For months it simply doesn't occur to you. You pass the same way every day without incident. Then an abrupt unevenness enters your consciousness, a notable variation in pace and stability, the unmistakable grinding of grit in the road. It's dead flat.
Now you get a flat every day. You say to friends, "Man, I got a flat tire every day this week!" They ask, "Same wheel?"
No! A pinch in the front. Glass in the back. Bad tube in the front, followed by what looks like half a staple in the back. A leak too slow to identify, but a leak nonetheless. One insightful passerby said the constant rain brings the sharpest shards to the surface.
I was repairing my third flat when I met a homeless man named David. He introduced himself by noting I had tools. He asked if he could borrow my tools to repair his bike—a beaten white bmx significantly too small for him. He had to go just a few blocks to the men's shelter to get the front wheel off another bike. I replied I wasn't in the habit of loaning my tools, but I could come with him.
David spoke in broad terms: Hell of a day. Traffic's crazy. New York really is the meltin' pot, you know? It takes all kinds. Between that and the bike-talk, it was easy to keep the conversation moving.
The men's shelter is in a giant mid-century neo-gothic municipal nightmare right next to the hospital. Tall concertina fencing obliterates whatever charm may have lain within those stones. To get around to the entrance you have to pass through an interminable temporary walkway, very narrow for a bike and full of uncomfortable murmured conversations.
In the claustrophobic courtyard I saw a man with large teardrops tattooed on his cheek. I heard old men discussing Henry Winkler. The security guard was armed.
The favor was done and I left without much ceremony. On the way out I heard one man say to another man,
"Noooo, nigga! He be sellin' loosies? Oh, shit. That nigga be sellin' loosies!"