Thursday, August 16, 2007

An Equation

This morning, I decided I'd better go out and pump up my low tires before heading off to the market. The front tire seemed okay after about 25 pumps but the back tire refused to stay up even about 50 sweaty pushes in the blazing sun. It was clear that the tire needed repair rather than air. The first part of the equation at hand today is: a flat tire.

My husband usually deals with taking the bikes to the local repair fellow when there's a problem but he has more than enough on his plate on the weekends and far too much on the days when he's working with his 48 hour work week. I decided I'd just bite the bullet and walk the bike to the shop myself because I wanted to spare my husband the time and effort on his day off, particularly since he's already going to have to deal with some dai gomi (large trash) scheduling and sticker purchasing to get rid of our old oven and a huge shelf we're abandoning after 18 years of use.

When I set off on my little walk to the shop, I noticed that some other places along Ome Kaido had their metal shutters down and were closed. I considered for a moment that Thursday might be the day the shop just happened to be closed but thought that was unlikely as Wednesday and Monday are the big weekdays for places to close up. It didn't occur to me that this week is the first week of the O-bon summer holiday season in Japan and that the shop may be closed for that reason. In fact, the bike shop was closed as were a great many other shops on the local shopping streets. Part two of the equation was: the summer holiday season.

The problem at this point was that I've got a bike with a flat tire and a desperate need to get some shopping for food done. I also need to pay some bills that are due today or risk having my gas, electric, and water access cut-off. While it's unlikely they'd shut me down for being a little late (today is the actual due date), one doesn't want to take chances when people are dropping dead or being hospitalized all over Japan as the temperatures hover near or over 100 degrees.

Since I was somewhat closer to a few of the places I needed to shop at than I'd be if I just went back home, I decided to just push the dead bike along and walk to the shops. I knew that it'd take some time (in the end, from pumping the tires in the sun to getting home, it took about an hour and a half) but the bike isn't going to get fixed any time soon so I felt it was better to do it while I was already close than to walk home and think about how to deal with things later.

The local carpet and draperies shop.

As I was walking to the first market, I passed by the local carpet and draperies place where we bought our new living room carpet. I need a carpet square to put under a metal shelf I plan to move into the kitchen so that it's spiky supports don't tunnel through the newish kitchen flooring and (eventually) through the floorboards. The finished carpet bits (which I guess are throw rugs) are in the picture above just behind the hanging "500 yen" sign. As I was pawing through them and checking out their sizes (my shelf is 40 cm x 60 cm and I wanted one that wasn't too big or small), the fellow who works there and delivered our carpet popped out and started helpfully educating me about the sizes of the bits I was looking at by saying things like, "that one is long." In the end, I found an acceptable one which was 45 cm x 65 cm (which he helpfully told me was "smaller" than the "long" one) and purchased it.

The man who works in the shop is really quite nice and well-meaning. I really don't know how he stays in business though since I rarely see anyone buying things there when I pass by (and I go by two or three times a week) and we shop there only once every 8 years or so. These shops that mysteriously linger on despite seeming to sell nearly nothing are all over Tokyo. Roy at Q-taro once made a post about such a place and I speculated that they're intentional failures as tax dodges for high value property but I really don't know how they manage.

As I was walking from the carpet shop to the market, my back started to bother me a bit so I took advantage of the useless bike I was pushing around and leaned a bit on it. By the time I got home, this "leaning" and the friction it caused on my thumb and palm actually resulted in a sizable blister. I didn't even notice what was going on until I scraped something against my thumb while putting away groceries and ripped off the thin skin cover the blister to expose the raw skin underneath. I can't tell you how much fun this was to clean off with rubbing alcohol but lets just say it was a new adventure in pain.

The cheapest local market, Utakaraya, with its fine selection of what I'm sure are semi-aged vegetables out in front.

Getting back to my little journey though... By the time I reached the market, the heat was starting to really bother me. I'm the type of person who has never known a suntan because I'm so fair-skinned that I make the journey from ghostly white to freckle to lobster in a very short time. There is no pit stop at "tan" between. I'm also exceptionally sensitive to heat and I don't mean that I'm one of those whiny people who says I can't tolerate heat because I get sweaty and uncomfortable. I mean that I get faint, nauseous, and feel like I'm going to pass out when I'm in the sun and heat for too long.

I was thinking at about this time that it'd be a good idea to get the shopping done and try to get home as quickly as possible but I'm hindered by old women who linger in front of the piles of carrots poking at and inspecting every package to make sure they get the very one which is absolutely the best for their 100 yen. I get tired of this and snatch my carrots from around the old bat who seems to be the official carrot inspector (I'm surprised she didn't whip out a magnifying glass and inspect them for blemishes) and make my way inside the store, grab a few avocados and the greenest bananas on the top of the pile (this time reaching around a middle-aged woman who needed to lift every single one of the bunches on top to see if any "better" ones were lurking underneath). I glanced at the wilted lettuce and moved on to the meat section. Six diet Cokes and a 4-pack of cream cheese and ham "panini" later, I'm fighting through check-out where a mother bemuses herself by allowing her 2 sons to each hold onto multi-packs of tiny blueberry yogurt containers separately so the check-out woman can't finish the job of ringing up the woman's purchase and so I can't get out of there.

It wasn't that getting out of there was such a great deal. At least Utakaraya is air conditioned to around 80 degrees whereas it's closing in on 100 outside. All I've got to look forward to is a walk in the heat while pushing my bike with the flat tire and now also carrying a heavy back-pack. The cheap housewife bikes most of us use for dealing with daily running around aren't all that heavy when you have inertia and you're riding them but they can be a chore to push around for a long time, especially when it's sweltering and when you have to push them up hills.

I decided to take the back way home because it's shorter but I overlooked the fact that it also has no shade. Ome Kaido has trees all over it but the back street is almost all cement walls and pavement being cooked in the sun. The sun is beating down on me and I literally feel like I'm stewing like a sausage in its skin. The third part of the equation is: 97 degree-heat and no shade.

By the time I was approaching home, my heart was really pounding even though I was not greatly exerting myself. I figured it'd be prudent to walk home slowly given how badly I'm reacting to the baking I'm taking but this just leaves me out in these horrible conditions longer. I'm starting to fear that the sum of the equation is going to me lying on the road suffering from heat stroke but I talked myself down from such notions and made my way back.

In the end, I was okay after a bit of a woozy spell while I slowly sipped water and let the air conditioner do its thing. The valuable lesson I've taken from this is that I need to live with my limits rather than try and tough it out, and that I should only shop after dark and allow my husband to fix the bike from now on.

Flat Tire + holiday season + baking heat with no shade = stay at home!


Roy said...

It IS really hot this summer. Best to stay indoors and do your shopping in the evening.

Another alternative is to sign up for seikyo (Pal System). You can order a bunch of stuff and they deliver it once a week. Very convenient if you are always at home. I would sign up for it again but I've never at home to pickup the groceries when they deliver. When I was living in the mansion it was OK to leave the stuff in front of my door but now that I live in a house it's not as secure.

By the way, that carpet/rug store looks like swallowtail which is a dry cleaner, isn't it?

Roy said...

Here's the URL to pal system (seikyou)

They have English menus too (not on the web though). While it may not be cheaper than some places the produce comes directly from the farms and it sometimes better qualiy. It varies from week to week though.

Miko said...

Don't go out more than necessary, and drink more water than you think you need. Heatstroke can really sneak up on you. I'm staying indoors (home or work) as much as possible during the daylight hours, and running all my errands at night.

It's still sweltering at night though, there is just no relief whatsoever from the heat.

Roy said...

I think your post jinxed my bike too.

Tonight I pumped up my flat tire on my bike and went to the supermarket. On the way back it went flat again and I had to push it all the way home, almost dying from the heat. Well, it wasn't that hot tonight, but still!!


tornados28 said...

I am an avid cyclist so it is easy for me to say but I recommend you learn to fix your flat tire yourself. It actually is not that hard after you have done it a few times.

Shari said...

Roy: I'm pretty conscious about pricing or I'd consider the Pal system. I see the trucks around the neighborhood regularly and one of my students mentioned it to me but I just don't want to spend the extra money. Also, if I didn't grocery shopping, I'd probably never leave the house. ;-)

Good eye on the Swallowtail. I hadn't remembered it but the right side of the shop has carpets and the left has drapes and dry cleaning is hanging in the center. Since we rarely use dry cleaning, it just didn't occur to me. I guess that might be one way he stays in business.

BTW, I'm sorry that your bike got a sympathy flat for mine! ;-)

Miko: Thanks for the advice. I just really wanted to get these things out of the way before my teaching schedule got busier. In the evenings, it's harder to go out because I'm pretty tired between 6:00-8:00 pm and the shops close or are sold out of most things later than that. However, I think it'd be best not to go out unless it's dark.

tornados28: I've actually read a few how-to pages on fixing flats so I already know in theory how to do it but the practical problem is that there is really no place to do it aside from in the small street outside our apartment. This would mean I'd be doing it in the blazing sun and in a place which would be in the way of other people. If I had a garage or an open space to wrestle with the tire, I might consider it but, in light of what I believe would be some physical difficulty removing the tire on top of the lack of a place to do it, I'll probably just leave it to the repair shop.