Jesus, with the fucking kids exploding into the bicycle shop screaming! They lay their bicycles in the middle of the floor and do everything possible to get my blood pressure rising. I'm getting palpitations from parentless youth amidst a floor of paying customers.
We tighten chains and turn wrenches on loose bolts. There are tons of kids in the neighborhood, and they all roam recklessly on department store BMX bikes. The chains are always bouncing off, and only about one brake in five is even ostensibly operational.
"HOW MUCH THIS?? HOW MUCH THIS??"
Kids come in yelling and interrupting.
"S'CUSE ME, S'CUSE ME, S'CUSE ME!"
Kids think that if they excuse themselves, you should stop mid-sentence while talking to a customer.
You don't want to reward insane behavior, but eventually you are willing to do whatever it takes to get them back outside. Usually you just grab a couple wrenches, tighten a nut or bolt, and send them away. Some kids actually say thank you as they ride down the steps in front of the shop.
If it doesn't seem important, we try to keep them outside. If the bicycle becomes non-operational or excessively dangerous, then we spring into action. It's always pro-bono, so the shouts of "HOW MUCH THIS? HOW MUCH THIS?" would almost be a good joke, if irritation didn't outweigh the absurdity. Considering that these kids never have a single dollar, the question is always moot.
I like helping with the basic repair needs of urban youth. When kids are polite, it's icing on the cake. I hate sending a kid away with something that we just can't fix for free. If I have the time and opportunity, I always prefer to help.
A polite kid entered the shop just before we closed our doors. He was alone, so he used a normal speaking voice. He had a tolerable volume and seemed to not be in a rush to run outside and fuck stuff up. His chain fell off.
I put the bicycle in the stand, draped the limp chain back over the coaster brake cog, and laid it over the teeth on the chainring. I turned the pedal and rolled the chain back onto the chainring. With a calm and polite manner, this kid told me that the chain was bent, and it wouldn't stay on. He pointed to a twisted link, and I saw that his diagnosis was correct. The chain was beat up pretty bad, and the twisted link meant that he needed a new chain. The shop can't give out free parts. It's not only a bad business decision, but more importantly, it sets a very dangerous precedent.
"How much is a new chain?" He asked shyly.
I didn't both to answer. I knew he didn't have any money, and even if he did, $10 is pretty steep for such a small guy.
"Do you have a few minutes?" I asked. "If you can hang out for a minute, I can try to take care of this."
He had time. So did I. It was the end of the day, so there were no other customers to help. I was just going to go home and smoke some pot, and that can always wait awhile. I clocked myself out, and got to work.
We have a small box of chain cutoffs. When we install a chain, we usually have to remove several links so it will fit. We put those links aside for the rare occasions when we might need to make a chain longer. I found the longest sections I could. In about five or six minutes, I spliced together many short sections until I had enough to make a whole chain. I installed the re-spliced chain, and it was as good as new. I assured the young man he owed me nothing this time. I made sure to explain that we couldn't always fix stuff for free, and hinted that he shouldn't advertise the fact that I had given him something for free. It was a special circumstance, and usually the repair would cost $15.
He nodded, and showed a humble appreciation as I unlocked the front door to let him out. He seemed like a good kid.