How did a deuce like me end up with an ace like Alan? This is something I think about frequently, usually on a day like yesterday, when I notice that my husband, the man who chose me to marry, is doing something like taking apart a 36-year-old bicycle drum brake and going hmm, OK, this goes here and that goes there and maybe we should clean out some of this rust, and, and…
Getting ahead of myself.
Project Tandem has reached its conclusion. After a series of coordinated phone calls, e-mails and a late-afternoon drive to Lansing, we’re the new owners of a 1971 Schwinn Deluxe Twinn, five-speed tranny, in Kool Lemon. It’s dreamy. And although it’s in excellent condition for a bike of its age, it hadn’t been ridden in decades and needed some work. Alan spent Sunday learning its mysteries.
First were the tires. How, we wondered, did such cracked and rotted tires, surely the originals, still manage to feel as full and drum-tight as they did? Whatever, they’d have to go; it was only a matter of time before they gave way. He drove a nail into one to deflate it. It not only didn’t go flat, it didn’t want to give up the nail. He tried prying the tire off the rim with a screwdriver, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I looked up to see Alan removing the tire with, yes, a saw. The “tube,” such as it was, revealed itself to be a length of stout rubber hose suitable for beating South American political prisoners. Weighed about three pounds each. The guy at the bike shop said he’d only heard of such things; they’re a specialty item for slender rubber tires used in places where they’d go flat frequently, like the floor in a carpet-tack factory, perhaps.
Anyway, they’re gone now. Next was the brake.
I don’t know about you, but I approach most machinery with a certain wary respect. I’m not totally buffaloed by it, but I recognize that the capability of understanding precisely how things work is either beyond me or of little interest. Alan’s knowledge is harder-won; he grew up in a working-class family, where if you needed something fixed, you fixed it yourself. The idea of paying someone to do something you could do yourself was not only preposterous, but wasteful, like paying someone to scratch your back. And since Alan was a boy with a bicycle and then a minibike and then a motocross racer, in a family that owned outboard motors and lawn mowers and small electrics, he learned quickly that if you took something apart carefully, you could usually figure out what the problem was, fix it, and then reassemble it with no harm done, at a fraction of the price a repair shop would charge.
Anyway, this bike, which weighs around 60 pounds (65 with the old tires) and carries two people, needs more serious stopping power than two caliper-style brakes would provide. So the rear brake is a drum. “I really don’t know how that works,” the seller’s wife said as we were looking it over.
“It’s simple,” Alan said. “There’s a cam, and when you put on the brake, the cam rotates and presses two shoes to the outside of the drum, and stops its turning.” She nodded politely. I recognized the expression on her face.
Alan disconnected the cable from the brake, removed the wheel, removed two nuts and then a third, and lifted off the top of the drum. “Just as I suspected,” he said. “Rust.” He cleaned it out with mineral spirits and then — I still can’t believe he can do this — put it back together. Then he put it back on the frame. And then he reconnected the cable, which involved three or four different nuts and twisty things. And he drenched it all in WD-40. And now it works like aces.
I know the feeling he gets when I marvel over this; it’s the same one a woman gets when her 24-year-old boyfriend is tucking into the first home-cooked meal she’s made for him. He looks at her with love in his eyes. She has performed alchemy, just like Mom. She’s marriage material.
And then there was more WD-40, and an Unfortunate Chain Incident (quickly put right), and we were ready to take it out. I have no pictures of the shakedown cruise, but here’s the finished project:
The basket is for carrying home picturesque bags of groceries, with carrot greens and six inches of baguette protruding from the top. The lock is for current Detroit realities. (The brand’s motto: “Tough world. Tough locks.”) The rest is for fun.
Most of you aren’t journalists, so I won’t spend much time on this, but I got an e-mail from a friend last week, when the Great Los Angeles Times Guest Editor Crisis was unfolding. A short e-mail. In its entirety, it read: Is it just me, or has our profession gone completely off its rocker? I replied: It’s not just you. I was thinking the same thing. Michael Kinsley sums it up well.
Why I love This American Life: Last week’s show was “What I Learned From TV.” The last chapter has Dan Savage, gay parent, telling why he’s creeped out by “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” I was listening to it and found Kate creeping close to eavesdrop — after all, she kept hearing the names of characters she knows like siblings — and I had to say, while wiping laughter-tears from my eyes, “Look, someday you can hear this, but not yet.” (Astonishingly, she accepts this explanation.) But you, you’re a grown-up. Enjoy.
When I see a promo line reading, “George Will on anger,” I’m gonna read it. It should not surprise you to learn that George Will disapproves of anger. Why not try superciliousness, like him? The anger directed at Bush today, like that directed at Clinton during his presidency, luxuriates in its own vehemence, he writes. Funny how it didn’t bug him so much then.
Where does Ken Levine find these things? Girl is deathly afraid of pickles, so she goes on “Maury,” where people chase her around with pickles:
I like a nice crunchy garlic dill myself.
MichaelG said on March 26, 2007 at 10:16 am
Beautiful bike! What a find.
Dorothy said on March 26, 2007 at 10:18 am
That is one SWEET bicycle! Alan is THE MAN. I’m married to one of those guys, too, who seems to be able to fix just about anything. I try not to be smug about it, but it’s a damn good feeling to know he has my back anytime I break anything at home! Which, thankfully, doesn’t happen very often.
Dave B. said on March 26, 2007 at 10:22 am
Your bicycle picture reminded of something I saw on Broadway yesterday in Ft. Wayne. It was nearly 80 degrees, perfect for riding a bicycle in a tanktop shirt. It was the lady, or I mean the man, with the long blond wig and two volley balls stuffed in his shirt. I got to see him up close and noticed she, I mean he, also has a huge gut. Pretty nasty. Dave B.
Danny said on March 26, 2007 at 10:56 am
Nice bike, Nance. I know that YOU know, but please be careful. And especially since Kate will be on the back. I do not trust cars. With drivers with cell phones and heads up rectums.
LA mary said on March 26, 2007 at 10:56 am
The same guy on This American Life spoke of Real Housewives of Orange County and My Super Sweet Sixteen. If someone comes back to watching TV after not seeing any for 20 years, and those are the first two things he runs into, it could really put him off television. I did like his description of Real Housewives of Orange County as “stupid, shallow, fake breasted Republican paint drying, ” and the sixteen year old on My Super Sweet Sixteen as looking like she was not sixteen in earth years, but looked 35, a “hard thirtyfive, like pack of Merits a day, open your robe for the grocery delivery boy 35.”
Danny said on March 26, 2007 at 10:59 am
Funny, but I don’t know what type of greetings you will get from other nikers on your “new” Schwinn. I road a mountain bike for the last three years and all of the folks on road bikes would barely acknowledge me. Now that I have a road bike, they all wave like I’m everyone’s gayest best friend. Hilarious.
Danny said on March 26, 2007 at 11:01 am
er. biker, not nikers
colleen said on March 26, 2007 at 11:26 am
LOVE the basket. Do you have a bell? I can remember riding on the back of a tandem as a kid, control freak even then, trying to steer.
I have a handy husband. SLOW, but handy and does good work. I think the whole “marry a doctor or lawyer” thing is over rated. Marry an electrician or plumber.
Dorothy said on March 26, 2007 at 11:40 am
That poor girl needs to see a psychiatrist, not Maury Povich.
LA mary said on March 26, 2007 at 12:00 pm
If you get a bell, get the jazz kind that rings on the down stroke and upstroke of the little thumb lever. I have one of those on my semi dorky mom bike. That and a wicker basket, very retro.
Danny said on March 26, 2007 at 12:31 pm
Yeah, and you probably oughtta get handlebar streamers and fasten playing cards with clothes pins to the spokes.
nancy said on March 26, 2007 at 12:36 pm
I actually checked out the streamers at the bike shop today, when I went back for a second quick-release seat-post clamp. (We’re quickly changing the things that need to be changed; there’s no excuse for not having quick-release seat clamps these days.) But none were suitable.
So now I’m thinking a raccoon tail, maybe.
Jeff said on March 26, 2007 at 12:46 pm
Like the raccoon tail (can’t wait to hear the PETA comments). Last rode a tandem on Mackinac Island, and our marriage survived, but we weren’t eager to do another ten miles!
Guys like me just can’t figure out how we missed out on becoming guys like Alan — as my Lovely Wife could report, i’m fine at taking things apart, got all the tools for it and plenty of gumption.
But a) things always break as i slowly, sooooo slowly dismantle, and b) they *never* go back together quite right.
Not that it keeps me from trying. Because to be a good husband and father, i should be more like Alan. Meanwhile, my wife stands nearby pleading with me to “just call a guy someone at work recommended, please, hon?”
Marcia said on March 26, 2007 at 2:03 pm
So now I’m thinking a raccoon tail, maybe.
How about a roach clip with feathers on it?
Sorry. I’m still in a bong-hitting mood, apparently. Or an 80s one.
WP Denver said on March 26, 2007 at 2:08 pm
Did Alan ever take apart a coaster brake? That’s the only kind of brakes bicycles had when I was a kid. My dad, who was a Linotype operator and thus unafraid of any machine, cautioned me never to take a coaster brake apart because they were just about impossible to put back together. Of course I tried it, and of course he was right. That bike was never safe to ride again. Like Jeff, I haven’t yet learned not to keep trying to fix stuff, because like Alan, I grew up in a house where that was about the only way stuff got fixed.
ashley said on March 26, 2007 at 2:23 pm
Nance, why do you want QR clamps? It always seemed to me that just made it easier for thieves. Or are you going to thread the lock through the seats, frame, and wheels?
nancy said on March 26, 2007 at 2:38 pm
QR clamps on the seatposts, for raising and lowering. I suppose it’s possible someone might come along and nick the seats, if one wanted the giant triangular version with heavy springs, or were stocking a classic-bike swap meet. But it’s a risk I’ll take if it means I don’t have to get the socket wrench out every time Kate wants to switch seats.
ashley said on March 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm
Ok, but you’ll still have to get the socket wrench (or at least allen wrench) out to change the height of the stoker handlebars, which are (typically) mounted on the captain’s seatpost.
And you’re assuming people steal things for reasons other than the sake of stealing them.
nancy said on March 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm
Touché, Ash. I forgot to factor in the “let’s steal the seats and then hide and watch her try to ride home without ’em…because that would be TOTALLY awesome” contingent.
Maybe little combination locks…
joodyb said on March 26, 2007 at 7:14 pm
i’m trying to stop saying this word, but… AWESOME. love the color.
claudia said on March 27, 2007 at 11:54 am
You’ll have so much fun! My husband bought “me” a tandem as a wedding present. It’s fun…especially since he’s on the front. I have to pedal, but I can sit up and enjoy the scenery. And stretch. And adjust my helmet. And get a drink. And wave to people. I love riding with my eyes closed too! (Yeah…every once in a while he yells “what the hell are you doing back there?) But it’s fun. Please do be careful of cars…not only are people busy with their cell phones and drinks, but they’ll also be looking at your bike and pointing. Bob and I have mirrors (not on the helmet…that’s just too dorky) and we both do the signaling. I’m also the car spotter–“car back”–when needed.