Saturday, June 19, 2010

Leon's legacy

The frame arrived while my Dad was still in NYC, but after he had left Brooklyn. I got the email from my shop during the intermission of Lulu at the Met. Every time my dad comes to visit, he takes me and his sister, Joan, to a matinee. My dad was off to Connecticut to stay with Joan after the opera, so unfortunately he would miss the chance to see the frame with his own eyes.

Naturally, I headed over to the shop as soon as I could to check it out. Despite my apprehension over the size, I couldn't help but grin as soon as I saw it. It was really gorgeous. The joints were stripped of their paint and down to the bare steel, but they had this beautiful patina that took my breath away. We put it up on the stand and took some measurements to see how we could modify it to make it work. It would need a longer seatpost and spacers between the head tube and the stem--we would essentially "add bike" (additional height) to what was already there. Of course, all the guys in the shop had varying opinions as to whether or not it would work, but I remained hopeful...or perhaps just stubborn.

Here's a before and after:

The next task was to get it painted. Always susceptible to the power of suggestion, I decided that instead of stripping it and repainting a new color, I would just get it clearcoated and preserve its current deconstructed state.

Well, the string of snags really began when I took the frame to the powdercoater.

Powdercoating is different than painting. I think it's what auto body shops do to paint cars, but basically the frame is coated with a dry electrostatically charged powder and then baked in an oven at high heat in order to adhere it to the metal. This creates a durable finish and is more reasonable (though still not cheap) than "wet" paint.

I asked the guy at the powdercoating shop if he could put a clear coat over the current paint job. He took a look at it, verified that it was a factory paint job, and said yes, it should work. Awesome.

He called me the next morning saying it was ready to be picked up. Wow! That was pleasantly speedy. I hopped on my bike and made the trek to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to his shop. I got there and took a look at the frame and something didn't look right. The decal had blistered. I sort of timidly asked what had happened and he mumbled something like "oh, there must've been a sticker there or something." Of course there was a "sticker", you #@*%&! It was the name of the bike and you told me it would be fine! But in a moment of Midwestern submissiveness, I just paid and left. So, Nolan's name had gone from how it looked in my previous post to this:

Ugh. What to do? Try to scrape off the blistered area and put my decal on the bare steel? But then there would be a big patch of gray beneath it, and besides, the new decal I had made up was gold, because I was anticipating a different frame color. (This is what I get for being both indecisive *and* impulsive). Get a new decal made in the original reddish lettering with a gold background? No, what are the chances of getting the same shade of gold to match the rest of the frame?

After consulting with my shop, I decided the only option was to get it redone. This also meant another decision was being made for me--I would have to get a completely new paint job. Was this the universe telling me to trust my gut and go with my original instincts? Or is that reading too much into it? Anyway, I hoped the powdercoater would give me a break the second time around, since he had initially told me it would work.

I pushed through my Midwestern timidity, mustered up some Brooklyn assertiveness and got him to agree to do it again at a discount, though not without first enduring a bit of attitude. This time, however, the frame had to be stripped first. He recommended taking it to the sandblaster with whom he often worked, whose shop was in NoHo, around the corner from Joe's Pub and nearly across the street from Great Jones Cafe, this great Creole restaurant. (Not for vegetarians, but sinfully delicious if you're a carnivore.)

So, I slung the frame over my shoulder, hopped on my bike and commenced another trek through the city streets with the frame bouncing on my leg as I pedaled. The funniest part was the two feet of steerer tube on top of the fork sticking out the side of my bag. (The steerer tube had yet to be cut down, it was still absurdly long.) I was just waiting for a car to get too close to me and smash its mirror on it, of course blaming me, but I arrived unscathed.

The sandblaster was this old gentleman named Leon--a real salty New Yorker, the kind of man who you could see definitely had some stories to tell.

I dropped it off on Thursday, May 13, and his assistant said it would be done that afternoon.
I think I had rehearsal or something that wouldn't have allowed me to pick it up that night, so I didn't think much when I didn't get a call from them. By Saturday afternoon, I was starting to wonder and by Tuesday, I started calling the shop. No answer. Called Wednesday several times. No answer. No answering machine. No website or email address. I rode by Thursday morning and there was a padlock on the door and a sign saying "Closed due to family emergency." Geez, what happened? I started to call this Snag # 553 and joked to my friends, "Leon was really up there in years, I hope he didn't die!"


See here.

He had died that past Friday, the day after I dropped off my bike. I got a call the next afternoon from his son, telling me his father had passed away, they were closing the business and could I please come get my bike frame? ..."Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry for your loss I'll be there right away."

Leon sounded like a pretty great guy. He was in the army in WWII as a radio and cryptography technician. He bought the sandblasting business the year before my mom was born in Staten Island. New York was a pretty different place back then. The obituary says the shop was the last industrial business left on Great Jones today, and now it's gone, too. Now this bike is a little part of another lost legacy.

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