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The Bike Store

Somewhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan. A bell rings when you enter. Regulars can burst in sweating and ask the bald, turtle-slow mechanic to fix their derailleur. But supplicant strangers like myself must wait to be seen. The bell means nothing when I enter. So I stood next to a white pillar.

The employees hate their factory-made product. True bikes are pan-national: a leather saddle from an ancient basement find, a Japanese shifting assembly, a solitary Italian brake. The honest bicycle emerges from a tinkerer's living room like the Grand Canyon emerged from erosion.

A man and a woman stood around a repair stand like it was a warming fire. I eavesdropped on them as I waited to come into focus.

"He built a bike from five tricycles," said the man. "Melted down in a solar-powered furnace. With foam pedals. In Yonkers."

"I'm talking," said the woman, "about one from a warehouse in Queens, a warehouse taken over violently by the Modern Agrarians and turned into a nine-level sustainable farm. This bicycle is made from aluminum pipes from the dumpster outside a nuclear laboratory. The handlebars are bamboo and the rims are nanocarbon buckysteel."

Suddenly they see my factory bicycle, bought in this store two months ago, and I materialize behind it. I hold up the broken chain, the product of yesterday's lazy repair work ("Please," I said, "I'd rather you fixed it." "No," said the man, "it won't break again.")

A half-hour ago I was nearly hit by a box truck while I pedaled air with the chain hanging behind me. They hear that and fix the problem and I pay $60 despite the warranty and receive a lecture on shifting for my pains. City of pedants. People come here because they know better. The myth is that they left because they were too big for their small towns but they actually came here because they were running out of people to impress.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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