I biked to work and back for the first time in a long while. The last time I can remember, it must have been near the autumn when the weather had gotten too cold or the trail too icy for me to get there safely. Nobody plows the bike trail. We have to wait for the sun to warm the asphalt in order to have a clear path that isn't taken up by soccer moms and oblivious commuters.
There were a lot of things going wrong with my bike at that point. I can't complain, though. The middle chain ring was getting worn down from all the miles I've put on the bike, and all the shifting. I had purchased a new one to replace the badly worn gear, and replaced it at a friendly neighborhood bike shop that let me use their tools for free. The five bolts that hold the front gear set together came off easily enough, but replacing the gear also required taking apart the bolt that held the crank arms to the gears. I tried doing that with some tools that I had around the house, but they weren't sufficient. I needed two socket wrenches that would hold on to both gears, in order to get enough leverage to twist them apart.
Thanks again, neighborhood bike shop! You didn’t request payment, but I gave you something else.
A long time ago when I was working at the fast food counter for a city exposition center, one guy gave me a tip. For service workers selling overpriced food to tired expo workers and visitors (a soda cost $3!), tips were already a rare thing. One guy came up to the counter and handed me a colorful paper bill “Bet you'll never see that.”
I gave it a curious look, and by the time I glanced back over the sea of mostly large-bellied, middle-aged bearded men discussing boats or industrial manufacturing equipment, he had vanished. That night, I went online to figure out exactly what the guy had given me. The bill was colorful and had exotic birds or phoenixes on one side, and a stately rectangular palace on the other. Bhutan. Cool!
Would the guy be right? Well, so far he has been. I've never been to Bhutan, but I at least touched the continent a few years back when I visited India. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival focused on Bhutan one year. Still, it seems that I'm just as unlikely to visit now as back then.
I love bike stores. The exotic, miniature, precision-made metal parts click together to form machines that can convert human energy into velocity. Customers chat with mechanics and tell stories about the improbable situations they found out on the trail, how they patched up their wheels and got home just barely. Shop owners try to convince customers with deep pockets to splurge on high-end carbon fiber frames. And surrounding everything is the slightly sweet smell of chain lubricant, ready to send cyclists over hills and long stretches of road.
This bike store had a wall full of currency from around the world. Some were framed behind glass, while others just hung on the wall with a thumbtack. I had already purchased a gear for my bike, and didn't need one they had for sale. Still, I wanted to show thanks for their generosity in letting me use their tools. When I offered the bill from Bhutan, the mechanic with short hair squinted and looked at it carefully, then thanked me for the small contribution. I haven't been back for such a long time, but I think my handlebars might need some tape.