The lean, stretched out, purple machine, part Schwinn, part Jaguar, was upside down on the sidewalk. The homeless guy, in several overcoats, light brown covered by dark grey, was rummaging in his bag for tools.
“Do you need some help?” I asked,
“No, I think I’ve got it. She’s my baby. Not as good as my other bike, but she’s good.”
I’m drawn to broken bikes. Broken bikes are flaws in the universe that need to be mended, wiped clean, lubricated, and set free. There is a simple pleasure in seeing the solution to the problem, selecting the correct tools, and excising the poison from the wound. The bike is soon free to carry it’s owner towards his or her next adventure.
In this case, the only problem was a chain that had stretched, jumped off the sprocket, and rendered the creature helpless.
But Brandon (I asked him name later) actually had some tools. I found this encouraging, and we set to work. He was having trouble remembering the right way to turn the wrench, but between the two of us, we managed to get the lug nuts loosened, the wheel realigned, the chain tightened, and the bike back on it’s feet.
Brandon mostly talked non-stop during the entire repair. He talked about growing up in Morro Bay, about his wife leaving him, about her taking his two kids to Oregon with her, about somebody breaking his tent, about spending the night in his mom’s garage last night to avoid the rain.
Talking to Brandon made him human to me. He wasn’t just this homeless guy, that if I talk to, will then hit me up for some money. His hair was long and straggly, but he was mostly clean and easy to be around.
At the end of it all, Brandon offered to let me ride his bike.
“I don’t usually let people borrow, or ride my bikes, but thanks for helping. Do you want to take it for a ride?”
I had to decline. My recent knee surgery has me grounded from bike riding for awhile.
“Thanks, but I recently had surgery and can’t manage it right now.”
So I went back in the house while Brandon picked up his possessions, and wheeled his world down the street.
Our house was full of people, and food ready for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered what his immediate plans were.
I thought a lot about Brandon the rest of that day, and the next. The weather was foul, and cold, and I wondered where he had hunkered down to ride it out. Was he back at his mom’s, camped out beside her car and the garden tools in her garage? Was he back in his vandalized tent, trying to mend the broken tent poles?
I decided to take a walk around the town after dinner Friday evening. It was a delightful evening. The sky was clear, warm air had filled in after the front, and there was no wind to speak of. I walked the wet streets in the business district, and looked in the shop windows.
Mostly antique stores, small restaurants, and liquor stores. All closed, except for the liquor stores. On the way back I walked past a small park in the middle of town. On one corner of the park was a brightly-lighted structure, sheltering a bench from the elements.
Brandon was inside, sharing the space with a friend of his (he never introduced us). Brandon, once again had his bike upside down, and was working on the front end, wiping down, and cleaning the chromed springer front forks after the rains. They gleamed in the harsh light in the shelter.
Brandon was still having a hard time figuring out which direction to turn the wrench. I helped out while he talked. His friend sat there and smiled, exposing the gaps in her front teeth. They both seemed a little high, and there was a discarded prescription bottle on the ground by the bench.
But he talked his way through his script again, the wife, the kids, the tent. We got the, now cleaned bike, back on it’s feet, and I said my good byes.
I walked the last few blocks back to the well lit, warm rental house , full of family and friends. I stood at the foot of the stairs thinking about Brandon, and then thankfully ascended to the warm embrace within.