It’s late on a Friday evening. I’m just leaving the World Class Bakery on St. Clair West when I spot an unremarkable mountain bike a couple of lock-ups down from mine. The frame bears the name Genesis Stealth. The bike has a milk container chained to the rack over the back wheel, and there’s a plastic bag dangling from the handlebars. The rack holds various odd items, including brushes, a roll of towels and some rags. Along one side of the bike, a long metal pole is tied to the frame.
A shadow suddenly falls on the sidewalk: inside the bakery, a man is cleaning the windows. Going back inside, I interrupt his work to inquire about the bicycle. Yes, Oliver states, a little worried that he has upset me somehow, it’s his bike.
As he works, Lisa—the bakery’s owner—tells me Oliver moves west to east along St. Clair West, and the bakery is his last business of the night. He always arrives at 9 p.m. Having spent the last month in medical offices and emergency wings, where time is inconsequential and schedules are non-existent, I’m unconvinced.
I head back outside to a patio table and wait for him to be done. He takes a quick break, and comes over to where I sit with my camera. I tell him it helps my writing to have a photograph to look at, so he steps in front of his bicycle, strikes a pose and waits. He is of African descent and his smile makes a spectacular addition to the bike behind him.
At this moment, a customer moves, giving Oliver access to one of the windows; Oliver steps up and cleans it carefully.
Nodding to me, he smiles. “Almost finished!” Lisa watches quietly from inside, looking pleased.
Done, he sits across from me at the table, maintaining his professional demeanour. Shopkeepers from neighbouring businesses walk past and greet him cheerfully. I feel privileged to have met him, but this time it’s because of the response he elicits in others, not because of his bike.
“I started out in the standard custodial role,” Oliver begins, “but it was hard work and the hours were cutting into my sleep cycle.” One day, someone suggested he specialize, just doing windows.
“Do you like being your own boss?” I ask.
“Well, I can make my own hours,” he tells me. This appeals to him. “And the best part of this job is that there are an awful lot of nice people! In any other job, I might not have had the opportunity to meet so many beautiful people in mind and heart.”
It could be that the gentle and gregarious Oliver brings this out in others.
He confesses that he started out driving his car to work. When gas prices rose, he tried taking his bike instead. It turned out to be not just economical, but also less time consuming. As I discovered earlier, he can just park in front of each shop as he moves along the street. Oliver says he’s been cycling for over twelve years, all year round. He describes it as fun and good exercise, in that order. There are physical demands, which he’s had to work around. I ask him about his territory, and he lists off all the major streets nearby: St. Clair West, Eglinton West, Rogers Road, Vaughan Road and Dufferin.
“All year round,” he reiterates. I’m impressed. The hardships I can imagine with this job do nothing to inspire me to try it myself.
This is a hilly neighbourhood, and the traffic is not always accommodating. I ask him whether he’s had problems with drivers.
“It doesn’t happen often, just sometimes,” he smiles patiently. For instance, he might be heading straight at an intersection but he gets cut off by a car turning right. “To avoid an accident, I turn with the driver; I just stay on his right while he makes his turn.” So this is Oliver’s pragmatic suggestion: to avoid an accident, go with the flow.
Oliver’s customer count has remained relatively stable.
“Ninety per cent of my customers have been with me for ten years,” he says proudly. “It’s about developing good friendships with a customer; whether it’s hot or cold, you’ll be there for them. You must be a people person.”
“How old are you?” I ask him, intrigued.
“I’m fifty,” Oliver tells me.
Beside him waits a white bucket, with water and brushes. He carries a pole with brushes attached, identical to the one tied to his bike. Oliver says the equipment makes the bike heavy to ride, especially the eight gallon bucket. He says once you get used to it, you don’t notice the weight, but the bike’s back wheel and bearings do. On a mountain bike, the weight is distributed to the rear. When you have a carrier, that increases the weight.
He smiles at me. “I never get flats on the front wheel, but I get them on the back wheel all the time,” Oliver admits. “And every six months or so, I hit a bump hard and the weight breaks the back axel.” Oliver repairs his own flats, but admits to having a backup bike at home, “for reliability” he says, emphatically.
And then he looks up as a family passes by. “How you doin’, bro?” the father inquires, grinning.
At that, Oliver tells me he will be at the bakery at the same time every Friday night, in case I need to reach him. Unlike so many professional services I’ve used in this town lately, I feel assured of the reliability of this statement and of this kind, hard-working man and his bicycle.