First time I saw Baby Seal he was huddled up against the edge of the pier, flippers pinned nervously as he waited for the phalanx to roll out. That was seven or eight years ago but it might as well have been a thousand. Baby Seal was such a baby seal that he wasn’t even called “Baby Seal.” Or anything.
He got clubbed pretty badly on that ride and on a bunch of rides after that. I only noticed him because he had The Stick. That’s what some people have. They simply stick it out.
He got better and fitter and faster and eventually I learned his name. “Jon,” he said. “Jonathan Paris.”
His background was murky. He worked somehow or other in the healthcare field and made it clear that he didn’t find it his life’s calling. He exuded a quirkiness that fits cyclists. He was keen, too, observing and keeping his mouth shut, letting his legs pass on whatever it was he had to say. More and more, what he had to say was “hammer.”
Over a couple of short years I took him under my club and taught him everything I knew about cycling, which was 1) Show no mercy and 2) When tempted, show even less.
Since he was a quick learner, he passed it on as quickly as he could to others. Eventually he began showing up to the Pier Ride with a stuffed baby seal under his saddle. He welcomed the clubbing and he welcomed the moniker, and through it all he blossomed as a cyclist.
He learned to quit his job and work in “the industry.” He learned to spend every spare cent on easily broken bike parts. He learned that in the South Bay how you look is what matters. He learned that it’s better to hammer and get shelled than to whimper at the back and get shelled.
He learned to wear his slinky black dress when he was going good, and hide from the world in his fat pants when the Cheez-its took over. And he learned that he had a voice, a voice groomed by an upbringing that many would never have lived through.
The stuffed animal was a counterpoint to the real JP, a guy who had lived on the streets and who despite his gentle smile and skinny bike build knew how to alley fight with his feet, his fists, or any piece of rebar lying around. JP seemed like a nice guy and he was until you mistook kindness and human decency for a pushover. The steely JP never needed to threaten anyone. All he ever had to do was change his gaze ever so slightly so that you could see the jagged broken glass and rusty nails therein. Those glances made you hurry as quickly as you could back to the smiling Baby Seal.
JP did a land-office business at every bike shop he worked for. He turned the Pasadena Performance shop into the region’s top sales outlet. After a year at Bike Palace in San Pedro they had their best year ever by orders of magnitude, and that was before the covids. JP knew how to sell because he understood service because he understood people.
All the while he planned his escape, and a few days ago I got a text that simply said, “Lease concluded. Shop’s address is 1272 Sartori in Torrance, 90501.”
The Dropout is opening shortly and I hope you’ll go out of your way to patronize it.
For me, I’m looking forward to showing up at The Dropout so that I can make JP’s endeavor a huge success. Here’s my hit list, and I’m sure you can add others:
- Buy something, use it hard, and return it demanding a full refund.
- Ask for a discount.
- When I get the discount, ask for the bro discount.
- When I get the bro discount, ask for the uber-bro discount.
- When I get the uber-bro discount, ask if I can have it on credit.
- When I get it on credit, forget.
- Go to the shop and ask to be put first in the service queue that stretches out to December.
- Ask JP to find me a very rare part then buy it on the Internet.
- Try on all the shoes, then buy them on the Internet.
- Ask JP if he can beat the Internet deal on [xxx]. Then buy it on the Internet even when he does.
- Bring back my bike after being serviced and say it doesn’t work after I fell off a cliff.
- Show up early Saturday afternoon and get JP to stop everything to listen to my awesome ride recap.
- Swing by at 5:59 to see if he can “just check my derailleur” because “it’ll only take a minute.”
- Ask his advice about equipment then ignore it.
- Text him technical questions with lots of pictures of how the screw doesn’t fit the thingy like the whatsit in the YouTube video.
- Argue with him about tires.
- Argue with him about frames.
Anyway, you can do all this and more, and in the process maybe even spend a buck or two. Or at least ask for a discount.
Hats off, JP. You earned it.
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