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comment by johnnyFive
johnnyFive  ·  372 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Post your first bike.

Story time!

For almost all of my childhood, my dad worked at a (pedal) bike shop. A guy he knew somehow (I forget how) started it, and my dad went to work for him. It was usually just my dad, the owner, and maybe one other employee, with occasional part-time college students coming through.

Sometime in the early 1990s, the owner was in California for a bike race. A day or two before he was to race, he was crossing a big road and got hit by a car. It left him in a borderline vegetative state: he was paralyzed from the neck down, could not speak, and only seemed partially aware of his surroundings. I didn't know him well, but I'd always like him. Anyway, owner's brother and the latter's two sons (the elder was a couple years older than me, so around 12-13) moved into town to deal with stuff. My dad ran the shop for them, and from what he later told me, pretty much pulled it out of borderline bankruptcy. He bought the shop outright a couple of years after that.

By the late 1990s it was starting to decline again, though. The population center of Williamsburg had shifted to the other side of town. College students weren't riding as much as they used to (people going to William & Mary, which was close by, were a big source of business), and neither were tourists. Competition got more intense: it had just been my dad, one other shop in a different part of town (with whom my dad's place was always on good terms), and then K-Mart. But a couple chains moved into the other side of town where all the population growth was. He hung on to it for a few years, but finally closed down around 2005 or so.

Needless to say I rode a lot as a kid. I didn't have the swankiest things, but my dad always talked shit about Huffy, so he damn sure wasn't going to have me riding around on one of those. I mostly rode Giant mountain bikes: my neighborhood and Colonial Williamsburg, which was nearby, were not really conducive to a road bike. I also got to see some really swanky stuff, as I remember he would occasionally carry Litespeed, whose big claim to fame was making their frames out of titaniun. I remember when shock-absorbing forks became a thing. My friends usually got their stuff from my dad, and it was kinda fun to have my dad be the hookup for something, even if it wasn't the most exciting thing.

By middle school, so say when I was 12-14, I had a lot of time to myself, whether it was after school, weekends, or summers. One of my friends' dads was a professor at William & Mary, and they lived close to the campus. We used to go over to the building for his department and use the internet in their computer lab. True broadband around 1996-1997 felt pretty amazing. I actually bought a zip drive so I could haul stuff back and forth, since it was actually more economical than CDs when making lots of trips, especially then.

Sadly I pretty much stopped riding once I could drive, since Williamsburg was really not a good bike town. There were places to ride, but you have to drive to get to them. This was especially true as I got older and began appreciating how little Williamsburg had to offer for teenagers, prompting us to start exploring farther and farther out.

A few other memories.

One, there was always lots of cardboard in the place. Bikes shipped from the manufacturer didn't come fully assembled, and instead came in this big cardboard box. If you haven't seen one of these, the boxes were probably about 4.5 feet long, about 2.5 high, and maybe 6 inches wide. The sides were pretty thick too. I remember in 9th grade my history class had a competition against the other where we had to build a castle out of cardboard and see if it would withstand a siege (somehow we were chucking things at the walls, but I don't remember if we built the weapons or not). My dad filled up his truck with these boxes one day and we took them to school, and they made for amazing building materials. My class killed it.

This shop was the first place I worked. It was never a regular thing, but I did a little bit here and there in late elementary school before I turned 14 and could get a work permit. It was okay, although the days felt awfully long. I learned some basic retailing and could fix very minor things.

An employee of the place once got a speeding ticket on his bike in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The only time I ever saw my dad really lose his temper was when he caught a guy shoplifting (especially when the kid tried to play it off). Every once in a blue moon he'd get called down because the burglar alarm went off. Overall though I don't recall theft being a significant problem. It was a big problem early on with skateboarding stuff, which is why they stopped carrying it before too long.