When I was a kid, we had a neighborhood bike shop named Pete’s. It was in a dirty white house on the corner with a mountain of bike frames piled up in the back yard and boxes and stacks of parts everywhere like a wild bike garden. The shop, a shed next to the house, was never open. I’d knock on the back door and wait, a few extra knocks and more waiting as anxiety built in my stomach. Finally, the door would open.
Pete was at least ninety years old but he looked a lot older, thin, and round-shouldered in baggy faded overalls. “What da ya want?” he’d say, and I’d tell him. “Well,” he’d answer, and I’d feel like he was going to yell at me, but he’d find his cap, set it in place, stroll out to the shed with me trailing, unlock the padlock, click on the light, sit down on an old wooden box, pack his pipe with tobacco, light a kitchen match and puff it to life, and let it dangle out of his mouth in the permanent pipe-groove worn in his lip.
“Now … what was it?” It always felt like there was no right answer. “I need a set of ball-bearings like this.” He’d pull his glasses down and look real close and say, “I don’t have it.” And with the smell of pipe smoke filling the tiny shop and flowing out the open door, he’d slide open a few small boxes, compare a few different sets of bearings, and finally hand me what I needed. Pete always had just what I needed.