A little birdie told me that my Pennsylvania pal Bill W. is turning the ripe old age of FIFTY. I'm a little late posting this congrats, but in my defense, that same little birdie threw him a big ol' surprise party on Friday, so any earlier and I would have spoiled the surprise. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Bill was my boss at my last bike shop gig, the now-sadly-defunct Laurel Highlands Schwinn in Latrobe PA (yes, home of Rolling Rock beer and Arnie Palmer). I've already mentioned him in a rant about the economy, but I figured in honor of his big birthday, I'd devote a post to what I'll call Bill's Greatest Hits. These little snips of my favorite Bill stories might not stitch together into something coherent, but hopefully by the end, you'll have a pretty good picture of a pretty good guy.
I first met Bill thanks to a really lucky coincidence -- I'd followed my wife out to western PA for her work and to give myself space out of grad school to finish up my thesis. The catch was, I couldn't maintain my sanity as a full-time thesis-writer, and my wife's salary couldn't keep both of us fed. So we looked up the bike shops in the area (since I did still have one marketable skill that grad school hadn't beaten out of me) and paid Bill's place a visit. Turns out, his mechanic at the time was leaving, so after a quick grilling to see if I actually knew anything (confession -- I faked it), I was hired.
Working for Bill pretty much ruined me on every boss since. I mean, c'mon, the guy used to pay me just to hang out and play darts in the slow season. We rode laps around an indoor obstacle course. We tried (with no success) to learn how to ride a unicycle. I can't count the number of times he bought Jioio's pizza for lunch (man, do I ever miss Jioio's... and they have a MAIL ORDER PIZZA link on their site! But it's not working! Pizza tease!) And what kind of boss holds an annual Christmas cookout of deer burgers made from a deer he took down himself with a bow and arrow? (If I remember correctly, we got a friend/team rider/customer -- who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent -- wasted on cheap wine at one of these get-togethers until he passed out in a chair in the back of the shop, waking up every once in a while to slur/shout, "WHAT TIME IS IT?!?")
Now lest you think it was all fun and games at Laurel Highlands Schwinn, Bill and I did have our one near-death experience in the shop. Ooh, cue ominous music, right? We were working together on an overhaul for a Cannondale Headshok suspension fork. If you're not familiar with that procedure (because who is?), it involves a special "castle" tool that unscrews and removes a top cartridge inside the steerer tube, exposing the guts of the spring/damper mechanism. For some reason, this one was giving me grief, so Bill helped out. Little did either of us know that we'd both forgotten to bleed the air pressure out of the shock before we started -- which was the one "DO NOT EVER FORGET THIS" all-caps warning in the manual and in the handy service video with Nigel the English Cannondale Service Video Guy. As soon as the threads loosened, the cartridge shot out of the steerer like a mortar shell, ripping the castle tool out of my hands and missing both our heads by inches before shattering the fluorescent lights over our heads and putting an impressive divot in the ceiling. A couple inches either way and one of us would have been taking the other to the hospital. We laughed about it later... much later, once our hearts slowed back down.
I laughed a lot around Bill. Nobody keeps a straight face and stretches a good joke out better. When PNC Bank got the naming rights for a stadium in Pittsburgh, Bill had me completely convinced that it would have windows in the bathrooms so you could keep watching the game while you were at the urinal. I bought this for what seemed like hours (because it does sound like a good idea, right?) before he dropped the "Pee and See Bank" punchline on me. If Bill has a good joke, just watch out -- nobody's safe. And he'll sell it to the bitter end until he finally cracks himself up. And if you want to spring any sort of practical joke on someone, hit Bill up for ideas. I'd like to take credit for all the ways I tortured Junior Mechanic Chad "The Great Chadolini", but most of the good ideas were Bill's... and I suspect he was behind a lot of the pranks Chad used to get me back.
One of those sick, sick jokes was our "shop people only" Spinning class. We sold and serviced all the Spinning bikes for a local health club, so they told us that if we got together enough guys on a Sunday morning, they'd do a class just for us. Anyone who's ever been on an all-guys group ride can imagine the scene as a dozen of us swaggered in snickering at the thought of getting a "workout" from this tiny little female aerobics teacher. Fast forward to an hour later, when swaggers had become staggers and we were all struggling to keep breakfast down. If Bill hadn't taught me the "pretend to turn your resistance dial instead of actually turning it" trick, I never would have made it through a second class.
Our actual outdoor group rides were a piece of cake by comparison, since they usually involved a coasting contest. Unless I'm mistaken, Bill is still the undisputed champion of the coasting contest. You can draw your own conclusions on whether that's due to his (ahem) greater mass or just his buttery-smooth Dura Ace hubs. Since it's his birthday, I'll go with the hubs.
I've probably rattled on long enough, even though I've barely scratched the surface. So, before my two readers who aren't Bill nod off to sleep, I'll just say congratulations on the big five-oh to a great boss, a great friend, and a great guy. Bill, any time you find yourself in Iowa (opening that kite shop you and Chad were planning, maybe), you're welcome here at the House of Noodle. And the next time I find myself out in Westmoreland County, you can probably drop my fat butt like nobody's business going up Laurel Mountain. I'll give you a good run down the other side during the coasting contest, though.