Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tales From the Bike Shop - Last Days

Well, I've put in my 2-weeks notice at the shop, and my last day is Monday, June 30. I'm leaving for the very reason that most people get angry and frustrated in their jobs: My job is too small for my spirit. I need a bigger job.

There are still the people who continue to energize me and inspire me to teach, and theirs are the stories that should be told...

Jake - My Customer of the Day

Jake came in today with his grandparents. Jake is eleven, and has not yet had his growth spurt. He's a good-natured, kind, loving kid, witnessed by his encouragement and support of his younger sister who also learned to ride a bike tonight, and his respect and love for his father. Jake is my customer of the day.

When he first came in with his grandparents and they told me that he needed a new bike, I turned and talked directly to Jake, and asked if he would like try an size extra-small adult bike rather than a 24"-wheeled kid's bike. He was certainly big enough.

"No," he insisted, "I like this one better," he said as he moved timidly to the smaller bike that was clearly too small for him. Jake is a little pudgy, and probably not very active. I found out later that his grandfather, who is here on vacation from Montreal, rides a bike every day. I create an image in my mind of the grandfather who comes into town, discovers his sedentary overweight grandson, and determines to do something about it. So he drags him to the bike shop determined to get the boy on a bike. This is where come in.

"Well, if you like this [smaller] bike, let me take it to the mechanic so he can get it ready for a testride. How about that?" I ask Jake.
"Oh, no. I don't need to ride it. It'll be fine," he tells me.

He's afraid of riding the bike.

"What's the thing that's keeping you from riding the bike?" I ask.
He hesitates, then confesses, "Um, I have the wrong shoes."

I look at his shoes. He's wearing Crocs.

"OK, so if you had better shoes, would that be OK?"

"Well... not really. I don't need to ride the bike..."

I drag his main hesitation out of him.

"I might fall," he says.

"Well, what will happen if you fall?" I ask.

"I dunno, I get hurt a little," he says.

"And then what?" I ask.

"Um, maybe I bleed..." he says, almost as a question.

"Then what?" I ask, prodding him to look further.

"I dunno..." he shrugs.

"Do you get back on the bike?" I ask.

"I dunno... I guess," he says, confused.

"So, the worst that can happen is that you fall, you get hurt, but then you get back on the bike. Right? Has that happened before?" I ask.

"Well, yeah, and it was really um, kinda scary," he confesses.

"OK," I tell him, "well, that sounds really normal. Lots of people who fall and get hurt are afraid. I think everybody is. But, you know how that chocolate cream cake in the window of the bakery looks soooo good, but it never really tastes as good as we think it will?"

"Um, yeah..." he says.

"Well, things are always exaggerated in our minds. The desserts always taste better, and the falls always seem more painful, but it's never as intense in reality as it is in our minds. Right?"

"Wow. I guess so," he says.

"So, if i gave you some elbow and knee pads that I have in my car, so it wouldn't hurt if you fall, and if you came back here in better shoes, would you take a test ride?"

He searches for a flaw in my argument, but can find none. I assure him that with elbow and knee pads, he will not get hurt, that I fall all the time and I'm OK. He agrees to come back later in the day with his father.

Meanwhile, his grandmother has stood and listened to this exchange in something akin to awe. She asks me how long I will be at the shop today. I tell her till 8pm.

I help Jake choose a helmet, one with colors he likes, and set it aside for him. He and his grandparents leave, and I all but forget about them until almost 7pm, when they return to the shop, this time with Dad, Granddad, and the younger sister Kayla, who is about seven.

Jake is ready for the ride now. He readily dons the elbow pads and knee pads that I retrieve from my trunk. I show him how to put his pedal at 2 o'clock for maximum impetus. But despite all my coaxing and coaching, he quickly begins to get discouraged, and after almost half-a-dozen false starts, he suddenly cries in frustration, "I can't!" I ask him for one more good effort, and this time, I hold him steady as he pedals a few strokes in the parking lot. He comes to a stop, his eyes wide.

"Wow. I almost did it," he says, amazed.
"Yes! You did! Do it again!" I tell him.

He starts again, and this time, I let go, allowing him to ride by himself. He does it. He comes to a stop triumphant in front of his father. "Dad!! I did it!!" he calls.

This kid has not been on a bike since he was five years old. His dad is really trying to contain himself, while I hold nothing back and literally jump up and down and give Jake a high-five. It is now that I tell him he should try to XS adult bike.

"You think I can?" he asks.

"Dude! You looked so good on the 24"-bike, I think it's really going to be a better fit..." I tell him. I glance at the father, who takes a deep breath and purses his lips. He really wants his son on the bigger bike, but knows he can't push him.

Jake gets on the XS Hardrock and rides it like a champ. "I'm doing it!! I'm doing it!!"

These are the moments that make my job sweet. My day can hardly get any better at this point. A boy who was afraid of bikes now can't wait to go ride the new one he will be getting.

The father looks at me and says, "So, Kayla here has never ridden a bike. Can you teach her too?"

I prepare a 20-inch girls bike with coaster brakes for Kayla. She is fearless, and although she has several false starts, she takes instruction well and is soon riding well, as long as she doesn't have to turn or brake... which will come in time.

Amusingly, Jake has been attempting to coach her with his new-found knowledge as one who has *ahem* been riding longer than her. ;) His dad quiets him, telling him, "Let Laura tell her..."

After Kayla has mastered starting and stopping, and Jake tells her what a fine job she's done, I turn to Jake and say, "Your sister has learned very well from your example." He smiles.

"She probably learns a lot from you, right?" I ask.
"Well, sure," he admits.
"Do you know what you can learn from her?" I ask him.
"What?" he asks.
"She had a number of false starts, and messed up a lot of times..." I say.
"Haha... yeah," he laughs.
"But she never got discouraged, did she?" I ask him.
His smile fades, as he realizes this.
"She knows it's OK to make mistakes. You could try to learn that from her," I tell him with an encouraging smile.
He casts his eyes down, then looks back at me and nods with a tight-lipped smile.

God bless him, I too am a first-born who has to get everything RIGHT the first time!! My younger brother was always messing up, but it never mattered for him. If only I had been able to learn from him early on, and see his flexibility to get it wrong as a strength...

Haha... somewhere along the way I developed this compulsive need to make it easier on subsequent generations, seeking out first-borns and letting them know it's OK NOT to get it right the first time... :)

Today, Jake was my customer of the day, for his spirit, courage, and intellectual fortitude.

I have many more Tales from the Bike Shop that I will post here over the next couple weeks. Although I'll miss my bike shop tales, they will soon be replaced with Tales from Sunny's Safe Commute - teaching people to be safe and confident on their commute to work.


Syra said...

Oh I enjoyed this one! Such great people experiences make life so wonderful!

Rhonda D. said...

Laura, my dear, you are going to make an EXCELLENT mom. :) You totally made my day...and it is obvious that you taught more than one young boy how to ride. You taught a lesson (or two) that will serve for a lifetime. They (the whole family) will never forget that. Thank you for sharing that tale!

Naomi said...


That's a great story. I think you taught me the same way! I never thought I would get up Gilman.... you have definitely passed along your love of cycling to me! I will take it to Baltimore and all future endeavors with me!

Laura Drexler said...

Seeing you develop as a cyclist and an athlete has been one of the great gifts I've received this past year. You've turned into one of those people you used to be afraid of, and you totally rock! Out in Baltimore, you will most likely be riding with my old TNT teammates. I can't wait to hear the stories!

Mory said...

What a great story! You know how much I enjoy your writing. You have such a knack for drawing in your audience.
Good luck with your new job. Hope your new employer appreciates your outstanding, caring, personality.
Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.


Marcia said...

Yet again another great story. What a great way to start my day. I'm remembered how you coaxed my fightened nephew Alex, another first born, into wearing his tuxedo and walking down the aisle as the ring bearer at my weddingn when he. Your patience and understanding of children is amazing. Now, next time you visit, you can give Bryn some riding lessons. She's doing better, but she's still a little afraid and will not let us take off the training wheels. Miss You!

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog, Sunny!! Thanks for sharing.

Zoie said...

People should read this.