I’m embarrassed I forgot their names. In my defense, it was supposed to be just a routine transaction: I needed a screw to build my handlebar camera mount; their store, with a large smiling screw painted on the sun-faded wall and peculiarly precise Spanish name La Tornilleria, the Screw Store, seemed like a safe option. I pedalled directly to the cash register. As with most interactions in Colombia—in fact, in all of Latin America—it would be rude to talk business without a short round of pleasantries. This particular day, in this store lined with every type of screw and washer size imaginable, the conversation that should have touched briefly on what I thought of Colombia, where I’ve been and where I plan to go, etcetera struck a deeper, more meaningful nerve.
We all loved bikes. They loved (and were jealous) that I was biking through Colombia. And they especially loved the idea of mounting a camera on handlebars to document the most stunning scenery along the way. Immediately, my project became their project, ideas were thrown about the room much like the scatter of bolts, hammers, and rubber sheets that were manipulated into cushiony washers to protect my camera from road jolts.
With an unhurried coffee and bathroom break, the whole affair start to finish should have taken one man less than an hour. But somehow they sensed that I had nothing better to do, which was exactly my situation with the heavy noonday sun evaporating my earlier plans to bike tour the city of Barranquilla. I too sensed this project, along with my detailed accounts of other South American countries soon-to-be visited, filled their day with such an anticipatory joy that I thought at any second they would shut down shop to join me. We lingered in every action, simply enjoying the company of people with common passions.
At one point it became clear that none of the infinite screws in their shop would fit both my camera’s casing and the handlebar mount, the same one that doubled as my handlebar bag holder. No problem. I was escorted down the street and introduced to a grease-covered friend who was pleasant but skipped the pleasantries.
And he just happened to own a drill shop. Gentle pressure, an electric vroom like a dentist’s drill in a loudspeaker, plastic rinds curling upward then falling to the gutter. For the first time on this trip Surly lost weight instead of me. Problem solved: one screw that fit both camera and mount.
Now let’s go back to the shop and talk bikes.
In his prime the owner had won various local races. His trophy, which I had not noticed prominently displayed on the top shelf until he brought it down from its glory, was heavy, with elaborate medallions and shiny gold pillars that supported a lone biker, the champion himself. The swams raised up to honor the victor, singing praises toward the heavens.
The younger assistant, a relentless competitor according to the grey-haired owner who related the news in such a proud way that I imagined a fatherly pat on the back where none existed, bought out his bike which he now only uses for commuting.
“It’s hard to compete in races with so many family obligations,” he said, his eyes moving over Surly as if envious of the downhill curves we would both tuck into in the upcoming months, me chin over the dropbars, Surly’s tread gripping confidently.
I spent two hours buying a screw, which in the end they gave to me for free, along with their undivided attention for the better half of an afternoon. The sun still burned high in the sky when I finally left on my delayed city tour, but at least I had a functional camera mount and two more supporters who will travel with me in spirit.