Shock and awesome

So, I got my first flat tire. I’m spinning around, unsure of what to do. Fix it, right? Well I left New York without any tools. I can’t repair this bike without specialized equipment, and I had enough to worry about just getting out of New York. Fixing it seemed like a distant bridge to cross, and I was confident the bike’s sturdiness could at least get me down the Jersey Shore. Wouldn't that be far enough? When something mechanical failed, I’d find a bike shop or give up.

I don’t want to give up now. I instinctively roam towards a gas station across the street. A guy filling his car tires with air offers to pump me up, too.

I thank him, explaining that, yes, I’ve come all the way from New York, and just got my first flat. I curse aloud at hitting such a milestone when I should be celebrating that it took this long.

I turn and see Haskell approaching. He’s wearing a logoed shirt for the service station I assume. Maybe he can help.

But Haskell is just filling his car with gas. He works at a nutrition store and cafe in a nearby shopping center. My bike sparked a curiosity and he invites me for a health shake and lunch. This is the Oklahoma hospitality I will come to know and love.

“Hope to see you there!” he says handing me his business card.

The rear tire is already soft. The other guy is still working on his car and comes over to top me up with more air. I bike to the shopping center on my now fallible Citi Bike.

Club nutrition
I enter 6:19 Nutrition and stop. What have I walked into? It looks like a start-up office, juice bar and funhouse rolled into one. Guys are jumping on couches and shooting mini-basketballs into a hoop hung on a door frame. Others gather around a bar slurping down healthy shakes. The walls are filled with powder supplements for a product called Herbalife 24.

“Jeffrrrrrrrreeeeey!” Haskell calls from behind the bar. Others echo my name and cheer my appearance.

I walk in trying to analyze the scene, but can’t make sense of it except that the welcoming vibe is overwhelming. Positive energy buzzes as staff whip up tasty shakes to enthusiastic clientele. Everyone seems to love what he or she is doing or drinking.

Haskell silences the room and introduces me as the guy who’s biking from New York. I’m immediately welcomed into the fold and get my choice of unsweetened teas—peach, melon or Skittles, which tastes like mixed berry but apparently has no sugar added.

Haskell then asks me to choose from the shake menu with tasty names like mint chocolate and cookie dough. I get mocha, but for the first time this trip my shake has healthy ingredients.

Owners Alex and his wife Mykah come over to introduce themselves. Alex was a firefighter in Tulsa, but successfully opened this franchise in a nondescript shopping center 30 miles northeast of the city. Business is booming. His customers love the product and he loves them.

Haskell shows me side-by-side pics and the difference is clear. Husky Haskell at 220 lbs has slimmed to 180 lbs and looks happy and healthy.

“Herbalife can truly change your life if you will just let it,” he tells me.

A girl tells me she gained six pounds of muscle. Another guy tells me he’s lost 40 pounds by eating better. Aren’t these scams made for TV infomercials in the middle of the night? I guess I believe them. No reason not to—they’re standing in front of me. They are not models, bodybuilders or bimbos, just nice people trying to improve through better nutrition.

I didn’t think people out here would care so much about what they put in their bodies, which in most of America seems to be a steady stream of energy drinks, soda, fried everything and unholy amounts of beef.

6:19 Nutrition is an oasis of health and well-being. The staff love what they do and the customers love being there. The interior is bright and spacious. Even though outside is a characterless shopping center in where-am-I? Oklahoma, the setting is immeasurably better than my former windowless office with stained carpeting and vomit-colored walls on equally drab 40th Street south of Times Square.

Although I was hoping to get to the Blue Whale on my own power, given the flat tire and approaching Friday afternoon rush hour, Robyn wants to leave now from Tulsa and pick me up in Claremore.

She was already doing me a favor, and I feel bad she has to drive more than expected, but it gives me time for a free wellness evaluation. Haskell breaks out the measuring tape and wraps it around my waist, chest, bicep and thigh. Then comes the weigh-in on a smart Tanita scale that measures all kinds of metrics, like my metabolic age, muscle mass and body fat. I step on and Haskell starts scribbling.

“How’d I do, boss?”

“You’re numbers are really good. 9% body fat is great and your metabolic age is 12.”

Turns out Haskell and I are the same age—metabolic age—yet he’s 12 years my junior. I’m not buying it. “Even after all those onion rings, fried catfish, one-pound burgers and chocolate milkshakes?”

“The numbers don’t lie,” he smiles.

The only not-so-great one is 2.5% visceral fat coating my organs. I blame the onion rings, but refuse to reform. Winter is coming and I’ll need the insulation.

Team effort in Tulsa
Reinforcements arrive when Robyn enters and looks similarly perplexed at what’s going on in here. The crew bids me farewell and gifts me two tubs of supplement powders. The good stuff, they say. Of course I want it—right from Haskell’s personal stash—but hesitate to take on such weight. They insist and I gratefully accept the honor.  

The ride into Tulsa looks terrifying through my cyclist eyes. Cars everywhere, no shoulder, broken roads. Robyn isn’t able to host because of home repairs, and nor is her friend who already has a paying Airbnb guest. So she drops me off with Cathy, a third Warmshowers host, who lives near Robyn although the two have never met. Countri Bike, bringing neighbors together since five minutes ago.

I skip the general pleasantries and slice into to specifics. It’s Friday late afternoon and we have a situation here, all hands on deck. A flat tire has turned my world upside-down. Cathy knows just the remedy. Lee’s Bicycles closes in an hour. We strap the bike to the back of her snow white SUV turned bicycle ambulance and hightail it downtown.

Catching up with Cathy
On the ride Cathy tells me about herself. She’s the founder of Oklahoma Cycling, a site that sells cool bike jerseys focusing on Route 66. I learn that we have common teaching abroad experience. I was in Tokyo for two years and she taught for three in China. She's been teaching for 15 years and reflects fondly on the friendships formed abroad and the salary earned. Back home, Oklahoma teachers are like the second worst paid in the nation. Colleagues are leaving for better-paying positions in Arkansas, and she dreams of going back to China.

There’s more to the conversation and I’m trying to listen, but am in fact fixated on the rear view mirror. Every rattle has me convinced the next bump is going to eject the bike into traffic, bringing my ride to a crashing halt. Bouncing over railroad tracks gives me gallstones.

We arrive at Lee’s with time to spare. One look and they can’t fix it. They don’t have the tamperproof torx bits needed to unscrew the chain guard without which the wheel won’t come off. The wheels themselves require a non-standard 3/8 socket wrench. That size doesn’t come with home tool sets; however, all bike shops have one in a bottom drawer somewhere.

As for the torx bit tip set (something I’ve never heard of) a hardware store might have it, but finding one at 5:18 PM on a Friday will be a challenge. Luck is on our side. A nearby store is closing at 5:30 and I run in as they’re rolling up the rubber mat. The set costs $4.95.

And there you have it folks. With a single non-standard socket wrench and cheap bit set you can tamper with the core of every Citi Bike in the Big Apple, which is something I look forward to if the bank or bike powers that be ever do me wrong. Insert evil laugh and twiddling fingers GIF here.

My impressions of Tulsa are coming next, and you might be pleasantly surprised. I sure was.