Friday, November 17, 2006

Seal Beach Swap Meet


The swapmeet on Sunday, 11/12/06, was the first ever sponsored by King's Bicycle Shop on PCH and was deemed a success by all. Next one to be held in 6 mos.

Meanwhile, the bike gypsies were all buzzing about the NEXT BIG VENUE: the San Francisco Swapmeet next weekend. Too far for me. Turns out there's a Cal Coastal bike subculture that's migrant. Who knew?

The Sunday before, 11/7, was the San Diego Velodrome swapmeet. I actually got up at 430 AM and tried for it. Got as far as San Clemente at 8 AM, kinda gave up, stopped for pleasant breakfast at Tommy's. Strange to see the aging Republican householders dining there. This turned out to be a good rehearsal for this weekend's venture.....

By the way, you do see your own bikes coming and going when you mix in this. I managed a fast last minute sale in the rain at the 2006 Easter Encino Velodrome swapmeet ($1100 in 10 mins, yes! the rained out place looked closed and empty when I got there) and darned if one of my sale bikes, a gorgeous custommade Simonetti with topend Campy and Dura-Ace bits, wasn't on sale at Seal Beach. I had never expected to see it again.

Stunning bike but always a bit too big for me. Guy I bought it from was 6'4" with legs to his armpits. I shoulda known better than to buy it myself but it was just too pretty and too cheap. I always felt teetery on it and sold it before it killed me.

A guy and his towering son-in-law came over to my booth and we started talking about the Simonetti. The dad-in-law says that that the welder, not Simonetti himself but a guy surnamed Howard, was now in prison for child molestation. So maybe that's why Simonettis ceased to be made a few years ago.

And who knew that a pedophile could also work such wonders? Though it IS true that Thomas Edison was one, and they didn't call him the Wizard of West Orange for his way with 5 year olds.

Anyhow, the son-in-law, all 6'6" of him, said he was getting into fixies (fixed gear bikes, for you lay people). And I told him that Simonetti was made for him, had a heavenly wheelset and crank, and that he owed it to himself to snare it before the seller closed down shop and loaded it into his van and trucked it up to next week's San Francisco swapmeet.

The seller was asking $700, which was reasonable. I told the kid to offer a close of the day $600 or at least get his phone number. I assured the pair that even if they tired of the bike, they could easily recoup their investment on Ebay either by selling the complete rig or by parting it out and selling the components. So motivated, the kid went over, spoke to the seller, but came back only with the phone number. He didn't realize that, in some cosmic sense, the bike had been custommade, albeit by a molestor, for him.

As for my own fixie I sold it to a brawny lad named Clint. He kept coming back, staring at the beautifully made steel frame with its pearlescent paint. He had about $140 less than I wanted for the bike. But he kept coming back, staring at, borrowing another $10 here, another $20 there, from friends. Finally I sold it to him for $100 less than I was originally asking. I knew he was the perfect buyer for the bike and that he would prize it for years. And meeting in the middle about price is what swapmeets are for.

The guy from King's Bikeshop who ran the swapmeet was a friend of Clint';s and took vicarious pleasure in the sale. He had very kindly given me an excellent sales slot in the lot even though I got there a bit late. I was able to park my bike-filled junker right next to my slot, which made things 10 times easier for me.

And I had made my peace with selling the bike. I had rarely used it myself because I've got a garage full of them, had had 4 flu's and walking pneumonia during the previous winter/spring season, and the deserving machine had rarely come up on my rotation. It was like a lovely, neglected harem girl in a huge seraglio, a seraglio run by nonagenarian Sheik. It almost never got a shot to show its chops. All of a sudden its life was going to get very busy.

Fixies are all the rage these days. I saw two or three couples on fixies besides the usual male loners. Yes, not just the hubbies but pretty young wives had their single geared rigs. This is something I've never seen in older married cyclists. There are a few middleage wives whose husbands talk them into riding highend road bikes. And a few more who ride tandems----maybe just to keep track of the old man on Sunday mornings. And the nice thing about tandems is that the man can do more of the work. But I've NEVER seen an older couple on fixies.

These cyclists wandered into swapmeet in a steady stream from their journeys south on PCH. Presumably many were headed down the long stretch of Route 1 that skirts the Bolsa Chica wetlands just south of Seal Beach. It's almost unbroken by traffic lights and other intersections because it's bordered by the lagoon to the east and the beach to west and so is ideal for cyclists.

PCH isn't always a paradise for cyclists. The section traversing Pacific Palisades and Malibu, for example, is scenic and looks inviting to unwary roadbikers. But the inland cliffs and coastal beachhouses and parking crowd it on both sides. It scarcely has shoulders. It's jammed with drunks, dopers, sun dazed surfers, wouldbe Paris Hiltons, and menopausal males with Porsches and 'Vettes and SLK's. In short, it's a deathtrap.

Just a few months ago one drunk took out two yuppies, including a bank vice president, in one fell swoop along a shoulderless, scenic, becliffed, stretch of death. Turns out that roadbiking is not only beautiful, it can be dangerous. I spent some time at the swapmeet swapping injury stories with bike veterans.

Clint, for example, told me that he had broken both clavicles and most of the bones in his face in various mishaps. I showed off my own broken shoulder and joked about the IQ points I must have lost when I conked my noggin on the cement of the Dockweiler bikepath after I hit a patch of sand at 20 MPH. I love wearing those little flip brim caps, but anyone in his right mind wears a brain bucket when he rides. Maybe that's why I bought a beautiful, slightly used, red helmet from the team racer in the slot next to mine. The kid was a national criterium champ and had plenty of highend components & accessories for sale at decent prices. This is the norm for professional racers who are paid modestly but who get great, free, equipment each new season from their team sponsors. They make ends meet by selling off the older and extra loot.

I kidded for a while with a geezer on an aluminum Vitus. He was as dry and wrinkled and tough as pemmican. He straddled his bike the whole time we talked. It was clear he practically lived on it. "How many miles a week do you ride?" "200 or so," he said. "Wow," I said. "You've got better knees than I. How old ARE you?" He was coy, only admitting to be north of 60. North, hell. He was up past the Arctic Circle.

He went on and on about his bike, a pretty purple anodized frame that was state of the art about 20 years ago. He said he got his used, with expensive new shifters and derailleurs, for a mere $400. He went on and on about the new White Industry hubs he had added the previous week. The hubs alone cost him $350. Then he segued, exhaustively, exhaustingly, into his SECOND bike, better than the Vitus. What was it again? Oh yeah, a red carbon something or other. I'll remember exactly what in a second. As he droned on and on I realized I had been in the sun for hours and was probably going to get a terrible headache a few hours later, long about NOW as I am writing this. I'm going to get two aspirin and I'll be right back. There. It's not just roadshock I've got to guard again. My big noggin and giant forehead can soak up way too much sun now that the best of my hair is gone.

The bike geezer was still talking, I scarcely knew about what. His image wavered like a mirage before me. Old men sometimes enter another time zone, where it is permissible to say 10,000 words where 100 might do. Half the time, they don't even remember what they're saying and threaten to repeat after pounding you to a pulp with the first interminable barrage. He mentioned that he not only biked 200 miles a week, but also went to lots of spinning classes. Hmmm, I thought. His body doesn't look THAT great. He would have fit right into the later stages of the Bataan Death March. Just because lots of exercise is good doesn't mean exercising ALL THE TIME is better. Half the time he probably doesn't remember that he's ALREADY exercised that day so he JUST KEEPS DOING IT. No doubt about it, the lovable old goat was true geezer. I began to wonder if I were a geezer, too. Not quite yet, but getting there. I'm bald enough to be a geezer but maybe too beefy to fully qualify. Maybe after a bout with cancer and chemo I'll be properly wizened and gain full membership to the club.

Eventually, finally, I managed to pry myself loose from the ancient mariner and took one more circuit around the other booths, looking for bargains. I had $800 in crisp 100's in my wallet and couldn't resist spreading a little of it around. I bought a pair of $200 sunglasses for $20, a $70 lycra jersey for $20, and an $85 rear derailleur for $25. To top it off I needed more gear for my giant, sun ray absorbing, chrome dome. I got two flipbrims for $5. You'd think this was nothing special, but these flipbrims were made of lycra. I've never seen lycra flips-----they're always made of cotton. So that right there was an exciting find for this geezer-to-be. And then I paid $8 for a sweat wicking black lycra skullcap that made me, with my new sunglasses, look exactly like a parolee just released from Atascadero. As I admired myself in the King's Bike Shop window, I thought: "I've never looked scarier." And I got something for nothing as well. Tony, the kid who sold me the caps, gave me a cotton flipbrim for free. To each his own gimme cap. Free stuff, I don't care how jaded or rich you are, is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, or at least until you get the NEXT gimme.

The drive back home, north on the 405, was speedy and uneventful. This can only be true on Sunday mornings these days. The rest of the time it's gridlock. Stoptime. Even the San Diego Freeway deserves a rest, a sabbath, but this sabbath is growing deli thin.

When I got home I was unloading the booty from my junker. A very young mother and her 3 year old approached. They were coming from the children's park at the end of my street. Both had huge cataracts of curls tumbling down their heads. I said, "You two win the curl contest!" She smiled and opened the door of her Veedub for her tiny son. "Hard as it is to believe, I used to have them, too." "Yup, it is," she said, cheerfully yet brutally. And drove away with her tiny charge.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ve crossed deeper into Yeats’s “country of old men” than I want to know or admit.