Here is an excerpt from my recently published YA novel Cream Sam Summer. It's Kingsbridge in the Bronx, 1978, when neighborhood characters definitely had more character:
The Wheel is situated directly opposite the McDonald’s parking lot with a bird’s-eye view of the elevated subway tracks on Broadway, where the Number 1 train—the Seventh Avenue local—barrels back and forth day and night from here in the Northwest Bronx to lower Manhattan. We’ve christened the individual who owns the place the “Man-Lady,” because distinguishing the proprietor’s gender is not a slam-dunk. When all is said and done, though, the Man-Lady is the latter.
She wears what I call “maintenance man pants,” stylish “Vince Lombardi glasses,” and has a considerable rear end that accentuates her sartorial tastes. The Man-Lady walks with a pronounced limp, too, which adds further color to her incomparable persona.
When I was a mere lad, my palms would literally sweat and my heartbeat race whenever I walked into the Wheel’s poorly lit interior. One too many burned out and never replaced fluorescent light bulbs supply the place with a shadowy, dungeon-like ambiance. Really, it’s an apropos setting for the Man-Lady to ply her trade. While she’s an intimidating presence for sure, she definitely knows her stuff. When it comes to tightening bicycle brakes, I don’t know of anyone who can hold a candle to her.
I followed closely behind Richie as the two of us gingerly entered the Wheel’s gloomy showroom. Bells attached to the inside of the door alerted the owner, who was repairing a bicycle in a backroom, that she had a customer. The Man-Lady poked her head out to see who was there. I detected her beady eyes—behind the Vince Lombardi glasses—glowering in our general direction. In no particular hurry, she eventually waded through a labyrinth of bicycles—both for sale and for rent—to the front of the shop.
“What can I do for you?” she asked in the snippy tone of someone who clearly preferred fixing bikes, without interruption, to making nickel and dime sales with teenagers.
(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)