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Five Years In The Bike Shop

Copyright 2013-2024, John Flaherty

Preview

There was once a little bicycle shop, ordinary in every way, except for the people associated with it. Brian the owner, the employees, and many of the customers were the most interesting and eccentric people I have ever met. That’s what this book is about. I have changed the location and the names to protect those involved. Everything else is true, exactly as it happened. The bike shop lasted five years before it came to a strange end. Welcome to the story of the shop and it’s people.

Table of Contents

C. William Parker

Brian Bailey

Getting Shot

Rick Selly

The Three Judys

Sean Nicholson

The Head Case

Carter Conway

The Religion Freak

Jeremy Kinsella

Billy Red

Helen Parker

Sexless Sam

Will Matthews

Josh Van Vleet

Larry Flynn

Oliver Worthen

The Printer

Brian’s Own Bikes

Violence and Death

The Neighborhood Kids

Perry and John Coruthers

The Nader’s Raider

Kent Nadeem

Eli Sarov

Carol Washkanski

Adrian and His Helper

How It Ended

Last Words

C. William Parker

At 41 years old, William seemed ancient, compared to us. He was thin, had short and slightly graying hair, and looked to have European roots. He spoke quietly and elegantly, sounding a bit like John Wayne in an old movie. There was something comfortable about him and so we liked him instantly. He was not one to dominate a conversation. In fact, he was almost like some sort of wizard, just interjecting a perfectly formed sentence or two after everyone else thought they had made their point. He became one of us, yet he wasn’t the same as the rest of us.

His bike was a Cilo Pacer, a classic ten-speed bike made back in the 1970s. Cilo Pacers were always white with elegant red trim including intricate painting around the lugs that held the Reynolds 531 double-butted frame together. Yet, they were a relatively low-end bike. Made very much in a road racing style, complete with sew-up tires, they had Campagnolo Valentino derailleurs. These were almost laughable compared to the Campagnolo Record and Super-Record components found on true high-end bikes. The derailleurs were made from stamped steel parts, and very ‘cheap’ in appearance. At the time, many serious riders on a budget bought Cilo Pacers because they had a good frame. Components could always be upgraded as finances permitted.

William was one of the first hires after Brian, owner of the bike shop, converted to paying the mechanics on a commission basis. They got one-third of the labor charges that the customers paid. Suddenly, the mechanics in this shop were the highest paid in town, by far. Now Brian, rather than having to deal with a bunch of inexperienced misfits, could hire the exact people he wanted. The best mechanics from all the others shops in town applied.

William had the reputation of being meticulous, which appealed to Brian. Even his name was meticulous. He wanted to be called by his middle name, William; not Carl, and not Bill, or Will. But Brian didn’t know that along with ‘meticulous’ there were some other attributes in William’s personality.

William was one of the few mechanics that didn’t jump ship from another shop. He had been fired by his last employer. In fact, when Brian heard that William was fired because he took a bike into the bathroom and was caught scrubbing it with a toothbrush, he figured William was just the precision, caring mechanic he needed.

Brian had grown tired of some of his mechanics’ antics. There was the time he had sent two mechanics to a department store where a hundred bikes on display had been badly assembled by stock clerks. That store paid Brian $20 per bike to fix them up, and so sending his two guys to work a day in the department store would be quite profitable. The mechanics came back to Brian’s bike shop snickering about something. When Brian asked them what was up, they told him. It seems one bike was missing a part – the little wedge that holds the handlebar stem into the fork. They didn’t have a spare, so they grabbed some Epoxy off a store shelf and glued the handlebar stem into position. Brian exploded, sending the mechanics back to the store to pull that bike off the floor before someone bought it. He wanted mechanics with better sense, and it seemed like William had professional common sense to spare. In fact, Brian secretly hoped some of William’s maturity might rub off on him.

William came to work the first day, dressed in a crisp white shirt, sports jacket and tie. Really! He put on an apron, and set right to work laying out his tools just the way he wanted them. That took an hour.

Brian wanted to see how William was with customers, so the first case was a tune-up while the customer was allowed to sit on a stool and watch.

The customer stepped off the stool a couple of times, showing William one little detail about cable routing, then another about handlebar position. In measured tones, William told the customer, “While the bike is in the shop, it’s my bike. Sit on the stool and watch – just watch, no noise!” Then he took five minutes adjusting the handlebar position. After that, he had the customer sit on the bike, and equally painstakingly adjusted the seat. When he was done, the front of the seat was an inch higher than the back. This turned up seat idea was just one of William’s idiosyncrasies, as Brian was soon to find out.

William was a good mechanic. Oh, he wasn’t fast, but since he was paid on a piecework basis, that was alright with Brian. He did tend to clean bikes way too much. It was not unusual to see William scrubbing the handgrips of a bike after a simple flat tire repair. Sometimes he would take one of the square red shop rags, reach in, and polish a hub between the spokes for two whole minutes. The customers loved this.

William didn’t dress like a banker just on his first day. Every day he wore a tie, a yellow, tan, or light purple crisp button-up shirt, and a dress jacket or at least a sports jacket. Even in the summer. And the shop was not air conditioned. Somehow, through the course of every day, he managed to stay clean. Bike mechanics do not stay clean. There’s no way. But William did. He knew which way to stand when blowing out a part with compressed air. He knew how to manage a chain without ever actually touching it.

One day, Brian came in around 10am, and found William sealing the bathroom doorway. William had probably been there for a couple of hours, and he was meticulously taping plastic and foam around the bathroom door. When asked why, he said there were toxic fumes coming from the furnace of the shop next door. Upon questioning, he didn’t know what kind of toxic fumes they were, or even how they might harm someone, but he had no doubt they were seeping in and that they were bad.

Since the bathroom door still worked alright, Brian let the foam and tape stay. It lasted only a couple of days until one of the other employees took it all down. We never knew who removed it, and no one wanted to ask.

One day, William simply failed to show up. A couple of days later, one of the salespeople picked up the phone, and heard William’s voice. He handed the phone to Brian, who later told us that William had been incarcerated, more or less.

William was as meticulous in his eating as his bike repair. He ate no sugar, no meat, and not much of anything except celery, carrots and lots of hard-boiled eggs, as far as we could tell. He rode with us all to pizza one Friday night, and was perfectly content to sit there and watch us eat. He wasn’t the least interested in the pizza. He did, however, drink eight glasses of water, and went to the bathroom twice.

William talked a lot about vitamins. He said he had one cavity in his teeth that had been there for a while, and was healing slowly, all by itself, thanks to his careful attention to nutrition.

As to being locked up, it seems that at about one o’clock one weekday morning, William wandered over to the local mental hospital, and wanted to talk to the kitchen staff about the way the patients were being fed. Only the orderlies were there at that time of night. While he was talking about the B-complex vitamins, they were very nice to him. First they listened politely. Then they suggested he go home and bring it up in the daytime, when the kitchen staff was actually there. But this seemed to upset him. He became increasingly agitated. He was convinced they were placating him, and that the food given to the patients was bad, very bad, and had to be dealt with immediately. He started yelling, until they finally suggested he might want to check himself in.

That was easy for him, since he had been a patient there before.

So there he was in the mental hospital. When I found out what had happened, I visited him. He was very worried about his bicycle, so I went and unlocked it and stored it at my house. For this he was profusely thankful. I think his bike, with the front of the seat tipped up an inch, meant more to him than anything else in the world.

After two weeks they let William go. He had lost his apartment, so he was sleeping somewhere outdoors with nothing but his camping-gear equipped bicycle for two days, and then he rented another apartment.

A couple of weeks later, Brian and I went to visit him at his new second-floor studio. It was a furnished apartment, and as far as I could tell, there was nothing of William’s in the apartment but a few meticulously clean and folded changes of clothing, a shaving mug, and toothbrush.

But, there was something very strange going on. This was early winter with temperatures hovering around freezing outside. William had opened the main living room window about a foot, and had built a rather elaborate rig of cardboard tubing. He had three cardboard tubes fastened into the window opening. These three tubes bent around the window frame, and hung about six feet down the outside of the building. He explained it had something to do with the fumes coming from the furnace.

All was well for a few weeks, then William got himself evicted. It seems he called 911 in the middle of the night, in a frantic attempt to let the owner of the building know that there was a dangerous problem with the furnace. The EMTs found nothing. All the tenants were quite upset, what with being awakened to screaming sirens at three in the morning.

So William went back to camping with his bicycle. Because it was the winter season, business was slow and so William was working at the bike shop two days a week. Yet, even though he was camping, he showed up spotlessly clean and dressed every time, smelling faintly of cologne.

And again, suddenly, no William. For two weeks we heard nothing. Of course we checked with the mental hospital, but he was not registered as a patient there.

And then we found out: The phone rang. It was William’s uncle, calling because he knew William’s only friends in the world were his co-workers. He wanted us to know what happened. William had been hit by a car. It happened at about five in the morning. A dark and stormy night – really – and foggy too. William had been riding his bike up a slight hill on a back country road 50 miles out of town with no lights and no reflectors. He was killed instantly. The state troopers determined he had been in the middle of the road, perhaps trying to stay in the exact center between the double yellow lines.

 


 

Brian Bailey

Brian, the founder of Brian Bailey’s Bicycles, is the

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