Biker Chick by Serena J. Bishop
Leela frantically cleaned and rinsed teat cups, while her farm hand, Keith, hosed down the remaining suds covering the cement floor. In the last hour, both time and the milk pail had gotten away from her. She reached for the cloth to dry her hands, but saw it tucked in the back pocket of Keith’s jeans. “Can you hand me the towel?” He tossed the white terry cloth her way and she captured it mid-air. “Thanks for helping clean up my mess. I know you were in the middle of soap cutting.”
“Not a problem. Why are you leaving in such a hurry anyway?” he shouted over the sudden chorus of their bleating dairy goats.
“Late for an FMA meeting.”
“You helping those poor, homeless folks affected by the earthquake again?”
“That was FEMA. This is the Farmers’ Market Association.”
He blew a long whistle. “You better hurry then. The new farmers’ market president is a real stickler for order.”
“Don’t I know it. I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” she yelled over her shoulder as she ran out. “Oh, and don’t forget to apply the ointment to Vanessa’s teats.”
Leela’s petite and nimble legs took her quickly to the opposite end of her farm, to where her home and weathered pickup truck were situated under the green leaves of several aspen trees. She hopped into her driver’s seat and created a cloud of dust from the gravel driveway as she drove towards the main road. She had thirty minutes to get into town.
The Bend Farmers’ Market had two meetings per year to discuss logistics, holidays, and special events. It was critical that she be present. Not because she was a leader and had suggestions, but because there were rumors the town’s artisanal baker quit the FMA. That meant his spot at the farmers’ market was up for grabs. And that meant she could be booth-neighbors with her friend, Jill.
If she were late, someone else would grab the spot.
She stopped at the blinking red lights of a railroad crossing. “Shit!” Leela slapped her steering wheel, then glanced at her watch. She had fifteen minutes until the meeting started. There was no way she’d make it. Gone was her fantasy of selling her soaps and lotions while she nibbled on strawberries from Jill’s farm. Now, she was sure to be stuck in the same uneven, rocky spot right by the portable toilets, which made it impossible for her customers to obtain scent-accuracy of Bakshi Farm’s soaps or lotions in the summer.
Once the train passed, she focused her concerns on the present and hoped there would at least be a chair left for her. A seat would make up for the fire hall’s notoriously loud and crowded meeting room.
“Argh!” Leela gritted her teeth at the super-sized pickup parked in two spaces. She supposed she would have to be inventive. Slowly, she steered her truck to climb the curb and parked in the patchy grass. Others had done it, now it was her turn. She rushed inside the hall and was greeted by the backs of several members. She leaned left and right on her heels. Maybe there was enough space so she could stand in front of the giants, but across the room, she spied Jill with her gray hair in a messy ponytail and a coat occupying a seat beside her. “Score!”
Leela wiggled her way through the crowd while the association’s president presented a rough draft of the summer and fall calendar. “Is this seat taken?” Leela whispered in a seductive voice.
Jill turned. “Do you feel better?” she asked rather loudly and with concern.
Leela skewed her face in confusion, but Jill’s wide eyes and subtle nod indicated that she should play along. “Um, yeah. That ah…tofu stir fry from last week was not a good idea to have for lunch today.” She handed Jill her jacket and settled in. “Thanks for saving me a seat.”
“Not a problem. But, the bakery spot is gone,” Jill said with a frown.
“Dammit!” Leela shouted and was met with disapproving glances. “Who got it?”
Jill pointed across the room to the individual in John Lennon glasses and homemade clothes. “The hemp weaver.”
“That’s so typical. But, that vest is really awesome.”
Jill narrowed her eyes, causing the skin at her eyes to wrinkle more. “Well, if you had been on time…What took you so long anyway? You know how important this meeting is.”
Leela sighed. “I know. One of my goats needed to be coaxed into milking and then she got skittish when the low battery on the fire alarm beeped and kicked the pail over. Then, I had to run from milking to my truck. That takes a lot of time.”
Jill pursed her lips, and soon her brow arched. “You need an ATV to get around your property faster. That would save you loads of time.”
Jill was right. She spent ridiculous amounts of time walking from place to place. Between her home, the milking facility, the packing building, the barns, and the grounds she knew she spent hours of her day just putting one foot in front of the other. “You raise an interesting point, but I think an ATV would scare my goats.”
“How about a bike?”
Leela’s large brown eyes widened. “Oh my God, yes!”
“Sssh!” the man in front harshly directed her way.
Leela’s annoyance was rapidly replaced with excitement for her new mission of procuring a goat-friendly, chunky-tired bicycle. However, her enthusiasm was quickly replaced with anxiety. She looked over to Jill who listened to the president speak about a proposed diversity booth. Leela jabbed her with an elbow.
“What now?” Jill asked exasperated. “At some point, you should really pay attention.”
“I’m a first-generation, brown lesbian. I am the diversity booth!”
“Oh, calm down!” Leela pointed to the presentation screen beside the speaker. “He’s reading that word for word.” She shook her head. Some people just didn’t know when to quit. She elbowed Jill again, who glared at her in return. “Will you go with me?”
“To the bicycle store. I’ve never bought one before and I don’t know what questions to ask.”
Jill patted her thigh gently. “You’re a smart girl, Leela. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Now, pay attention. He’s about to talk about the themes, and I want to make sure my berry booth coordinates.”
For the remainder of the meeting, Leela listened politely and took a few notes, but during the transition of speakers, she performed a few searches to learn where the nearest and best-reviewed bike shop was.
When the meeting adjourned, she noticed Jill bending from side-to-side, and back-to-front. “Are you okay? You seem squirmy.”
Jill grinned. “When you get to be my age you’ll be squirmy too,” she said as she rubbed the small of her back. “Do you want to catch dinner? I know you probably haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Can I get a rain check? I’m going to check out the bike store in town. I might be able to find something before they close for the day.”
Jill furrowed her brow. “Don’t you…you know…want to research that before you go?”
“What’s there to research? I need two good tires and a drink holder. Oh! And I want a bell,” she said with a beaming smile, while she held the door for Jill. “It’ll let the goats know I’m coming.”
“I really think you should research first.”
“You know, if you said that with an Indian accent you’d sound exactly like my parents. Well, they’d be referring to science research, besides,” she added before Jill could interrupt, “what happened to ‘you’re a smart girl, Leela.’”
“I know, but—”
“No, buts. I’m going to do this, but I promise you that I’ll be smart about my choices.”
Leela jumped out of her truck and swaggered across the parking lot to Bend’s bicycle superstore. Today was the last day she wasted time walking across her farm like some primitive shepherd. Today was the day she made a leap forward in professional development. Today she would buy a bicycle. And she had an hour before the store closed to do it.
A cheery bell above the door rang as it opened. She expected to see a few rows of bicycles divided into men’s, women’s, and children’s—and possibly that kind for the serious athlete who wore nothing but spandex—but she was mistaken.
What she saw was a grand emporium of metallic spokes, glossy colors, and a man examining his spandex-clad self in a mirror outside a dressing room. All of the walls were stacked with different models of bikes. At least a dozen aisles had clothes, various seats, organizers, travel racks, and snacks. To Leela, it wasn’t the World of Bikes, it was more like the Universe of Bikes.
“You look a little overwhelmed,” a voice said from over her shoulder.
Leela turned and faced the man. His corduroy pants, buttoned vest, a newsboy cap, and beard didn’t scream salesman to her, but his nametag indicated that’s who he was. “Yeah. What gave it away?”
“The look of pure shock and awe.” He held out his hand, “I’m Colin. Can I help you make some sense of all this?” he asked as he swept his arms to gesture to the store.
Leela introduced herself, did another complete turn to take in the store’s contents, and noticed about three dozen new items in her second view. “I just…I had no idea this was what the inside would look like. Do all bike shops look like this?”
Colin grinned broadly, but his waxed mustache stayed in place. “Wow. You really are a newbie. But, don’t worry I’m sure I can help you figure something out. Are you looking for yourself or is it a gift?”
“Myself,” Leela vacantly answered and twisted her face when she noticed the chafing prevention products on the counter. “There’s no way I can figure out what I want before you close though, which sucks because I was really jazzed about buying something.”
“Don’t worry about that. I bet I can find something perfect for you in that time and if I can’t…I’ll throw in a free insulated drink bottle. It has a fifteen dollar value.”
Leela smiled broadly. She was already leaving the store a winner. “You have a deal!”
He clapped his hands together. “Excellent. Follow me to my trusty, touchscreen friend.”
She walked down the aisle of shoes, dodging a lean duo along the way until she reached the touchscreen service center, which Colin proudly stood beside. “Do I get to program a sandwich while I’m here too?”
“That’s actually on the other side of the store.”
Colin nodded. “We take nutrition very seriously. Would you like to go there first?”
“While that is tempting—and impressive—I’d just like to find a bike and get out.”
“Can do, Leela. So, this machine will go through our current inventory and dealers to create a list of bicycles based on the specifications you give it. And since you know what you want more than I do, I’ll stand by to assist with any questions you might have.”
“Cool. I like the efficiency.”
“I thought you might. And since you want to leave with a bike…” Colin rapidly tapped the screen and brought it to a different start page. “This will limit the search to what we already have in stock.”
Leela nodded and selected the first two options, mountain and adult. The third option raised an interesting question. “It’s asking male or female. I think that’s fairly irrelevant, especially considering you can apparently switch the seat to make it more comfortable for your downstairs.”
“Oh.” Colin smiled in a manner Leela found to be a bit condescending. “Generally speaking, torso lengths are different between the sexes and the bicycle’s geometry takes that into account.”
It was an answer, but it still seemed like there could be a better way. She selected a few other options regarding her height, the specific terrain she would ride on, and the amount of time she estimated she would be on her bike. “Some of these questions don’t seem directly related to the bike? What does it matter if I’m gluten-free or vegan?”
“Not only does the program recommend bikes, but it also does accessories. The food preferences are for any pre-packaged nutrition you may want to purchase.”
They did take food seriously. “Oh. Well, I plan to go to the grocery store or farmers market for that.” She selected the finish button. “What now?”
Colin eyed the results displayed on the screen. “Now, I bring you a bike to test ride. From your answers, you have a variety of manufacturers to choose from.”
“Just show me the cheapest first.”
Colin nodded his understanding and disappeared into a back room. While she waited, she marveled at some of the children’s bicycles. Some were so small the handle bars didn’t even come up to her knees. Some were decorated with flowers or action heroes. In a way, it was kind of depressing. Her childhood bike was a gray hand-me-down from her neighbors. They also happened to be the ones who taught her how to ride. Heaven forbid her parents helped her with something that wasn’t leading her to be Oregon’s junior math champion.
“Alright, Leela, meet the All-Terrain Pro.” Colin rolled a spectacular, purple and orange mountain bike that gleamed under the showroom lights. A helmet swung on one of the handlebars. “What do you think?”
The fact that the bicycle in front of her was considered a simple machine was offensive. It was wonderful. It was everything. “It’s…It’s so pretty.”
He grinned and handed her the helmet. “A few rules before you head out. You need to stay in the parking lot or you can loop to the back of the building where there is the back entrance to the park, so it’s still fairly well lit. And you have fifteen minutes. Sound good?”
Leela glanced at her watch. Her time at the touchscreen took more time than she had thought. But she still had time to get in a quality test ride and purchase everything. “Sounds great.”
After Colin performed a minor seat and handlebar height adjustment, Leela was on her way. The rough helmet straps itched her skin, but the sensation was quickly forgotten by the joy she experienced as she pedaled around the area. She experimented with different gears. She stood in the saddle. Errant strands of black hair tickled her face from the wind as she rolled down the grassy hills of the park.
She imagined the adrenaline rush she would feel when she rode down the steepest portion of her property. Taller grass would slap at her feet. Her hair would fly wildly—there was no way she’d wear a helmet on her farm. And she’d have so much time left in the day due to her efficient transportation, she might even be able to have a hobby. Maybe she could finally see what the big deal was with Gentleman Jack.
Plus, compared to an ATV, the maintenance cost would be minimal. She could use that extra money for her new hobby. Although, the responsible thing to do would be to hold off until she compensated for the hundreds of dollars she was about to spend on her new bike, Violet McFlamey.
Colin opened the door for Leela with a grin. “What did you think?”
“I want it! I want it now!”
“That’s what I like to hear,” he said. “But are you sure you don’t want to test ride anything else. I can convince my manager to stay past close.”
“Nope.” Leela unclasped her helmet and gave Violet a pat on its reflector. “This is the one for me.”
“Alright, then. All we need to figure out is what else you might want.” Colin handed Leela a printed receipt of the different accessories generated from her time at the touchscreen. “Just check the box for everything you want and I’ll scan it in.”
Leela tightened her lips as she thought of a significant issue not discussed. “How much are these things? The prices aren’t listed.”
He glanced at the paper. “The different storage bags are like fifteen each and the toe clip pedals are twenty-five. But the cargo trailer is going to run you about another hundred.”
Leela tapped her foot. That was easily an extra two hundred added on to her total, but the whole purpose of the bike was to increase efficiency. She might as well be as efficient as possible. She checked all of the different items, gave the paper back to Colin, and pulled out her credit card.
He scanned the different bar codes. “That’ll be three-thousand—”
“Woah!” Leela laughed nervously. “Let’s move that decimal over one, shall we. Three thousand,” she said again with a chuckle.
Colin regarded at her seriously. “Sorry, Leela, that’s not a mistake. If it makes you feel better the bike is on sale at $2999.99.”
Leela withdrew the credit card from the counter. “There is no possible way that bicycle is worth three grand. I don’t care how shiny it is.”
Colin shook his head vigorously and went to the bike. He stroked the frame lovingly. “This the lightest weight carbon you’ll find for a fat tire bike. Don’t even get me started on how high-quality the drivetrain is. And the suspension—”
“I’m a farmer! I can’t afford high-quality carbon drivetrains.”
He cocked his head and squinted. “I thought you were a doctor.”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Just because my parents are doctors, doesn’t mean I’m a doctor!”
“How about a payment plan?”
That may have been reasonable before his assumptions came out. “How about I get my free insulated water bottle and I leave?”
“I really didn’t mean any offense.” His sheepish expression morphed in a cocky grin. “How about we start this process over tomorrow and we look at a broader selection of bikes? We can customize the search so it fits your price range.”
Leela balled her hidden hands into fists. She knew exactly what he had done. “Out of curiosity, did you set the price range before we started this?”
Colin pursed his lips and shrugged. “Technically—”
“Bah!” If her exclamation wasn’t enough encouragement for him to shut his mouth, the finger in front of his face did.
After five minutes of lecturing him over the smarmy tactic of pre-programming the most expensive brands into the touch screen, Leela skulked out of the store. She didn’t even care about her free water bottle. Not only was she without a bike, but she passed up dinner with Jill and she had the emotional trauma of falling in love with Violet McFlamey, only to have it taken away.
Leela walked out into the dark lot, thankful she was parked under a streetlight.
She jumped and instinctually lifted her key like a blade and turned to the sound.
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” a woman’s said from her SUV. “Do you know if the bike store is still open?”
Leela calmed her heart and put her key into the lock of her door, instead of into the neck of her non-existent perpetrator. “No, they just closed.”
“Damn,” the woman grumbled under her breath.
“Might be for the best. I didn’t have the best experience.” Leela turned to get into her truck and sighed. Just because Colin was shady, didn’t mean all the salespeople were. “Look, they have a ton of stuff in there, just be very specific with how much you’re willing to spend. And try not to get Colin.”
The woman shook her head. “I’m not looking to buy. I had a yard sale this past weekend, but couldn’t unload this bike. I was hoping I could sell it to them before I resorted to posting it online and had to deal with that hassle.”
This was interesting. The metaphorical wheels started to turn for Leela. “You have a bike?”
“Yeah. It’s hanging off the back. You can take a look if you’re interested. ”
Leela walked to the rear of the SUV and observed the bike from different angles. It was a mountain bike with magenta and white chipped paint. The tires appeared to be brand new. There was also a bottle holder and a bell. With a coat of rust-proof paint it’d be as good as new. Leela smiled. “How much do you want for it?”
“How much are you willing to give me?”
Leela didn’t smirk, but she really wanted to. She loved the bartering game. “I have fifty dollars cash.” That was mostly true.
“I was hoping I could get…maybe seventy-five.”
“Hold that thought.” Leela walked back to her truck and opened her case of impromptu business supplies. She pulled out a squirt bottle and a small box. “How about fifty dollars, plus lavender-vanilla scented lotion and soap?” The woman appeared unconvinced. “It’s a fair deal since they’re made locally by yours truly with only the highest-quality goat’s milk.”
She stared at Leela and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “Let me try the lotion.”
Leela applied a dollop to the back of the woman’s hand, watched her sniff the product, then rub the moisturizer into her skin. She knew she had a deal at the first whiff. “So, what do you think? Do we have a trade?”
“That is marvelous,” the woman said with a grin and looked at her hands. “I’m going to give you the bike and something else too.” She reached into her glove box and removed a card. “I’m a buyer with the Ever Green Grocer. If you’d like to do business, give me a call.”
Leela’s mouth gaped as she looked at the business card. “Absolutely! I love EGG. Are you the one who brought the CocoLoco ice cream to the store? Because if you did…well done.”
As Leela helped move the bike from the back of the SUV’s rack and into her truck bed, she listened to a summary of the buyer-supplier relationship and learned that EGG had analysts whose sole task was to make their partnering businesses more profitable and environmentally-friendly. It was a dream come true. And it never would have happened had she not “wasted” her time with Colin.
A few minutes later, Leela drove away with her bicycle. As she merged onto the main street, the clang her bike shifting against the metal traveled through to the cab. Leela would have to be more mindful around turns. She didn’t want any scratches on Pinky McFate.