I guess it is human nature to improve upon the efforts of others, and who am I to complain? If we weren't programed to assess an item, find it's faults or short-comings, and then advance said object to a more desirable state, I could never post this "web-log." You would be reading this as a series of dots and dashes. Or worse.
That said, sometimes people just want to complain or offer suggestions that seem to be about improving what you are doing, but are really just ways for them to one-up you in a game they are playing alone. Here are some pretty funny stories about such people.
1. Bible Belch- This is one of the better Books On Wheels stories, one in which we are presented with a complaint but somehow redeem ourselves without doing anything. We were set up outside of a food Co-Op in Pittsburgh last Summer not really working on bikes but trying to give away lots of books. We already had someone attempt to take a paperback and our toolbox (in all fairness, he did ask if the tools were free before walking away) and had a man tell us that if it were up to him, he would burn most of our books (more on that later). So the mood was set for the woman who, when I told her that all of the books were free, told me that she wouldn't be interested because she only read religious books. "Great! We just put out a bible." Not to be outdone, she asked incredulously "Why would you give away a bible?!?" I can only guess that she didn't get to the part about Jesus and charity and all that. In any case, this boggled her mind enough so that she glanced over the books for a moment. After checking out our selection, she bent down to pick up a book. "I'm just going to take this," she said, showing me the book. The Sex Trade in Eastern Europe.
2. Free Books and/or Free Bike Repair- We recently were packing up from a long event when I was approached by a man who was wondering who he needed to talk to about book repair. Oddly enough, this is not the first time we have had this request. I smiled and apologized to the man. "I'm sorry, we don't repair books, just bikes." He held out the Webster's Dictionary, insisting "The sign says 'Free Book Repair'." "I'm sorry, what sign is that?" He pointed to the sign that Kate painted us. "Free Book and Bike Repair" he answers, still offering me the book and growing a little frustrated. "Oh, that's Free Books and Bike Repair. We give out free books, and we work on bikes for free." I was sympathetic to the grammatical vagueness, one which I hadn't noticed before, and again apologized. "You should be more clear. That is false advertising!"
3. I Know Our Bus is Called Moby, but It Can't Swim- During an event last Summer, a man stopped in to see what we were all about. We gave the general spiel of how we drive our bus around as a mobile free book/free bike repair (is that clearer?) service. He nodded as he assayed our project. "You know what you should do? You should go to Africa. They really need this kind of thing there."
4. What Shelley Doesn't Know Won't Hurt You- While set up in Rochester for a nice afternoon event, this guy comes up to ask what Books On Wheels is all about. He had seen an article about us in the paper and wanted to meet us. Shelley was working on a bike, but stopped to explain our non-profit. The whole time, however, the man seemed anxious, like he wasn't really listening but just waiting to talk. When she was done, he holds out a package containing a nylon strap about 4 inches long with snaps on either end and a reflector in the middle. "Do you have any idea what this is?" he asks. "I don't know" she responds. "Looks like some kind of reflector." "Nope" he answers. This was confusing, as it obviously was a type of reflector and she assumed he was asking because he didn't know what it was. In a moment it became clear that he was testing her. "It's a hub cleaner" he announced, clearly proud that he had stumped our bike mechanic. "You snap it around your hub to keep it clean as you ride!" Shelley went back to working on the bike, not impressed, so the dude walks over to the bus where I was buried in the engine, trying to figure out an electrical problem. He ran through the same cat-and-mouse game with me. After positioning himself for triumph, he says "I just wanted to see if you guys knew your bike parts."
5. An Old Fashioned Muppet Burning- Ok. Back to Pittsburgh. Shelley and I had just set up for the day and were preparing to get some video footage of our presentation when an older man, decked out in full bike gear and a fuller beard than mine, rides up to us on a really nice road bike. He had paniers on the front and back, looking as if he is about to ride to a commune in California. I innocently ask him if he would mind if I filmed him, you know, as good press. This question unnerved him, and he says he would rather not as he is against modern technology. Fair enough. But then he launches into this lecture: "Actually, if it were up to me, I would burn most of the books you have here. These books, they're a real mind trip. They put children in a la-la-land, give them all sorts of crazy ideas. I mean, muppets can't talk, but here they are, talking. That kind of thing really screws up a kid. Gets in their minds and fools it all up." Missing my cue to ask how he thought muppets communicated if they didn't talk, I was on point with this: "Oh, so you grew up on the muppets?" "Yeah, and that stuff is full of lies."