Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speedgrips and Footis-head screwdrivers

Bike shops are one of the last bastions of unfettered equality left in the world. Sure, you can walk into those big, posh bike stores where everyone performs a visual credit check on you to decide whether or not to help you and how long they should wait before actually acknowledging your presence. But that isn't what I'm talking about. I mean your good old rough around the edges, slightly crusty in a charming sense local bike shop where the shop employees love bikes and love to talk about them.

These shops try very hard to offer help to everyone who walks through the door, no matter who they are. This brings us to the topic of today's little entry: equality for all doesn't mean that some people aren't still a little touched in the head. There is a whole cadre of bike shop customers who are united by a few things in common-
                1. They love to talk. They love to talk and the bike shop provides a perfect audience because our first instinct is to be nice and greet everyone who walks through the door. Problem is, these people not only love to talk, they love to talk crazy. Not weird or eccentric, CRAZY. Some barely pause between sentences to breathe. They will talk for as long as you give them an audience, so you have to figure out a way to signal that you need to get back to work or that you need to help other customers.
                    Example of actual, first person experience: Customer asks, "If a cheetah could ride a bicycle, how fast would it go?"
                  2. They ride bikes everywhere they go. I like this about them, so don't think I'm bashing anyone for using a bicycle for basic transportation. These customers don't have a driver's license and while you would think it was for DUI, it is usually because they just can't possibly pass the test to get a license or they have had their rights taken away by the court (I'm not kidding on this. I know this because they are usually very forthcoming about telling you they have had their rights taken away.)
                   3. They are usually going to make some very odd request that is going to provide an easy nickname for referring to them in the future.
                        Example of actual, first person experience:
Customer: "Do you guys have speedgrips?"
Me: Do you mean grips for your handlebars?
Customer: "Yeah, speedgrips (speedgrips spoken slowly to help my understanding since I am obviously a little slow).
And thus, the customer is now known as "Speedgrips".

The true beauty of this type of customer is in how they sort the experienced shop employee from the inexperienced. Experienced shop employees have a sixth sense that warns of the approach of the "touched" customers who are known. Be it the tell-tale squeak of their bike coming to a stop or the faint sound of their voice outside the shop, the experienced shop employee senses the approach of a known "crazy" customer and suddenly finds a need to organize things in the back of the shop, step out the back door to fetch something from somewhere/anywhere else or needs to go to the bathroom, thus leaving the FNG employee to enjoy a new life experience with the "crazy" customer. It helps if the experienced shop employees place themselves in such a way that they can make eye contact with the FNG as this provides an unexplainable amount of entertainment. The FNG usually slides quickly from a friendly persona to that of a trapped animal in under 10 seconds. Their eyes go wide as their brains desperately try to make sense of the nonsense that is being spoken at them.

I enjoy this aspect of the bike shop life. It shows that we are providing a welcoming atmosphere to everyone. It's also funny seeing the reactions of our mainstream customers when the "crazy" customer comes in. The reactions are usually along the lines of wide-eyed, open-mouth wonder. The times when a straight customer remains after the "crazy" customer leaves, they usually ask, "does that happen a lot?" To which we can confidently reply, "Pretty much everyday" and keep right on working.


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