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I have always loved bikes. The way the click, click, click into the next gear makes me go faster. The freedom gained by distance; the freedom gained by speed. The lessons learned from suffering up long climbs, heat, and freezing rain. I love it all. So much so that over the past several weeks, my local bike shop, Bike Peddler, has graciously allowed me to spend time with them to learn more about the business and mechanics of bikes. In my short time, it has been glorious. Gloriously uncomfortable. Fumbling with tools, my hands no longer recall their former junk yard princess dexterity, and they with my mind, are slowly trying to take it all in—to make sense of how things work.

So in other words, I love it.

But this is not a story about bikes. It is a story about being transported to another time and place and using tools with purpose. Long ago, my father owned a wrecking yard in the middle of the California High Desert. Hesperia to be exact.

As a girl, I spent my afternoons after school wandering the sea of broken machinery, following winding paths of sand through injured and beaten auto bodies, gingerly tip toeing on broken glass, rubbing my fingers across dented fenders and smooth molding. There was one car in particular that I always made my way to even as the wind escalated in the afternoon dirtying my white Nikes and thrusting my thin ten-year-old body into the stacked cars. A black, very rusty 1947 Chrysler limousine, complete with bullet holes in the windshield. Later I would become a voyeur, scavenging the cars for relics left behind by their owners, but I never violated the old Chrysler. Instead, I would lean against the car next to it terrified that a Las Vegas gangster named Guido would jump out of the rusty trunk and strangle me with a coat hanger. If I stared at the car long enough I could see blood stains from the assassination that brought it to our graveyard.

Afternoons at the junkyard slowly evolved into weekends as well. By the time I was twelve, I had a little blue uniform shirt with a name patch embroidered in red cursive. My dad had the adult version of my shirt, his name patch emblazoned Harry. At work, I liked to call him Harry. It had become my work too, not just his. I would follow him everywhere, his legs moving in sharp scissor-like motion, always carrying him to the next customer or car or argument, hustling up and down the rows of his empire. He barked out tools, 9/16th open end wrench—3/8” drive ½” swivel socket—hey with the six inch extension—I’m going to need a Phillips, too. And I’d be off, jumping over tires and bulky shapes of metal until I made it to the greasy red toolbox to dig out the loot. Just as quickly, I’d rush back to his side and wait for him to assess my tool-finding ability. Speed and accuracy were important qualities. I quickly learned that I did not want to duplicate the run through four acres of sand in the 110-degree desert sun.

I proved myself loyal and as a reward my dad soon promoted me to counter girl, a big step up from tool lackey. There was this clan of Harry groupies, men that hung out every day, hoping my dad would hook them up with cheap parts or at least a beer. They instructed me on lowering my voice so that I could sound more womanly—older—when customers called. I wasn’t even a teenager yet, didn’t even fit into a training bra for that matter, so sounding womanly and sexy was not much of an option but I did my best, lowering my voice an octave and letting the words smoothly drip off my tongue, “Th--ank you--for cal--ling B&R--Can I--help you?”

I sat perched at the yellow counter, swiped from a diner years before, waiting for phone calls and customers to come in. My stomach tightened every time the phone rang. Okay lower voice, listen, think, what do they need, what questions do I need to remember to ask. I took notes on every call, trying my best to sell a part without sounding too terrified, while attempting to maintain a womanly facade. My dad would wander through the office, gesturing at me with pride to the groupies. All the while I was having inner freak-outs, terrified the phone would ring and I would have to start the process all over again. To combat the fear, I started memorizing. I read every car manual, every Hollander interchange book I could get my hands on. I eavesdropped on the groupies trying to pick up the lingo…Holley four barrels, Goats, Mopar Hemi’s, rotors, drums, horsepower. Over time, I got better at faking it and eventually, a slice of knowledge seemed to plant itself in my brain; an installation of semi-comfort.

This is not a story about bikes or junk yards. Instead, it is a story about being uncomfortable--uncomfortable with intent. It’s a long, yet short life and I want to make sure my daughter sees me fail with a smile, find my edges, and then successfully push those edges to new shapes…sometimes with a wrench in hand, other times with a pen, a keyboard, a bike, or on a big day, a hairbrush in which to sing Nina Simone at the top of my lungs. To act even when I don’t feel brave—to ask questions when I don’t know the right words—to humbly live with purpose while trying to define what that may be.

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