John Pappas has no new bikes in his shop. None. He sold out weeks ago, and the manufacturers keep promising: soon.
But Pappas and his colleague, Mike Black, Master Fixer, have a shop full of bicycles waiting to be fixed, waiting for parts, waiting to be picked up.
“You see that bike over there?” Pappas asked me on Saturday, giving me the feeling it was a bit of a relic. “It’s a Peugeot, costs over $300 to fix, I asked the lady, ‘Do you really want it done?’ and she said yes.”
Everything that can roll is now rolling, in a renaissance for bicycles that Pappas and Black could not imagine a few years ago. They worked in a store that was a tradition in my town – we bought our Schwinns there in 1969 – like a clubhouse on Port Blvd., just drop in and chat about the Tour de France, or anything.
But at holiday time in 2016 nothing was moving in the relocated shop, and the owner at the time, plus Pappas and Black, were bemoaning that kids today do not ride bikes, they go where their helicopter parents approve, or they hunch over their computers, indoors.
It was a dystopian view of the next generation; the owner got out of the business, and Pappas and Black relocated to a modest storefront in adjacent Manorhaven, calling it Bicycle Playground of Port Washington.
Then along came Covid-19, rampaging across the country, courtesy of our “leaders” and their willful stupidity. Schools are closed. Adults, if lucky, are working from home, and people are getting in shape -- running or jogging or trudging around town, or dusting off the two-wheelers and three-wheelers and scooters. (The other day I saw four or five boys lugging baseball bats and gloves to the nearby playground. I swear: I saw boys going to play baseball, on their own.)
This is, admittedly, a privileged view from a comfortable sliver of the country, while others are suffering, but the renaissance of bicycles….kids on bikes….is one sweet result of this horror.
From our house, I can hear the voices of children – squeaky, earnest, engaged, away from adults, away from regimen – riding by themselves, like we used to do when we were kids.
We live at the top of a hill. Kids stop and check out the modest little drop, and then, whee, off they go.
Sometimes it is a family expedition, a parent or two, a kid or three, trading safety precautions or just letting out little yelps of enjoyment, throwbacks to a time before all the gibberish on the Web.
Sometimes I walk these back streets, a bandana ready to pull up if I get close to anybody. I am privy to snatches of conversation between, let’s say, a mom on her bike, and a son, on his bike. These seem like sweet moments: I remember my mother teaching me to ride a two-wheeler.
A lot of these adventures would not be happening if Pappas and Black had let the dream go. I associate them with good times – my current Trek old-guy bike, plus how they installed a stationary bike and a treadmill in our house, before both gave out after a few decades.
Now they are waiting for new bikes while scrambling for parts.
The other day my rear tire went flat and I walked the bike home, leaving a message for them, and figuring I was back to walking for the duration.
But Pappas called me back in a day or so and said he could take a look if I got the bike to him. My bike fit into the back of my son’s car: I used to ride him on the back of my Schwinn, along the Ohio River in Louisville, or into Brooklyn or Queens, on quiet Sunday mornings; now he lugs my wounded bike for me.
The guys at the shop found the right tube and got me on my way a day later, but the general backup is so severe that Pappas and Black are planning something they never could have imagined:
“If you had told me I would be taking a week off at the Fourth of July, I would have said you were crazy,” Pappas said.
Then again, if I had predicted children and adults would be cruising the streets of our town, having exercise and conversations, I would have sounded crazy.
Bicycles live. It is something.
And not just kids. Frequent correspondent Randolph Fiery is a serious biker, who enclosed photos from a recent two-day "ride" through the Greenbrier River Mountain Trail, a former railroad track, in his native West Virginia.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.