Sandy took Bryan’s hand and they turned right and headed to the back staircase of his apartment building. The hall didn’t smell too bad but he heard her take a deep breath as he turned the knob on the stairwell door and they started their descent. As always the acrid odor of evaporated urine washed over him but he had become inured to its power to the point where he no longer flinched nor grimaced. Sandy had experienced the stairwell’s raw pungency on the way upstairs and as it had nearly made her retch she held her breath and hurried down the stairs, only exhaling as she pushed the bar that opened the door leading to the ground floor lobby where she took a big, relatively clean breath. Even in this ‘clean’ part of the building the stale cigarette smoke wafting through the air still made her cough. She smiled at Bryan, shrugged and headed for the back door and the fresh air that awaited them on the early April day. “Can’t you smell that?” she asked.
Bryan laughed as they walked outside and headed back towards her parked car. “What? The urine, cigarettes or body odor? Or did you mean something more nuanced that I missed?” he asked.
“No, I think you got it. Remember what I said about hooking you up with a place of your own,” she added.
“Thanks. I doubt I’ll take you up on that but we’ll see.” They rounded the corner of the small parking garage and it was Bryan’s turn to end his breathing hiatus as he spied Sandy’s car and was relieved to see that his bicycle was still attached to her rooftop rack. “Looks like you were right about the rack’s lock being sufficient to keep somebody from stealing my bike,” he said, brushing the bike with his fingertips as he walked around to the driver’s side of the car to open the door for Sandy.
“Yeah, that or nobody thought it was worth stealing,” she replied with a big smile and a small kiss before she climbed into her car. “Thanks,” she added with a nod to Bryan’s easy to perform but all too rare in our modern world display of chivalrous courtesy. “I like it when you treat me like a lady.”
He smiled back, opened the door to the back and placed his warped wheel on the floor behind Sandy’s seat before heading over to his side of the car. Getting in and buckling up he said, “You’re welcome. And thanks for taking me over to the bike shop.”
“Glad to. Ready?” she asked, turning on her left signal and pulling onto the little Westside alley.
“Yep, you know where you’re going?” he asked.
“Sure, I just forgot all about Morgantowne. I’ve went there maybe a half dozen times when we lived in Vilagon but haven’t been back since before George died. Jon did all the bike stuff, I just rode. I remember going in there to help pick out bikes for George through the years. Started with a little Schwinn when he was in kindergarten and we got him some black and blue road bike for his 14th birthday. It was nice, a Giant maybe?”
Turning right on to Blairs Ferry proved easy but the light at Center Point turned red before Sandy could get through it so they stopped and waited for the light to turn green. “Hey, do you have a driver’s license?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. “I can drive, I just don’t own a car. I even have what my agent called a non-owner policy. It’s for people that don’t own a car but still drive. Plus he said it’s a lot harder to get insurance back once you let it lapse so I kept the cheapest thing I could find. Runs me about $300 every six months. I have renters insurance too; that sets me back about another fifty a month. Expensive.”
The light turned green and Bryan noticed that she checked both directions before heading into the intersection. “So what is that, about two hundred a month for renters, car and health insurance? That’s cheap,” she said with a laugh.
“You might think so but none of it does me any good. That means that I pay almost a week’s take home every month for something I hope to never use. I don’t own a car, my health insurance doesn’t do me any good until I rack up ten thousand toward my deductible and my renters is only important if somebody breaks in and steals my stuff. I could definitely use the extra two hundred bucks for stuff that I need; like groceries.”
Morgantowne was just east of the next light and west of the Target store where they had met only two days before. Sandy slapped her turn signal down as she came abreast of the McDonalds restaurant and turned first onto a little side street and then made a quick right into the parking lot of the bike shop. The northern most part of the lot would have fulfilled Sandy’s parking regimen M.O. as well as her stated desire of parking her Outback in a corner of the lot as far from the building and other cars as was reasonable but the far portion of the asphalt in front of Morgantowne already held half a dozen cars. The spaces in front of the entry doors that abutted the building held another three or four vehicles so Sandy settled for backing into a spot in the southwest corner of the lot beneath a barely budding apple tree. She unlocked the car doors, climbed out and reached into the back seat and retrieved Bryan’s spare wheel.
“You want me to pull this down now?” he asked, using his chin to point to his bike up on the car’s roof rack, “Or can we wait and see what’s up?”
Sandy checked her watch and answered, “We still have time. Do you need to bring it inside?”
“Don’t see why I do. It’s fine except for the front wheel. I checked it over pretty thoroughly.”
“Would you feel safer with it in?”
“Ha! If nobody messed with it in the back of my building I don’t think they will here, either. You ready”
She smiled a response before replying. “Almost. I just need to give you something,” and then reached over and kissed his cheek. “That’s for telling me about all you grandfathers. That was sad.”
“Yep. Let’s go. And thanks!” he answered, giving her a little hug as she started walking toward the two automatic doors to the store’s left marked Service. “Hang on,” he added taking her elbow and leading her to the two doors on the far right side of the building. The doors to the left were automatic sliders while the pair on the right were the standard doors sitting beneath a sign that said ‘Sales.’ “I hate doors that open for me. Let’s use the two to our right.”
Sandy stopped, looked at him for a second, raised her eyebrows and shook her head slightly before answering, “You’re a strange one, but I like you. Right doors it is.”
The showroom was busy with a dozen customers standing in clumps being helped by sales people. The service department was visible to their left and Bryan nodded to it and said, “I guess we can head over there and see about my wheel before we look at helmets.”
“Sure,” Sandy answered with a shrug and a grin.
They started walking to the service counter but were stopped by a tall man with dark hair that had a definite sheen of silver at the tips. When he turned his head to the side his hair glittered and he had a ready smile plastered on his lips and his black Morgantowne polo shirt sported a nametag that read ‘Dan.’ “Welcome to Morgantowne,” he said. “Flat tire?”
“No, bent wheel. Took a little spill. I need a helmet, too.”
“Uh, oh. Everybody alright? You didn’t crash too, did you?” he asked, looking at Sandy.
“No. We’d been riding together earlier but I’d split off to go home. He did that without any help from me.”
“Just some bruises and a bent wheel,” Bryan said. “Do you want me to leave the wheel over there with the mechanics or should I get a helmet first?” he asked.
“Oh, so you’ve been here before, huh? Tell you what, why don’t we walk it over to service and see what they have to say and while they’re looking at it I can help you with a helmet. Sound good?”
Sandy shrugged her shoulders and looked at Bryan. “Sounds good but I’m in a little bit of a hurry. Will this take long?”
“What? Checking the wheel in or buying the helmet? I think we can be done in ten, fifteen minutes tops. Oh! I don’t know if they can fix it while you wait, you’ll probably have to leave it for a while. They’re a little backed up with repairs now that spring is in the air. Is that a problem?”
“No. I expected to leave it. I know this is your busy time of year,” Bryan answered, following the man toward service.
“Where did this happen? In town or out on the trail?” Dan asked.
“Yes, actually,” came Bryan’s reply. “I was right at the little twisty underpass on the Cedar River Trail there by 29th Street. Got tangled up in some guys’ dog leashes. Wound up on the ground.”
Dan’s face made a small grimace and said, “Ow. Glad you’re okay. They stop?”
“Nope. I woke up and some kid on a beat up Walmart bike was asking me if I was okay. Pissed me off.”
A young, stocky man with hair cropped closely enough on the sides to let his scalp be somewhat visible but who’s hair was longer on top came over and asked, “What’s up? Oh, hey! Fixie man! How’s the Red Menace?” he asked.
“She’s okay, but this front wheel is kind of bent,” he answered handing the mechanic his wheel. How you doing, Joe?”
“I’m good. Here, let me take a look at this thing. Hey, Dan, get his info for me while I take a quick peek; okay?”
“You got it,” Dan said, hitting a few buttons on the service check in computer. “Uhm, remind me of your name again, please?” he requested.
“Tiernan. Bryan Tiernan. That’s t, i, e, r, n, a, n. And Bryan with a ‘y.’”
Dan hit a few more keys and said, “Up, here you are. On Blairs Ferry? The 3160 phone number still good?”
“Yep, that’s me.”
“Good. Hey, Joe, I’ve got Bryan’s info pulled up here on service writer one. We’re going to go pick out a helmet. We’ll be right back. You ready?” he added, directing the last to Bryan.
“Yep. Ready. Joe, I’d like to fix that if we can but if we have to replace it let me know, okay?”
“Will do. Go get your helmet and I’ll come find you.”
In the far part of the store opposite the service check in area was a wall display of helmets. Dan walked them to the display and asked, “Anything in particular we’re looking for?”
“Something bright and safe. I ride at night a lot and I want drivers to be able to see me.”
“You use lights?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Absolutely. Got a couple of those rechargeable ones that Ben sold me.”
“Oh, cool. Serfas or Light and Motion?”
“I don’t know. Long cylinder that came with a handlebar and helmet mount and one that clips on my bike bag. I’ve got two sets, one that’s older and the taillight straps to my helmet.”
“Sounds like Serfas. They make good lights,” he said as he reached for a helmet half way up the display rack. “You do road or mountain?” he asked.
“Road. I don’t have a mountain bike.”
“This Overdrive is really nice. It’s what I ride,” he said reaching for a black and neon yellow high visibility helmet. “I really like it,” he added, placing it on Bryan’s head and adjusting the size knob on the back. “How’s that feel?”
“Good. I like it, it feels a lot like my old Sweep. How much?”
“It’s just a hundred. That one work for you?”
“Kind of pricey. Don’t you have something in the $35 range?”
“Sure, sure! Bell makes the Solar. Great little helmet for thirty five bucks. Comes in white and red too! Not as bright as this one, but definitely visible. Here try this on.” He said, removing the Overdrive and handing him the Solar. “That work?”
“It’s okay, but the other one felt better.”
“Well, yeah. Does ventilation matter to you? That Overdrive is super cool. You do RAGBRAI at all? Coming through town again this year. Right up in Aiionwatha. Gonna’ be hot.”
“No, I never have. Do you have anything in between?”
“Tell you what, let’s look at the sale table, okay? Might be something there.”
They found a white Slant helmet with good ventilation and a fit that was closer to the Overdrive’s. The feature to price ratio was a good mix for Bryan and once Dan showed him how easy it was to snap off the helmets built in sun visor he settled on that one. It was a close out model from last year and on sale for only forty five dollars, which Bryan figured was ten bucks well spent for the extra comfort and better venting.
After sizing the Slant to Bryan’s head Dan returned the helmet to its box and walked them back over to the service department where Joe had good news for them too. “We can definitely salvage that wheel,” he assured them. “That’s a good, old school, 36 spoke, three cross wheel and with that Mavic rim you shouldn’t have any problem. Is Friday early enough for you? I know you ride your bike all over but we’re a little backed up. I can get it earlier if you absolutely need me to?”
“Nope, Friday’s fine; I’ve got a spare. How much do you figure it’ll be?”
“Well, it’s not just a basic true job so it’ll run like twenty three bucks or so with tax. Beats replacing it, that wheel runs like a hundred sixty.”
“For real?” Bryan asked.
“Yep. Nice wheel. Let me make sure I’ve got your right info and then I can let you go,” Joe said.
“Uhm, I can ring you up on the helmet while Joe does that if you’re in a hurry,” Dan offered.
“That’d be great,” Sandy said. “I’ll pay for the helmet, you give Joe your info and we’ll get going,” she said.
“I don’t want you paying for my helmet,” Bryan protested.
“You can pay me back. Give him your info!” she said, taking her wallet out of her bag.
Dan went to the register and said, “It’s Tiernan, right?”
“Okay, I heard Dan confirm you phone earlier. Is the Be Tiernan up daisies at gmail still good?” Joe asked.
“You want me to phone or email when we’re done?”
“Either. Oh, email I guess. I might get it sooner.”
“Okay. We’ll email you unless we have a question, then we’ll call.”
“Okay, sounds good. Thanks, Joe.”
“No, thank you. See ya.”
Sandy had the helmet paid for and Dan said, “Thanks a lot. Hope you don’t need this one again soon. I saw your email, that’s kind of morbid, isn’t it? Or are you a florist?”
Bryan laughed. “You’re the second person to ask me that in an hour,” he said, looking at Sandy. “Neither. It’s from The Great Gatsby. Daisy Buchanan? The main character?”
“Nope, don’t remember. Think I read that back in high school but haven’t seen the movie. Have a great day! Thanks, we’ll call when your wheels ready!”
“Bye,” Sandy said as they walked to the far side of the store in order to avoid the automatic doors. “Daisy Buchanan? Why didn’t you tell me that earlier? Are you a Gatsby fan?”
“Huge one! And I owe you for that helmet he said, fishing his wallet out of his front, right pants pocket.