An Ode to “Tim” From the Bike Shop

(I wrote this in my journal some time last year and was inspired to post it while riding the train to Palo Alto this morning. I used the name “Tim” to respect the employee’s privacy, but sent him an email asking if he wouldn’t mind if I share his real one.)

I drop my bike off most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at the San Francisco train station and return to pick it up when I arrive back in the city later in the evening. The parking area is a part of a small shop with space for bike repairs and parts for purchase, and there are a few employees who park your bike on the racks and cover any repairs you might want done. Parking your bike in the shop requires filling out a paper tag that contains your name and phone number and attaching it to your bike before it’s carried over to a rack by one of the employees. There are few enough employees that I almost always know them by name, especially the ones who work shifts during the trains I usually catch.

I remember well what must have been Tim’s first or second day working in the shop; I hadn’t seen him there before, but as he was rolling my bike to the parking rack he noticed the phone number I’d written on the tag. “Ah, 203,” he said noting the area code with a big smile, “I grew up in Fairfield County!” He asked me which high school I’d gone to, and if I knew one of the teachers he’d had back in the day. I remember thinking to myself as I walked out of the shop how much brighter he’d made my morning with his genuineness.

Every day after that when I dropped my bike off during the hours Tim was working, he’d ask me if I was going to visit Connecticut any time soon. He’d always wish me a pleasant day, even when I rolled in at 7a.m. on a Monday morning with bags under my eyes, zombie-ish before that crucial first sip of coffee.

I watched each week as his sincerity and kindness was unfailingly extended to every person who walked through that bike shop door, no matter if they were part of the it’s-6:30a.m.-on-a-Monday-morning-don’t-talk-to-me-just-put-my-bike-away-quickly crowd, or the it’s-8p.m.-on-a-Friday-night-I-just-want-to-get-home-and-have-a-beer one when he’d be closing up the shop at the end of a long week. I never once saw him greet a customer other than with a smile and some sort of “how are you doing on this fine day?” and if you were any sort of regular he’d know you by name.

One morning I dropped my bike off for a tune-up and mentioned offhand to Tim that I’d be using the bike to ride in a race that weekend. I woke up the next morning to an email he’d sent me later than night after I’d gone to bed:

I saved this email as soon as I read it as a reminder of and testament to the people like Tim who make the world a better place. He has never owed me – or anyone who walks into that shop – anything, and yet he goes above and beyond to make our days better. He has single-handedly turned so many of my mornings around when I was stressed and hurried, or angry about some car that had almost hit me on my ride over. When I received bad news on my way home from work one day, and exited the train lost in self-pity and rumination, his smile changed my entire mood.

How do we thank people like Tim (besides writing silly posts they’ll never read)? And how do we become more like Tim? How can we do better express our care, concern, and interest in others? How can we make it habit to always offer a smile, to ask a question driven by genuine curiosity instead of formality, to help others and make their lives better in whatever small way we can?

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