."
"Day by day is all you can do," I said.
"Ten months and four days today. I was thinking I'd ride a bike," he said. "Ten months and four days."

The front desk edges right up to the sidewalk, and people bump up asking for random stuff all the time - do you happen to have some duct tape, a band-aid, scissors, a sharpie? The manager has a clear and all-encompassing policy on this type of charity: Nope.
"And I'll tell you why: We'll become known as a place that just gives shit away and then everyone will come around looking for shit."
The next guy who came by was tall and had grey stubble that was a little too long to be good news. Like he might have just gotten rescued from the desert, or been kicked out of the house a while. "Can I have a pen?" he asked, standing too still and locking eyes with me.
"To keep?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, still motionless, chin lowered slightly. It felt important to him, or at least like it was going to be more trouble than it was worth if I said no. So I said sure and handed him a pen from the cup* and wished him a good day. He took it and said, "I'm detoxing and I need to write down some numbers."
"Good luck," I said, as he walked away.
I turned to my manager, who had been standing beside me, and pre-empted any comment.
"I know, I know," I said. "I made an executive decision. I didn't feel like arguing."
"Nah, it's fine," he said. "I hate these pens anyway."

*Don't get ideas! I don't want the shop to be swamped with people looking for hand-outs tomorrow.

I hope there's cell reception in Haleakala

It was on the quiet side, so I was standing out in front, ready to "intercept" people coming in, per instruction. A lady in tall boots, a long cashmere cardigan and moto-style yoga pants approached, and I heard her tell the person she was on the phone with that she was about to rent a bicycle. I hustled over to the register, making a mental note to ask where she'd gotten her yoga pants after she hung up. I waited as she stood in front of the counter saying, "We're trying to decide between Haleakala and the Road to Hana. I mean, we could do both." She looked up long enough to tell me she needed a bicycle. I picked up one of our little contract/clipboard combos and started to tell her the parts she needed to fill out, but she was back to talking, so I just tapped the blanks with the pen and pushed both toward her. "I mean, we'll be staying at the Ritz, so they'll be able to help us plan, either way."
Surely she's wrapping up, I thought, so I waited to ask her what kind of bike she wanted. She pushed the contract back toward me, looking into the distance. "I mean, Haleakala is supposed to be amazing, but I don't know if everyone is going to feel like it."
I held up my clawed hand in the international gesture for "I need your credit card." She slapped it down on the contract. I ran it and gave her the receipt to sign, which she did without pausing her conversation or looking up.
"What kind of bike would you like?" I asked, even though she was still talking. Fine. Beach cruiser it is. I grabbed one, set it up next to her and adjusted the saddle height to her size.
"Not that one. I need a basket. We probably shouldn't skip Haleakala, after all." I swapped bikes, crossed out the bike's serial number on her paperwork and adjusted the height. "I have to go, I'm getting on a bicycle now," she said, and finally hung up. And took off. I never did get to ask about her yoga pants, but by that time, I didn't care anyway.

Apr 19, 2019

No hands!

I complimented a middle-aged British woman on her necklace, an unusual silver pendant. "I had it made for my son's wedding," she said. "Brilliant jeweler. No hands."
"No hands?" I asked.
"The jeweler. She has no hands." She laughed. "Then I lost it, so I had her make it again." Her husband nodded proudly. I was left with a lot of questions, but there was a long line forming.

Apr 17, 2019

Just chillin' on the ground. What's your problem?

A guy with a grey ponytail was sitting on a dirty blanket outside the secondary bike center. As I was going in, another hard-up guy dragging a sleeping bag over his shoulder passed by and said something. The guy on the ground got indignant and called out to me as I was in the doorway. "Do you believe that? Did you hear what he just said?"
I hadn't.
"Say that again," he said to the man walking by, like a coach challenging a mouthy kid in a middle school gym class.
Obediently: "I said, do you have any meth."
"Did you hear that?" the ground guy asked me.
"Yes. I... don't have any meth," I said.
"I don't either!" he said, shaking his head. "Can't believe people around here."
When I left a while later, he was still sitting there with a few trash bags piled around him. I brought out a bottle of water on my way out. "I don't need that, I'm fine," he said. "Are you sure? It's hot out. Take it," I said.
"No, I'm completely fine," he said, like I was the weird one. It seemed like he saw himself as a broker in a suit on a park bench, wondering why people kept treating him like he was some kind of homeless guy.

Apr 15, 2019

No good tour goes unpunished

There was some kind of miscommunication. The more time that's gone by, the less I understand what actually happened, but on a Saturday, the matriarch of a group of eight called the shop from our launch point around the corner to ask where their tour guide was. The guy who answered the phone told her he didn't know anything about it, which was true and reasonable, and suggested she come to the shop to discuss. While she was marching over, I'd looked in the system and didn't see her booking. Curious. Maybe they'd booked with another tour company? But then why did they have our address and phone number? She'd worked up a good head of steam by the time she arrived at the desk, a moment before I was going to take off for lunch at noon. She said she'd been treated poorly on the phone, and I assured her that we'd figure out what was going on and see if we could sort them out. She brandished her phone with her TripAdvisor receipt, clearly showing that she had a reservation with us... for the next day. "That was a mistake," she said. "We meant to book for today." Without even glancing at the guy she'd insulted for not being able to find their non-existent reservation for that day: "Isn't there anyone who can take us out today, right now? There are eight of us, this is our only chance, and we really want to go!" Thinking about it now, that was a request that was clearly unnecessary to try to fulfill.  But not a completely impossible one, and I hated to see them miss out due to a simple typo. This was their only chance! They were booked solid the next day, and leaving the day after that.
I told her I had to be back for another tour at 1:30, so theirs would have to be abbreviated if we did it. "That's even better," she said. "We'd appreciate it so much! We'll ride fast."
I calculated. If we left immediately and skipped a few stops, and if everything went as smoothly as always, and if all eight people could keep up the pace on the final incline, we'd squeak in just in time for me to take off as the second guide for the birthday party.
At 1:30, with two miles left to go, the family was sitting on a patio sipping pints of beer, and the father was cursing and covered in grease. He had planted his bike seat-side down with the wheels spinning in the air for the second, but not final, time. After the mechanic rode out and fixed the jammed chain, and after the family waited for the unwieldy box of to-go french fries they ordered that took longer than the repair, and after the birthday party tour took off without me, and after I fixed another slipped chain a few blocks later, I was chatting to one of the sons at a stop light as we waited for the stragglers stretched out down the length of the block. "So, what have you guys got planned tomorrow?" I asked.
"Tomorrow? Nothing," he said. "I think we're just going to take it easy all day."

Apr 5, 2019

An offer I could refuse

"Hey! Hey! You want to have sex?" The man shouting at me as he staggered by had already been past the shop a few times by 7:45 am. He seemed probably homeless and definitely drunk. 
I said a very clear no. 
"Come on, yes you do! 
He kept walking, fortunately, as he shouted over his shoulder, "Me and you, on the ground!" He was almost gone by the time he added "Mano a manoooo!"
My coworkers looked horrified when they came in a few minutes later and I told them had happened.
"Sorry that happened, what did you say?" they asked.
"I... declined."
"Well yeah, of course," one replied. "You're married." 
I explained that there were a whole lot of reasons that made that an easy no, and that being married didn't really crack the top ten. 

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?

Jan 21, 2019

Zoe is a badass

I caught up with the birthday party tour in progress, and it was off to a wobbly start. Six girls, all 11 or 12 years old, and four parents were celebrating one girl's birthday with a custom sweets tour. The off-the-shelf sweets tour goes through some really pretty Santa Monica neighborhoods, but it's all street riding. These kids were not really up for it, so we designed a custom tour that kept them mostly on on the beach path, and still got them plenty sugared up. Chelsea was leading the group, and I was going to ride sheep-dog at the back and make sure nobody got left behind.

I had just finished an emergency (long story) tour for a group of eight adults, and mechanical problems had made it a little longer and bumpier than expected. A part of me was hoping Chelsea would say, "I got this, you don't need to join," but when I texted to find out where they were and if I should still meet up, she sounded a little urgent when she told me where to intercept them. Right before she hung up, she said, "We've had a situation."

Most of the group was at the donut shop where they were supposed to be, but they had gotten very spread out on the way over, and two moms and two kids were at another bakery nearby, regrouping because, they texted to someone in the main group, Zoe had "hit a car." It turned out that this was not a down-playing euphemism as we had feared – she had literally wobbled into a parked car. She wasn't injured, but she was badly rattled. She and her twin sister were just a few months younger than the other girls, but they looked years younger. They were petite and a little awkward. I related pretty hard. Zoe and one of the other girls were wary of riding down the California Incline. Kaelynn noped right out of it and walked the whole way, but Zoe rode at about the same speed as the walkers, most of the way. She dismounted before we reached the end, but she gave it a great effort, considering she hadn't wanted to get back on the bike at all. As we rode down the beach path side by side, I suggested that she might feel steadier and swerve less if she raised her gaze way out ahead of her instead of looking down. She said that was cool, and seemed to straighten out.

Our procession made its way slowly down the path, which was mid-August crowded, with more different types of electric vehicles than I remember ever seeing before. From the rear, I was keeping a close eye on the line of kids. I gasped as a dickhead on an electric scooter blew right in front of Zoe and either clipped her front tire or came close enough to make her jerk. Time froze as I waited for her bike to go down. She wobbled. And kept right on going. Her mom was riding right in front of me, and as I exhaled, I shouted, "Oh my god, she's fine!"
"Did you see, a scooter just nearly hit Zoe!" And Zoe was chugging along, not even looking around. She'd basically gone from training wheels to bike messenger in two hours. Never underestimate the power of a little time, encouragement, sugar and sunshine!

Jan 19, 2019

Most people love the tours so much

The couple on the tour today were nice people, but not the most enthusiastic guests I've had. The wife seemed way more into it than the husband. She said she much preferred getting around town for errands on a bike than in a car. He asked how many miles it was as we were getting sized up, and how long it would take. On the beach path, I pointed out some of our rental bikes going by (I always get a kick out of seeing them in the wild). He said, "You mean we could have just rented bikes?"
I thought, man, I'm right here. I can hear you!
Early on, we visit a Moreton Bay fig tree that we say is second in size in the US only to one in Santa Barbara. Most people ooh and ahh. As soon as I said it was a Moreton Bay fig, before I even got to the claim that it's the second-largest, the couple pointed out that they'd seen a much bigger one in Detroit, and another bigger one somewhere else. Ruining my narrative!
They also didn't want a single picture. Most people take tons.
Oh, well. You can't win 'em all.
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