Issue 02: The Bike Shop, Behind The Scenes (Literally)

Mark works in the most provocative bike shop.

The thirty-year-old bike shop where I work is a hopelessly cluttered space filled with equal parts cycling artifacts and dust. Years ago when I first started as a sales staff with a hidden talent of mechanical aptitude, I had a detached amusement for the mess; every jumble hinted at stories in want of a storyteller. Then there was that moment when the previous head mechanic left, and the owner told me I was to run the show behind the sales floor. It was at that point that I began my own Operation Overlord to clean and organize every shelf, bin, and ceiling hook. But what I had envisioned to be a triumphant campaign turned into a protracted occupation, full of abandoned cleaning projects, dead inventory, vagrant used parts and diminished expectations. At this point now, disillusion has molded me into something of a caretaker, of inconsistent diligence and perhaps harboring idle fantasies of watching all of Rome burn while Nero fiddles. The hands just keep working, spinning wrenches with a mindless flourish, an extraneous spectacle of dexterity performed like a rock n’roll drummer without an audience…perhaps just done because it creates a kind of momentum and urgency to the drudgery of fixing bicycles.

Sometimes it feels like all the people and bicycles are sea foam and driftwood brought in by waves lapping at my feet. They come to this shore whether I stand here or not, as they’ve always done before I arrived, as they will after I’ve left. All that I need to do is keep up with tasks so as not to drown or get swept out with the tide. And it was this duality of necessity and pointlessness that I was pondering when the film crew invaded my mechanics’ area like wide-eyed tourists.

“I love this space…it’s definitely, the most provocative bike shop we’ve scouted,” is what they said as if I wasn’t standing four feet from them. “Provocative”? I’ve applied many adjectives to this bike shop….even made up a few….but the word provocative never came to mind. At that moment I had no idea who these tossers might be, so I listened in on their chatter to discover that they were actually film location scouts for a production crew. It seems some software company around these parts (“Micro-“ something) wanted to create a short video for internal viewing that would demonstrate “real” people using new technology to increase their productivity.…because a bike shop using a computer is novel like monkeys making macramé. No doubt they’d be aiming this vignette to affirm and exhort the rank and file software developers at some company seminar or forum, and I belatedly discovered that the bike shop owners had agreed to whore out the building to them.

The thing about a film production is that for every person visible in a scene (the “talent”), there’s easily 5 or more crew members….director, AD, cinematographer, assistants, grips, and the like. That’s a lot of people no matter how big visitors think the workspace here is. And then there’s the equipment issue: screens, flags, loads of C-stands, cameras….god forbid if they wanted to do a dolly shot on tracks. I was pretty sure that I’d be hampered in my regular work routine, especially when I figured out that they’d want to darken the quarter of the frame shop that is powered by the same circuit as my corner of the mechanics’ area. No overhead lighting and no stereo? I tried to convince the bike shop that I could just not come in for work on the appointed Saturday, but no such luck.

Morning of the event, production assistants started arriving as soon as we opened; a few of the talent wandered in shortly after. Then the 16 ft equipment truck and catering vehicle parked them outside. Within 30 minutes, the shop was crawling with people who had nothing to do with fixing bicycles. I was determined to shut myself up in my little corner and bang out bikes till everything had blown over. At least they’d be shooting MOS (ie, without sound), otherwise working at all would be impossible. There were 20 or more people and lighting equipment strewn all about. The gaffers took to flicking the breakers on and off, and suddenly the only light left in my corner is from the windows in the roll-away door at the loading bay.

The film crew has totally occupied the frame shop, which is located beyond my area and before the storage room (the “way-back room”). Every time I want to retrieve or store a bike in the way-back, I have to wait until the director says cut and I can sneak through before the next take. Mercifully, I didn’t have too hectic of a task schedule nor were there too many customers dragging in their beaten down machines for an on-the-spot rescue. With minimal visibility, no air-compressor, and no parts washer functions, I couldn’t do much anyways. Eventually, I decided to get some wheel building projects out of the way, since I could just sit in one place and not have to negotiate through the shit show.

Two or three hours have passed, and the frame shop scene is finished. The crew starts pilling into the mechanics’ area for the next set-up. Up go the lights and my stereo as the gaffer temporarily restored the breaker for my corner, but now I’m pretty much totally blocked in by the scrum. The crew is blocking out the windows on the roll-away door with black poster board in preparation for a little visual drama in which a person rolls up the door from outside flooding the frame with daylight. In reality, it’s never pitch black in the mechanics’ area during daylight hours, hence the need to blackout the windows to get the maximum effect. And then the gaffer kills all the breakers in the mechanic’s area and most of the sales floor and the only light at all is from the camera’s monitor. In between takes, the crew is using pocket torches to keep from tripping over one another.

I suppose I couldn’t really appreciate the irony that a seemingly rare and exciting situation could occur right in the middle of the most mundane day, only to make everything exponentially more dreary and aggravating. I didn’t want to be here today; I accurately predicted that nothing worthwhile could be accomplished. But now I’m just tired of people all up in my space, I can’t move around, can’t listen to music, can’t see my hand in front of my face. I’ve resorted to using my iPhone as a backlight for the truing stand, building a wheel mostly by ear. As all semblance of workday normalcy has vanished, I’m doggedly carrying on with a stubbornness defying reason. One of my co-workers is maneuvering to see a replay of the scene on the camera monitor and catches sight of me, monomaniacally hunched over my Park TS-2.2.

“What the hell are you doing, Mark?”

I don’t even look up or respond; it should be obvious what I’m doing…..I am WINNING.


Ed. note: After a good run of 42 issues, our magazine app is no longer available, but we’ve archived the content here on our blog.


Also published on Medium.