I always wanted a bicycle with all Campagnolo Nuovo Record parts. Made in Italy, these were universally known to sports cyclists as the finest parts made. Since I was a teenager, I'd been lusting for great bikes.
Now, with my energy level up, my bank account relatively strong, the economy dropping, why not invest in something I know something about, something that has lasting value, intrinsic value, something I can use and get tremendous pleasure from?
Was I thinking all this as I went downtown on an early August day? Well, not sure. I think all these ideas came into play in fragments of consciousness. I know I was a bit scattered. I had taken the bus downtown, while wearing my boating shoes, which are terrible for walking on concrete. The Topsider moccasins were road-kill shoes. My brother found one shoe at his daughter's day care, and the other a quarter of a mile down the road on the double yellow line. When I visited him in the mid-'90s, he gave them to me and they fit. Since then I had had them re-soled and put in inserts pulled from an old pair of running shoes.
It was a hot, humid day. I was also trying to get in touch with David Wecker, a Cincinnati Post reporter whom I had talked with in the past. I wanted him to do an article on civil unrest in Clifton. I had witnessed what was being called an incidence of shoplifting, and wanted to know why it wasn't covered in the press. Given the current racial tensions in the city, I thought an instance where a merchant forcibly held a black woman who was then arrested by police on Ludlow Avenue ought to be reported in some fashion. As a witness to the event, I thought I'd take the idea to Wecker, because I know him and because he is a columnist.
I started by dropping by the paper and leaving a message in his office in the skyscraper on Court Street. I had sent the Post a letter to the editor, calling for George W. Bush to share the presidency equally with Al Gore, to make the election results more truly reflect the wants of the American people, and I thought I'd mention this to Wecker also.
Wecker was in, but was busy. He appeared to be working on some fluff article that struck me immediately as a waste of his considerable talent. He said to come back later. I assured him I would, and then I walked in the morning heat down to Fifth Street to exchange some of my Canadian currency.
I still had this because of the aborted visit to Canada and thought it time to change it back to American funds. At the international currency exchange counter, I exchanged the bills piecemeal, in units of 100, 100 and 50 Canadian dollars. Even though the clerk was supposed to charge a surcharge per transaction, he didn't. I was suspicious of him for giving me a break, but I didn't say anything.
By the time I had finished this task, walking block after block on hot, hard concrete on this humid summer day, watching the pigeons, the people, the sky above the city, Reliable Cycles at Vine and Court Street finally opened. I went in, initially looking for a few parts; and before I knew it I was piece by piece buying a pro racing bicycle.
I was dealing with Gene, a man a little older than I, an active cyclist in his own right, whom I had known since the early '80s. He brought me face-to-face with the business part of myself. Gene has a mustache, a workman's hands, a gentle smile and a soft voice, which breaks into a shout when he is instructing his employees.
He loves making a sale and has the Jewish pawnshop owner reputation.
I met him one night years ago when I was cycling back from Cleves on River Road without lights as it was getting dark. He had driven out for the Queen City Wheelmen's Tuesday night time trial. I had ridden out from Over-the-Rhine, ridden the 10-mile time trial and was making my way home. Gene pulled over, put my machine on his car roof rack and dropped me off on Main Street in front of my apartment. He even had Gatorade in his car.
I looked at four different frames before deciding on the white Bernard Hinault, Look frame. A French company that supported both Hinault's five Tour de France wins and some of Greg LeMond's Tour efforts, I knew this to be a fine machine. Gene had one of LeMond's autographed yellow jerseys in a frame up high by the door.
Much lighter than my Tommasini, the Look was also smaller. It was an '80s frame and I would set it up with parts from that period, though as near as possible state-of-the-art parts. This involved Gene repeatedly going up and down stairs in his shop, looking for just the right equipment. I ended up standing on the hard floor in his shop for at least three hours off and on as the day progressed.
He brought up brown cardboard boxes full of used equipment. After he had found a 175-millimeter Campagnolo Strada crankset, he could not find bottom bracket parts to match. He found Cinelli deep drop handlebars and a long stem that were perfect. Gene had a nearly new set of dural aluminum alloy, Nuovo Record derailleurs, front and rear. The shift levers were Suntour Power Shifters, which mount on the handlebar, above the brake levers, and are accessible from the drops or from the upper position on the handlebar.
I had never used that style shifter. My old bike had bar-end shifters, the spring-loaded Shimano's. The Tommasini had STI (Shimano Totally Integrated); the brake levers and the shift levers were the same, they were pushed sideways for shifting, and pulled back for braking. That is the digital system that is the highest tech to date. Gene swore that the Suntour Power system was nearly as good and worth experiencing. I grinned with the thrill of having such a variety of top equipment. I even had a seven-block disc back wheel that a fellow had given me several years earlier that would fit the Look.
Before we got to the brakes, Gene sent me away for lunch, so that he could help some other customers.
I got some Mexican food on Court Street, then went over to the Post again. Wecker was available. He said he had to walk somewhere down Court Street. I told him I was buying a bike at Reliable. We decided to walk and talk. He's 6'4", well built, has a slightly pockmarked face, gray-brown hair, a fine smile and a big, firm handshake.
"I was ordering lunch at Burrito Joe's on Ludlow when I spotted an argument from across the street."
"When was this?"
"Two days ago."
"O.K., you were across the street." "Yeah, you really should come up to Ludlow, and I could walk you through the whole thing."
"Tell me more."
"Well, there was a 30-ish, dark-skinned black woman in a white tank-top and shorts grappling with the tall, European woman, Greta, who owns the Hansa Guild, a clothing and jewelry store. It's a cool store. Greta and her husband are in their 50s or 60s. She's a handsome woman who talks gently to her customers. At Hansa they sell hats, woolens, and comfortable clothing, as well as earrings, pendants and a small selection of rings. Greta and the woman were in the glass vestibule of the shop, and they were struggling. Then Greta's husband entered the vestibule from the store. He held the black woman. They were both shouting."
"You watched this from across the street?"
Wecker and I walked past a parking lot.
"Yeah. She pulled up his shirt and scratched at his back. There was a lot of traffic going by, but I could hear them. A man in a suit and tie approached and handcuffed the woman. Then policemen started arriving from everywhere. A bicycle cop in a bright blue jersey was directing traffic around stopped squad cars. A bus blocked my view for a moment, but I saw Greta's husband hold his shirt up to show the red scratches to a male cop."
"It sounds like she was a shoplifter."
"I went back to Burrito Joe's and finished my lunch. When I was walking back to Sitwell's I crossed the street and saw the arrested woman hustled, handcuffed, by a female cop out of a vacant storefront down the street by the library."
"So? I don't know, Steve. I don't think I can do anything with it. I'll let you know."
We were walking briskly down Court Street and I noticed that my right foot hurt. I think that was the first time that it registered that something was wrong with my foot.
"Did you happen to see my wacky letter about timesharing the presidency?"
"I think so." Wecker walked a little faster than was comfortable for me.
"Bush being there for four years is so wrong, given the popular vote went against him. I want to get a band together and tour Florida, see what the consciousness level is down there."
"You playing music?" he asked.
"For awhile I was playing with Jake Speed and the Freddies. I'm trying to put something together."
We arrived at the bike shop.
"See ya. Be careless."
His last words rung in my ears.
I went into the dark blue building, the shop with its clutter of cameras, stereos, clocks, instruments, jewelry and bicycles. There is a remarkable, blown-up, black and white photograph of workmen lunching on a girder while walking high steel in Manhattan.
Gene showed me some Modolo Speedy brakes. He said they were Italian Campy knock-offs and a lot cheaper than Campagnolo. I went for them. He found a seatpost, a Cinelli, leather covered, Unicanitor saddle, spare chainrings, Shimano clip-on pedals, handlebar wrap, a full cable set and a Campagnolo headset. I left with a big burn mark on my credit card, a box of parts under one arm and the frame hooked over my shoulder. I caught a bus home. I was bubbly with excitement.
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