Got Soul?

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On the shake-down cruise for our new miniature motorhome, I managed to do something dumb and my bicycle slipped off of the trailer and dragged along for a couple of blocks before a Good Samratian (Look it up, that is supposed to be an oxymoron.) took sympathy on me and flagged me down. This is a 25+-year old, no-name (SuperGo) mountain bike that has suffered all sorts of depredations, but it’s still my only bicycle and I’d intended to ride it when we got to the campground. No such luck, though. The rear derailleur was trashed and there is no hope for an 18-gear bicycle without a rear shifter. The rest of the bike is in pretty decent shape, road-rashed but ride-able. If I had $20 worth of parts, I could have resurrected the bike and the bicycling portion of the week.

While we were hiking the area, we ran into a shop that specialized in tasteless Velvet Elvis tourist crap made by “local artisans,” sodas and packaged ice cream, and a bicycle rental/repair shop. I half-hoped the bike shop might have a used replacement shifter for cheap, since they rented a butt-load of cheap bicycles to untalented and uncoordinated tourists, but that turned out to be a non-starter. The bike shop guy claimed that he could sell me the parts I needed for less money than in the Cities and that their repair job would be the best available. “We’re a bike shop with a soul,” he claimed.

Ever since Mathew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work hit the bookstands, every breed of repair guy has been claiming to be specially soulful in his work. Since, for most of my life, I’ve been around musicians who are the original source of people with soul, I have a few bases for comparison. Like lots of trendy qualities, the rule for musicians is if a player claims to be a “Soul-man,” he isn’t and wouldn’t be allowed to park any where near someone who is one. Mechanics and technicians, almost by definition, are the polar opposite of soulful. They might be spiritual, in one of the thousands of ways humans make claim to that status, but “being one with nature or machine” is usually not the attitude of the usual mechanic. It’s true that a lot of small, independent bicycle shops are staffed by die-hard bikers who believe they are saving the world on human-powered machines and that is a damn soulful approach to life, but making claim to being specially soulful in that crowd is either clueless or arrogant or both. For a baseline, I looked up the word “soul” in Webster’s little book, but the definitions are nearly useless: 1) the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life or 2) the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe or 3) a bunch of mindless crap that doesn’t define an identifiable or useful characteristic. Ok, maybe the lake resort bike shop was a soulful place. It appears that anything that exists is. I had no idea the word “soul” was so useless in defining anything.

Apparently, being the “King of Soul” wasn’t much of an accomplishment, no matter how much I thought it was? No, I’m not buying that. JB wrote the best national anthem in American history and that has to count for something. “Having soul” still accounts for something with me.

Not wanting to be suckered into dumping a bunch of money into a worn-out bicycle, even with all of the emotional attachments, I looked around a bit for signs of soulfulness. Almost immediately after I talked to the bike shop owner, he took off for the day and left the place in the hands of some teenage kids who looked about as soulful as Donny Osmond or that Bieber twerp. Not a good sign. I watched one of the kids “work” for about ten minutes and decided I could survive on foot for a few days. If there had been a case bolt on the bicycle the kid was working on, he would have used an eight pound sledge and a steel chisel to break it loose: a scene right out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance if I ever saw one. I saw no evidence the kid knew a pipe wrench from a bottom bracket tool. My bike was busted, but fixable. I decided to take it home and administer resuscitation myself. The If I really needed to go somewhere, I brought the dirt bike with me and managed to keep it on the trailer without incident. We put in a lot more walking miles than I’d planned and that was probably good for me, too.

Once we were settled back home, I pulled the shredded pieces off of the bicycle and found replacements. A local seriously soulful local bike shop sold me a decent replacement derailleur for about $30 and a couple of hours later, I took the repair bike for a post-destruction road trip. It is worse for the wear, but still rolling. Best of all, a bike repair man “with soul” did the work; me. This isn’t a new lesson, but a reminder of an old fact. The only person who really cares about my stuff is me. I can’t fix everything, but the things I can fix I need to do myself. It’s a soulful thing.

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