By Laura Flynn
Biking, it seems, is the Brew thing-to-do. My first article I wrote for them as a new intern was about a bike trip and movie screening hosted by the American Visionary Arts Museum, three cycling groups and a bike shop.
Brew reporter Mark Reutter, my go-to guy for insight about Baltimore, strongly advised me to get a bike. It’s a much easier way to get around and get to know the city, said Mark, who spots many of his best stories over his handlebars. Brew business development director Meredith Mitchell not only uses a bike as her main method of transportation, but co-owns Baltimore Bicycle Works with her husband Josh Keogh. And Brew editor Fern Shen is an avid biker who rides a vintage 80s Trek to cover stories, hit the gym and take weekend rides with her family.
To properly inaugurate myself as a Brewer, it was clear I needed a bike. The last time I rode was probably ten years ago on a bike with a bell and flower stickers. But, I wanted to immerse myself into the website and the city, so off I went to EBay where I found just the bike for me: a Huffy Beach Cruiser.
“Does it have any gears?” Mark asked me, somewhat horrified.
The answer is, “no.” A mint-and-white colored confection, my Huffy is a bike you would imagine riding down the boardwalk in, wearing flip-flops and a white flowing sundress. I bought it not only because it looks fun to ride, but because it’s a “comfort” bike. Compared to those road bikes with skinny tires, thin seats, and multiple gears, this cruiser has thick black tires, wide, shiny fenders, a fat seat, back-brakes and no gears.
Simple, cute and most important comfy, I thought as I clicked “confirm order.” Exactly what I need!
Uh-oh. Assembly Required!
When it arrived, I eagerly opened the box and set onto my apartment floor the five pieces of my soon-to-be beach cruiser. Armed with a wrench, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a flat head-screw driver, I then turned to the directions which, while written in English, were pretty much a foreign language to me.
No problem. Putting the fenders, handlebars, and loose screws into my shoulder bag, I walked my wobbly, off-centered bike down the hill to the Twenty20 Cycling Company in Hampden. Before I made it to the Avenue in Hampden, though, I started attracting attention. Two people asked me if I’d been in a biking accident and three asked if I was okay. Just walking my bike to the shop, I explained. One of these Hampdenites said he knew someone who could fix it and yelled to a man across the street.
“Hey, Bernard! Do you think you could fix this up?”
Bernard who had been standing in front of the Corner BYOB restaurant, turned out to be Bernard Dehaene, its chef. He introduced himself and assured me that he could put it together in twenty, maybe even fifteen minutes. I happily handed the miscellaneous pieces and barely mobile bike to Bernard. Then I handed him the directions, which he glanced at and then, maybe six seconds later, returned to my hands. Wow, I thought, Lady Luck is on my shoulder today.
Sitting on a stool in a building adjacent to the restaurant that Bernard is renovating, I watched him put the pieces together with relative ease. (I noted that my toolbox at home did not have any of the tools he was using.)
As he fixed the seat and checked the chain, I told him about my family and my favorite crazy and unpredictable college experiences so far. He moved on to the handlebars and as he centered them and tightened the wheel bolts, he told me about his family and life back in Belgium, and how he came to be in America and Baltimore.
Hampden, he said, is like Mayberry, the setting of the old Andy Griffith Show. Mayberry? Really? The kind of place where everyone waves and says hello, happiness is an element of oxygen that citizens inhale in every breath and the only trouble is a naughty boy trampling Aunt Bea’s tulips?
Serendipity in the City
I know enough about the city and town to know that locals would hoot at the idea of Hampden, or Baltimore, as Mayberry. But Bernard and all the other Good Samaritans who were ready to help me that day made it feel that way.
After completing the bike, Bernard sent me on to the nearest hardware store to get a bolt I needed for the front fender. (This turned out to be Falkenhan’s, another helpful haven full of useful items and friendly people.)
As he said goodbye, Bernard joked that I needed a boyfriend to help me with such tasks in the future. (Well, that was a little Mayberry and retro. Watching him, I’d just learned how to do it myself.) He waved goodbye from the door of Corner BYOB. Cue the flowery music; “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music would have been fitting.
I’d just gotten an early lesson in the positive value of plunging into Baltimore life beyond the usual student haunts. I’m not oblivious to the dangerous parts of the city or the not-so-nice sides of some city residents. But I’ve been glad to discover that it also has the hospitable and warm characteristics of a small town.
If I had gotten a non-descript bike and driven in a borrowed car to pick it up from a bike shop, I would have never had to make that schlep over to Hampden and met all those people. My beach cruiser, before it ever functioned, transported me to a part of Baltimore that I didn’t know existed. I am really looking forward to getting to know more of the city that way, with The Brew and while riding my beach cruiser!
- Laura Flynn, a Johns Hopkins University junior from New Jersey, is interning for The Brew this year.