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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013  

A couple of months ago, some friends posted a story on their social media accounts about a bicycle repair shop basically refusing to do what the sign on the front door advertised: repair a bike. The bicycle in question belonged to a young boy, and his ride was an off-brand two-wheeler that can commonly be bought in big-box department stores. Well, according to the owners of the repair shop, it didn’t actually qualify as a bicycle in their eyes. It was more of a toy, and one not worth their time to fix. This was incredibly hurtful to the young boy in question, as you might imagine, and his mother was quite upset, as she should have been. But I also managed to feel a great swell of pity for the people who refused to help the boy with his bike, and when I explained that to a friend, she gave me a blank look that suggested I had taken leave of my senses. But after I explained, she understood me perfectly.
June of 1982, I turned twelve years old. Growing up in a tiny Midwestern town, I had always had a bicycle – the years prior to this it was a nifty purple and black dirt bike – but the present I received that year was like a shining gift from the gods. It was a brand-new, sparkling blue, Free Spirit ten-speed! To that moment in time, it was the most amazing, fantastic, awesome thing I had ever been given. This was a step up; heck, it was two or three steps up. The dirt bike was great for riding around town in a small radius. But this?
This was freedom on two wheels.
The Free Spirit – which I did not know at the time was a big-box department store (Sears) knock-off brand of bicycle – opened up my world. The nearest town was three miles away, and during the summer I would make a quick ride down to pick up new comic books at Kaki’s Five and Dime. Mrs. Kakisoulas quickly learned to anticipate my weekly arrival, and I always had first pick. She and her staff always chuckled at me for loyally showing up every week, but to me, it was one of the greatest things ever. I had this bike, which I had named The Blue Streak, and it gave me license to go go go wherever my legs would take me.
It would get better.
Soon, I was riding two towns over to my best pal’s house, about seven miles away. We’d goof off, play outside, shoot bb guns, you name it… summer days that seemed to go on forever. As I made those rides, I started creating stories, putting together plots and ideas that I would eventually put to paper, something I had never done with such volume before. Or I would slip into the world of make-believe as I rode, using the reflectors as my phaser cannons as I played Star Trek against imaginary Klingons and Romulans. I plotted a full novel about a boy who owned a bicycle that could pierce dimensional walls and go from parallel Earth to parallel Earth.
Giving me the freedom to move distances physically also encouraged my mind to do the same, you see.
Eventually, I got a moped, then a car, and I used The Blue Streak less and less. That didn’t mean I stopped loving her, though. I didn’t get rid of her, either. I kept her around. And when I moved to Arizona at the age of eighteen, she soon followed, and we were reunited like I was twelve again.
First, she became my transportation around campus. Then I moved five miles away from campus, and the old girl became my lifeline. Every day, through brutal summer heat, I rode that bike to my job. And about once every two weeks, I would hit a patch of glass and wind up with a flat tire.
There was a small bicycle repair place about a half-mile from campus that was owned and operated by a kindly older gentleman. He had thinning greay hair, an odd assortment of summer sweaters, and glasses that he propped at the tip of his nose. The first time I brought the bike in to be fixed, he looked at it, looked at me, and said “Son, are you sure?”
I nodded and told him simply “This has been my bike for a long time.”
He fixed the bike.
He fixed the bike repeatedly. Broken glass is all too common where I was living, and time after time, I would drag my poor Blue Streak inside his shop and he would shake his head in bewilderment and tell me to come back at 4pm. Occasionally, I would show up early, and I would tell him stories about the bike, and he would tell me how he had never seen a Free Spirit that had lasted like mine with so many miles on it. I was lucky, he would tell me, that it somehow continued to stay on the road. But after a little while, I also knew that he grew to respect my commitment to the old girl. He understood that it was so much more to me than just a way to get back and forth to work. So he did his job, took my money, and sent me on my way. I must have spent $300 or more fixing my bike in that shop, when I couldn’t have sold it for $20. But that’s why I went there.
And that’s why I felt a swell of pity for the guys who refused to fix that boy’s bicycle. That young boy, he doesn’t know or understand that his parents didn’t have the money to buy him a bike worth hundreds of dollars. All he knows is that the greatest instrument of freedom he has ever known has been granted to him. The guys working in that shop have forgotten that – they have forgotten that a bicycle is not just a way of moving from place to place. It is an instrument of imagination. It is a doorway that opens up new worlds for a kid to explore. It makes everything bigger. I pity them that they have lost that sense of wonder, the sense of wonder with which that the young boy is about to blossom.
I rode The Blue Streak until she literally fell apart beneath me, over eleven years after I received that amazing gift. The body of the bike broke away from the wheel base, and there was nothing in the world that could fix the old girl at that point. I walked the pieces over to a nearby bicycle rack and gently parked what was left between two shiny mountain bikes. I didn’t have the heart to put her in a dumpster or some other cruel fate, so I straightened the pieces until they looked like they basically should, and I took one last mental picture of my wonderful friend and companion. Saddened and eternally grateful, I finished the rest of that journey on foot.

4:10 PM

I had the same thing happen to me while I was living in Austin. I took my crappy Magna (purchased at Wal-Mart for $80) to get the cranks tightened up. They basically laughed at me, and while they fixed it, I would never frequent their shop again. I later bought a beautiful old Schwinn, and found a great shop (The Peddler!) that was devoted to bicycle commuters, rather than weekend racers - so they never judged me for my bike. I told them the story of how the other shop all but refused to fix my old Magna, and they weren't exactly surprised but they never turned away a repair job just because it wasn't a fancy enough bike.
That's fantastic! I love that you found the right kind of shop! :-)
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