Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Wiggle

If you're a cyclist living in or near San Francisco then you know and love The Wiggle.

The Wiggle is an east-west route through a city that is famous for awe-inspiring hills. A route from downtown to Golden Gate Park that manages, via strategic turns and timing, to be miraculously flat. How about that?

When you do the Wiggle, it kind of feels like threading a camel through the eye of a needle. Unlikely and wonderful.

Some people tend to seek out adversity, thrive on it. Under normal circumstances I'm that kind of person. The chance to get stronger, bring it on!

The hills of San Francisco, though, are several orders of magnitude steeper than anywhere else. There are a lot of them and they're too steep for cycling. They're too steep for driving, really. What they're good for is comic material:

This is how I first learned about the hills of San Francisco, before seeing them in person. What I've learned in the interim is when you can do The Wiggle, you should. Every opportunity, you should take it. Definitely.

Today I rode my fixie against a bitter wind to the Bike Exchange workshop. To accomplish something worthwhile. To take my mind off Life Challenges of the Moment. Picked out a kid's bike, then on the way to the stand noticed a strange wobble in the rear wheel. Had a premonition it would require a lot of wrenches and axel work and skills I don't have. A can of worms.

Quickly felt overwhelmed, like I was in the wrong place. Shouldn't have come. I don't need more problems to solve.

This was just a feeling, mind you. The old me would have insisted on throwing everything I had at the crippled bike. Toughing it out, no matter the personal cost. A matter of principle. Just do it.

Instead I felt like running away. Quietly, so no one knows I was even there. This, too, seemed unsatisfying. Like a waste. After all, I'm here and it's freakin' cold but I've got a hat and a jacket and it's not raining like the forecast said. In fact, the sun is shining.

So, I wheel the little bike back to the pile for someone else to tackle, maybe later. And pick a different one. It looks better, but you never really know. Still feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Too proud to ask a mechanic for help. Sooner or later, you have to try standing on your own.

I start by cleaning the bike. Something I know how to do. It was kept indoors, which is good, probably in a garage or some other space that was shared with a long-haired feline. Lots of soft, long cat hairs in the spokes and components. It takes a while to get all that off. In the process I notice a loose reflector, a crooked seat. A wobble in the front wheel that turns out to be just an issue with the way the tube is seated inside the tire (no truing required). A dry chain in need of lube. And so on.

A mechanic comes up and starts pointing out issues and what to do with them. Some of which I had noticed, others not. It's all good! As she points things out I start knocking them off. On the front brakes, making the right tiny screw a quarter-turn tighter and the left one a quarter-turn looser. Otherwise, as soon as she leaves I'll forget the whole list. But this is not how she wants to work. She wants me to just listen and remember everything and then do it. When she says "you'll have to choose between working on the bike and listening to me" that feeling of being overwhelmed and wanting to run away, it comes right back.

This is a pseudo-work situation. Can I survive, with my limitations, in this type of situation? Where someone is prescribing not only what needs to be done but how to do it?

It's a volunteer gig. So I wait for her to leave and somehow at that point only the rear brakes need adjusting. The bike passes QA! Maybe a local kid whose family can't afford one will get a red bike for Christmas. Clean and good and totally functional.


Having wiggled around the first bike, the uncertainties of the second, and the mindset of the mechanic, I am completely giddy with success. My next employer will need to know about the brain injury. Flying under the radar, bad idea. But it's way, way easier to accept this on the heels of a win (or two).

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