He had been in the shop a few days earlier, but I didn't deal with him. Instead it was Evan who had the pleasure of dealing with the older, heavy-set gentleman that came in with a wreck of a cheap 30 year-old road bike with a tacoed steel rear wheel.
He wanted to buy 20 spokes.
"You should really just buy a new wheel."
Nope. 20 spokes. He was gonna fix it. Evan's altruistic advice fell on deaf ears, and a few minutes later he had 20 spokes cut, but apparently the bike had other problems.
"The gears, can you fix the gears? I will give you money."
He wasn't joking. He was waving around his open wallet and I could see a hefty stack of 20s. However, Evan once again did the right thing as this job was obviously going to be a nightmare and his plate was already full. The gentleman paid and left uneventfully.
He walked to the back now, same beat up bike in tow, receipt in hand. I do not even think I should have to mention that his handlebars were flipped upside down, but I will state the obvious in the name of redundancy:
His handlebars were flipped upside down.
"I bought these spokes here. Can you straighten my wheel?"
I spun the wheel. It looked something like a wheel that Salvador Dali may have painted. Evidently he did not have a tool to remove the gear cluster, so there were several spokes that he was not able to lace into the correct holes on the hub. This was more than made up for by the entertaining way he had haphazardly laced the accessible locations to completely absurd junctures with the rim. I had to give him marks for trying, but there was no cost-effective way that I could ever get this wheel straight again. No, I wouldn't refund him the money for the spokes that Evan orinigally counselled him against buying (glad I was there to avert the sob-story refund attempt). But yes, he was finally buying a new wheel.
At some point during our interaction I noticed he was wearing a Mason's ring (ed. should that be capitalized?), and I could not help but think that I did not want this guy in any secret society capable of controlling the fate of mankind. But I also figured, after seeing his wallet the other day, that he was at least a man cabaple of paying his bill, so I installed his damn wheel. As I spun the old one around on the bike in the stand, I noticed an odd bulge in his tire. He assured me it was fine, and that the white fabric was a rim strip that he fabricated. I removed his tire, and chucked the strip on the ground, again impressed by this guy's completely blind, fruitless, but nonetheless courageous journey into the wild world of bicycle repair.
I got his wheel on, adjusted his virtually useless stamped-steel brake calipers the best that I could, and attempted to adjust the gears, but then noticed that his derailleur was a bent mess. It got 4 gears out of 5 when I was done with it, and I was really hoping would be good enough for the customer given the state of the rest of the bike.
He wanted me to fix his gears. He would give me money.
Since I didn't really have a ton to do that day, I told him to come back in a few hours and I would have it done. New derailleur, touch up the front wheel (that he did a 1/2 decent job respoking). rear wheel, inner tube and install. Told him just over a hundred bucks. Of course he wanted to pay now. I asked for a $100 deposit, and I saw him at the cash later with a $100 bill.
The work went relatively smooth. The old derailleur had been butchered and mounted at an impossible angle to the frame, and sometime during the carnage the dropout had been badly bent. This meant that mounting a new derailleur and wheel in proper fashion to this interface and having it work well (or even adequately) was an impossibility. I set about with a large hammer and set of channel-locks to remedy the situation the best that I could.
Eventually he returned and settled up his $8 balance. I specifically did not let him pay in full earlier expecting the unexpected, and luckily the hammer-time was not too involved. He settled-up, thanked me, and left me to the mob comprising an early-evening rush. It was not until a little while later that I finally got around to tidying up the floor. A small marking on the Mason's improvised rim strip caught my eye. As I focused on the lettering I was gripped by equal parts horror and amusement:
Actually, I was probably a little more amused.