He was in the midst of a dream, a sweaty, anxious dream…not so much a nightmare, there was no sense of danger, no monsters, ghosts or murderers chasing him, just a series of events leading to dire mental stress bringing him to the edge of a sleeping nervous breakdown. He was trapped in a small box and someone from the outside was knocking, knocking, then pounding on the box from the outside. The pounding grew louder and louder until he somehow snatched himself out of sleep, and the darkness was gone, sunlight filled the stockroom where he was curled up on his makeshift bed. Only the knocking remained.
He picked up his phone. Six-fifteen am. What kind of crazy customer would be knocking on the shop door so early? Only the craziest, he decided. He had to see. It was just a week ago some drunk had taken a dump right outside the door. When he opened it from the inside, it had smeared across the concrete. He fantasized about catching the deft deficator, of braining him with a pedal wrench until his gray matter covered the crap-stained cememt. He crept to the closest window to the front door, hoping he could see the offender without being spotted. The pounding had stopped. The stoop was vacant. He opened the door to find his friend Ted walking across the parking lot, back to his car.
“Ted! Don’t go waking me up without buying me coffee.”
The diner, which Ted insisted was the best, was packed with young professionals, the type he always saw coming into the shop for the most expensive bikes, but were always dressed casually and had hours to peruse. It fed his angst that everyone else his age seemed to make a ton of money and worked thirty hour weeks.Ted was one of those.
“I like going out for breakfast,” he said, “but they charge you eight dollars for, like, thirty cents of egg and potato and ten cents of toast.”
“Would you stop complaining?” Ted asked.
“I’m not exactly complaining, I was saying that I LIKE going out for breakfast. I haven’t even made one snide remark about triathetes yet.”
“Dude, you think your job is bad, when was the last time a junky held you up?”
“Just that time at that video store. Never had it happen at a bike shop…just rogue stoop poopers. But seriously, they can’t figure out quick releases. Always putting the springs on backwards and jamming them into the dropouts. Like 90% of the time.”
“Well,” Ted said, “I told you about the guy that handed me the note. Cleaned us out of oxycodone. Then there are the people that come through the drivethrough with fake prescriptions, yelling at me when I won’t fill them. This one lady was driving around in her bathrobe. When I turned her down, she got out of the car and started banging on the drivethrough window. Her robe fell open and her saggy boobs were flying around, and she didn’t even notice.”
“And here are my eggs! I am regretting this sunny-side up thing now.”
Ted picked up a steaming piece of bacon. Held it in his teeth for a moment. It looked like he had a dragon’s tongue. “So I’m building up a new bike. What do you think of MARS’ new Blue group?”
“I know, I’m sorry, you don’t want to talk bikes. But I actually get to ride them, and they are fun,” Ted chided.
“Ok, actually, now that they switched to 11 speed they finally made a front derailleur that works. It is still just road biking, or as I like to call it, expensive jogging.”
“I’ve seen you in a kit before,” Ted said, pointing another piece of bacon at him. “You should come out with us sometime.”
“I would screw up your fancy computer stats,” he replied. “My only riding this summer has been circling the parking lot trying to get your beloved MARS to shift. And I would like to go on record saying that it wasn’t a MATCHING kit.”
“OK. Hey, I got some dirt on your ex-girl if you want to hear it.” Ted wielded a mischievious smile.
Even after refills of coffee and the oath to not tell Ted’s wife about his latest secret bike build, he got back to the shop with two hours to spare. The sunlight was seeping through the windows. The shop was silent. Reminded him of being in church. He thought about Ted’s invitation to ride. He couldn’t keep up at this point. All summer, stuck in retail. Standing at the bench while everyone else got stronger. Topped out at 43 days straight before they found another mechanic. He looked at the row of road bikes. Pulled one his size down. Spun on some old abandoned SPD pedals.
“Let’s see what a six-thousand dollar plastic rich man’s toy feels like once you get it out of the parking lot,” he called out to himself.
He got back to the shop exhilerated by the cool morning air. His heart was pounding in his chest, thanking him for the wake up call. He had ridden out and back, his midpoint being the bronze monument to the “War of the Worlds” broadcast. Took a picture of the bike leaned up against it to prove to the sales guys that he had actually ridden a bike with a MARS Blue group on it. When he coasted up to the shop, two cars were already parked out front, waiting. One guy was sitting on the steps. It was Gary. Gary owned his own chiropractic office. Worked four days a week. Nailed his revolving staff of well-endowed young receptionists. Spent his free time on his boat or riding around his second home in Costa Rica.
He let Gary in, but locked the door behind them so the other early birds would just have to wait until opening, or one of the sales guys get there, whatever happened first. He went into the storeroom and changed, throwing his sweaty jersey onto his makeshift cardboard bed. Gary was riding the bike he had just “borrowed” in circles around the showroom.
“Damn,” Gary yelled out. “You are so lucky. You have the best job in the world, hands down.”
At that moment, looking down at the jersey that had fallen silently onto the hollow box, he realized he had left his phone sitting next to the “War of the Worlds” monument.
“Living the dream,” he replied.