Apalachicola, Florida is either in the middle of nowhere or the center of the universe depending on who is doing the talking.
“There is magic in this town,” says the man, his gravel-voice resonating inside the four walls of the 100-year old brick building.
“I don’t know why, but it keeps calling me back.”
I’m standing inside a small room filled with tools, spare bicycle parts, and a man who can’t get the tiny panhandle fishing town out of his heart. With a population of an average family short of 2,300, making a living with a bike shop could be considered a long shot. For many, their regular work transportation is rhythmically bumping up against the wooden docks a few hundred yards to the east.
Apalachicola is one of those special places in the world where you can sit in a wooden chair eating oysters confidently knowing they were recently in the water you are staring across.
My new friend’s soul is as colorful as a tie-dye t-shirt. As a wanderer, he biked across the country several times, both east to west and north to south. He also paddled a canoe along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coastline. One of those trips included a stop in Apalachicola.
I look around the room and ask the obvious, wondering about how he came to learn to work on bikes.
“When I was about nine or ten my dad bought me a starter set of Craftsman tools, probably more than anything else to keep me out of his.”
A smile as warm as a humid bay breeze washes through his voice.
“I’d take my bike apart trying to figure out how it worked. After I put the thing back together my dad would then take it to the local bike shop to get it running again.”
One small toolbox led to a life that included working on yachts in the Caribbean, taking mechanical jobs in Alaska, and learning to fix about anything that could break. An artist with his tools, so to say.
But in a remarkable twist, the gift led him to create art from spare bicycle parts laying around his shop in a town that captured his heart.
The ground around the storm-worn red brick building is populated with animated sculptures, some whimsical, others as curious as to the materials used to create them. A giant sphere, much like an oversized rubber band ball, sits in the sun, created with thousands of recycled bicycle tubes. Nearby a large hexagon shape, one similar to found playgrounds years ago, is built from old bicycle rims.
His modest ego, as flat as the panhandle itself, points to a framed paper certificate on the wall.
“Yeah, the city even once gave me an award for the art out there,” he says.
A room fan hums in the background as I read the proclamation.
And it is then I realize he is unknowingly a part of the magic in the small town. And he is finally home.