Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Story - "Step Away From The Bike"

After the dog adventures I got to meet up with an old teammate and colleague/employee of mine. We worked together until I owned the shop then he technically worked for me; one might argue that I was working for him (and the other employees) since when I was stressed they could think better than I could think. I was stressed a lot.

That first year of the shop we both won our Series in the Bethel Spring Series with virtually no training. We worked the full 6 days at the shop, about 9 hours a day, then worked another 5-8 hours each night building up the new store space at the other end of the building.

On one Sunday we worked until 3 AM then somehow got up and got to the race venue by 6 AM. We swept the course, he and I worked registration and such, he won his race, I won mine.

After the race someone walked up to us as we celebrated my win - Tom had generously worked for the team (i.e. me) in my race so we had just won for the second time that day.

"So what's the secret?"
"You know, what's the secret? How did you guys train so you could win both your races?"

We looked at each other and laughed.

"Work until 3 AM building the shop, get a couple hours of sleep, then drive to the race so we can sweep the course."

The racer looked at us with a grin on his face, waiting for the punchline, waiting for the "just kidding!"

We looked at him. He looked at us.

"Serious. We've been doing that for a couple weeks now."

The racer left without much comment.

Of course the late nights did affect us. Tom had a tough day when his body cried for rest. One Bethel, a little before 8 AM, when we were supposed to have everything all set up and the first race was about to start, we had nothing there.

We called Tom on what I think was a public phone. Or someone had a fancy cell phone. Whatever, the conversation went something like this.

"Yeah. Hey, what's up?"
"Um the race is today."
"Oh, right. What time is it?"
"8?.... Oh f*#@"

We got back to the official.

"Um, our guy is gonna be about an hour late."
"What's he have?"
"A lotta stuff."

The official walked over to the center of Turn One, where a lot of riders stood in the morning mist, waiting to register for the race.

Unusually heavy mist for Bethel, I should add.

"Okay racers, due to the fog we're delaying the start 2 hours."

Tom arrived a short time later, having driven at some insane speed through some of the most densely deer populated areas safely and soundly. We started unpacking his car, with the tables and all sorts of big bulky things, and started with registration.

Although I love telling that story it doesn't encompass what Tom is all about.

One thing is that he encouraged me to train. For me training always happened at night, or, at best, after work. He convinced me to commute to work. I wasn't a morning person so this would have been a hard sell for Tom. He closed the deal by telling me he'd ride to my place from his house, ten miles away, then we'd ride the 18 or 20 miles to work.

We inevitably fell behind schedule so we'd team time trial our way to work. He forced me to work hard on the hills since he was stronger than me. In fact I recall a few rides where I pulled maybe a mile or two of the way; the rest of the ride Tom dragged me kicking and screaming, up, down, and on the flats.

I remember Tom as a meticulous mechanic. His bike was always pristine and he'd frown at even a slightly dirty drivetrain. He worked well too, although he preferred not to have customers peering over his shoulder while he worked on their bike. All bike mechanics have experienced this, and the third last time I paid someone to work on my bike (and the first, I think, since my bike shop days), I hovered over the guy like a parent hovering over a newborn.

(The second last and last time I paid someone to work on my bike I couldn't see the work being done, one because it was in a secret room in the bike shop and the second because I left the frame at Expo Wheelmen sponsor Manchester Cycle for some facing and reaming.)

Tom communicates well, with clipped syllables, good enunciation, and a strong, firm voice. This worked well when he explained what was wrong with a bike, but his direct language could be taken, well, a bit directly.

One day, when a particularly intrusive customer insisted on peering over Tom's shoulder, he turned and looked at them.

"Step away from the bike," he said, pointing his finger away from the bike.

The customer moved about two inches.

Tom enunciated better and raised his voice just a bit.

"Sir, I said step away from the bike."

At this point we had an inkling of what he was saying and our jaws dropped in astonishment. This wasn't customer service, this was customer rudeness! What should we do?

The customer stepped back several feet and politely waited.

We both returned to our business. Later, after the customer left, we laughed at Tom's "Step away from the bike" phrase. After that, if an intrusive customer came into the mechanics' area, we'd tell them to "Step Away From The Bike".

It worked. It helped us work better and it defined to the customer where they could go and, more precisely, where they shouldn't go.

After the shop Tom found his way north, first to school, then a job, and finally settling down. Unbeknownst to me he settled down about 40 minutes away from the Missus's mom and stepdad. When he read where we had stayed he emailed me and told me we should get together next time the Missus and I headed up. I learned somewhere in there that he'd just had a baby boy.

Fathers, both of us. Wow.

So, on this trip, on Monday, we got together.

Since my left ankle still felt uncomfortable from the dog bite/s from Saturday the Missus drove. We used my DroidX's phone to navigate and I remembered Tom's email where he notes, at the end, that "there's a Ford Ranger in the driveway."

We got to the road okay, started counting down the house numbers, but when the numbers dropped 30 at once it threw us for a loop. There's the house, that's the right number.

We both looked at the vehicles in the driveway. Chevys and GMCs, all of them. Not a Ford in sight.

The Missus looked at me. I looked at her.

"It's the right number, right?"
"Yeah. Turn in, I think it's right."

We pulled forward towards the wall of non-Ford products. I looked at the one to the right, a green non-Ford, different from the other vehicles in an indescribably subtle functional way. I realized what it was.

I grinned and turned to the Missus.

"That's a Forest Ranger truck! I just read 'Ford Ranger' but he meant 'Forest Ranger'!"

I'd mentally assumed and you know what that does.

We got Junior out of the car seat as Tom walked out of the house. He didn't seem any different than before. Me, I'm significantly heavier and I have much less hair. Tom politely didn't mention any of it.

I went into the house holding Junior while he showed up with his (Tom) Junior, a boy about 5 months older than our Junior. We shared war stories.

They have a beautiful black cat that we saw and another that we didn't. We shared more stories.

His wife runs a family business identical in theme to the place I worked until mid-May of this year. We shared even more stories.

Because Tom Junior was a bit older we got a preview of what it'd be like when our Junior reaches his age. The biggest thing was mobility - as soon as they set him down he was crawling like mad, like setting down a wind up car with the wheels spinning. The Missus and I exchanged glances. We need to crawl-proof our house. Soon.

Tom and I had planned on doing a ride - I'd even packed my bike into the car, with a kit appropriate for the cooler conditions. Catching up got the better of us and the only bike related thing we did was going out to his bike in the mud room and check it out. Although he had a new frame the other parts looked suspiciously familiar.

"Are those the parts off your Pinarello?"
"Well, yeah, although I upgraded blah blah blah."
"FiR rims..."
"Yeah, they're amazing. Still true after all these years."

15 years and going strong. Tom had built those wheels for himself.

At some point the idea of going for a ride popped up. Tom explained what he expected from the ride. Ironically it mirrored what I expected. Tom explained to his wife...

"Well he's a 2 now so I told him to take it easy on me."
"Tom, I downgraded back to Cat 3. I gained 25 pounds. I'm more worried that you're gonna drop me."

We never made it out for a ride.

After a couple hours we had to get going, to get our Junior to bed. We turned out of the driveway, leaving the Tom, his family, and the Forest Ranger behind.

Next time I'll bring my bike again. Hopefully I'll be in a bit better shape. Hopefully the weather cooperates again.

And hopefully we'll get out for a dog-free ride through the countryside.


Anonymous said...

The very first "online race result video" I ever saw was the gif you put together of Tom coming over the hill for the win at Bethel.

He is such a great guy.

Aki said...

I realize now I should have put it in this post but I don't know where I have a copy of it...