The Mountain Bike Life

Dylan shook his head at a guy that changed two lanes without signaling, cutting him off. He couldn’t believe he was back in Jersey. He fumbled with the radio in Ted’s Subaru. The presets were whacked. Hip-hop, not the good kind, but the kind that’s 50/50 rap and R&B. Do one or the other, please. The next, a Top 20 Country station…and THAT guy is rapping.

“What the hell?” he said to himself. He turned the dial, searching for someone to rap the news. At least that would be entertaining.

The plain, two-story building was set back off the highway. He parked at the back of the lot and took a deep breath. Adjusted his collar in the rearview. Tried to imagine making that drive everyday, if he ended up getting the job and staying at Ted’s for awhile. And a car. He would have to buy a car. He cheered himself up by imagining actually making enough money to buy a car.

He couldn’t decide what his least favorite part of a job interview was, but standing in front of the receptionist, while she looks you up and down, waiting for the interviewer to show up, had to rank high. He shifted his weight from toe to heel and tried to look interested in the partially constructed product sitting in glass cabinets. Should he look serious? Smile? Hold his hands to his sides or folded in front of him?

Soon enough the General Manager, Paul, showed up and decided to show him around the factory. Dylan felt good. Not overdressed, relaxed, but not too much. They wove their way around some cubicles, the exact maze so many told him was hell, that he was trying desperately to get into. Then through double glass doors into the factory. It smelled like warm plastic.

He stood there, side by side with Paul, looking over rows and rows of workers turning lathes, stepping on pedals, and pulling levers. He thought of the lines from Devo, “common stock/we work around the clock/we shove the poles in the holes.” That was him. Common stock. Could Paul tell? Probably. Paul had commented on how calloused his hands were when they shook. He decided, as they walked back through those glass doors into the cubicle area, to call it a victory just because he was being considered for the cubicle side of the building, where everyone’s hands, like Paul’s, were soft and padded. Like shaking hands with a panda.

They finally made it into a conference room for the interview. “Why do interviews always take place between two or three people, but in a conference room with a long table and a dozen chairs?” Dylan thought.

They chatted awhile, but it reached a lull. Dylan felt like he needed to take the lead, show that he was capable of steering conversation, if he was going to be a Customer Service Representative.

“Listen, before you ask, here are my weaknesses. I mean, my abbreviated list of weaknesses. I could go on all day, really.”

“Well,” Paul said, breaking into a smile for the first time. “The question was on its way.”

“Ok…Because I have been pigeon-holed into this bike mechanic thing for so long, I don’t have a lot of computer savvy, you know, Excel spreadsheets and the like. I took a few community college classes, but nothing that was applied enough for it to really sink in.”

“Ok.”

“And corporate email etiquette. On the occassion I have emailed my customers at the bike shops I’ve worked, they tend to be pretty informal. It just fits their idea that I have the most laid-back, fun-filled job in the world.”

“That’s because you do,” Paul responded. “Honestly, I wish I could live the simple life, work on cool bikes and ride everyday.”

“Oh, yeah. And you forgot about going ten years without health insurance. And having a fiance’ break off the wedding because you don’t make enough money to buy a house or have kids. And arguing with drunk guys with pissed-stained pants because you won’t fix their bikes for two dollars and a stick of gum pulled out of the pockets of said pissed-stained pants. Oh, and working dawn to dusk seven days a week whenever the weather happens to be beautiful, like all summer.”

“I suppose every job has its downsides.”

“Like no paid vacations. Or sick days. Or 401K. And washing dishes or waiting tables at night because you don’t make enough to pay your student loans. And having the owner of the shop and the owner of the bike stand over you and criticize every move you make, although neither of them have the ability to do the work themselves.”

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Paul shuffled a file of papers in his hands. Looked passed Dylan, out the window behind him.

“Anyway, back to my weaknesses…” Dylan smiled. “Listen…you are going to get more qualified applicants than I. But they are going to see this just as you yourself described it, an entry level job. I was halfway to New Mexico when I got your call. Haven’t taken a trip in years, but I cancelled it and rushed back here. To me it isn’t an entry-level job, it is an opportunity to show everyone that I am capable of more than the same job I have been doing since high school.”

There wasn’t much to be said after that, he asked if he should call, the answer was no, they had two more interviews and if he had the job he would be called in under two weeks.

On the drive back to Ted’s, he stopped and picked up a six pack of beer. He owed it to Ted, for the use of the car and the couch he was crashing on. He found a station playing oldies, which he found strange, it was 70’s and 80’s songs. He was used to oldies being 50’s and 60’s. “Holy shit, I’m an oldie,” he called out to the cold air coming through the crack in the window. The Midwest weather he had just been in had reached the East Coast. He felt a cold shiver roll down his spine.

“Should’ve fallen through,” he announced to himself. “Here I am, trying and trying, but I am still right back there, skating on thin ice.”

When he got back to Paul’s house, he found himself locked out. He had remembered seeing Paul pull the car key off the ring, thinking maybe he should ask, but that Paul would at least leave the back door unlocked. He grabbed a chair from the patio. Opened a beer. He sat, hood pulled up over his head, shivering and watching everyone in the neighborhood come home from work.

“What to do now?” He wondered. “I told The Boss I was gone for another two weeks. Do I sit around Ted’s, waiting for a phone call? Do I try to go back to work and get some hours? Some wretched, no-repairs-for-days, boring, Boss-staring-at-you-like-you-are-stealing-food-from-the-mouth-of-his-babes hours?”

One of Ted’s neighbors, from the house directly across the street, pulled to a stop. Put their car in reverse. Backed into their drive. He had noticed, everyday, at 5:20, he pulled up and backed into his drive. To pull out faster in the morning? Who knows. The man, dressed in a suit and trenchcoat, got out and flashed him a wave. Dylan wondered how he must look, sitting in a lawn chair, feet propped up, snowflakes dotting the air, reaching out for a can of beer balanced on the hood of Ted’s Subaru.

“Should’ve let myself fall right through that damned ice,” he mumbled to himself.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Preparing for another season of mountain bike racing

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