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PEOPLE TALK: KEN J. BUKOWSKI

Meet Ken J. Bukowski, a man who has devoted almost half of his 51 years to fixing bicycles. As resident mechanic and shop historian at Shickluna Bike & Darts on Hertel Avenue, Bukowski lives to work. In his corner of the shop, he fixes flat tires, sticky brakes, skipping gears. He'll tell you a joke, how he bowled the night before. He calls himself the only blind professional bike mechanic in the country. We'll give him that.

PT: So you're pretty good at what you do.

KB: To this day, there are people who come in who know me from when we were back on Niagara Street and they want me -- the blind guy -- to work on their bicycles.

PT: You really like your work.

KB: I absolutely love my job. I'm never going to get rich doing this, but I'm not going to die of a heart attack next week because of the stress of the job. Don't get me wrong. There are times when this job is very stressful, but you learn to go with it. In the summer, when it's 90 degrees out. It's hot. It's sweaty, and you're greasy. You have 10 customers, and 12 of them want their flat fixed yesterday.

PT: What is your strength as a bike mechanic?

KB: Diagnosis. Being in the business as long as I have, certain things you know. Kids will come in with their mother or father and say: "I don't know how I got a flat tire." And I'll ask them if they were riding anyone on the back of the bike. They can lie to their mother. They can lie to their teacher. But you can't lie to the bike guy. He knows.

PT: Are cycles your life?

KB: Not by any stretch of the imagination. I bowl on two leagues. I was president of the Upstate New York Blind Bowling Association for four years. I'm president of the two leagues I bowl on. One is Queen City Blind Bowlers.

PT: Bowling?

KB: I love it. I have a 102 average. On the approach there's an aluminum guide rail that is 15 feet long and 3 feet high. We get to our position and rest our hand on it. It helps guide you to walk straight, then the volunteers will tell us where our ball went and what pins remain.

PT: What else do you do for fun?

KB: I enjoy sky diving, but not for a year because they're pricing themselves out of the market. I also sports-car rally once a year, the annual Braille rally. I'm the best Braille rally navigator on the planet. I won the event five times, something that no other blind person has done.

PT: What do you value most in life?

KB: I look at myself, and I think I have made something of myself despite a tremendous obstacle. That's not really a value, but I've done pretty good under difficult circumstances.

PT: Probably never knew you had it in you.

KB: No. We're at a crossroads every day, and we choose which road to go down. Sometimes the choices are correct, sometimes not. You live with them regardless of what they are. I have choices with my bowling. Whether to run for president again. It's election year.

PT: How did you lose your sight?

KB: Again, that goes to my crossroads answer. Some decisions are right, some are wrong. But we live with the decisions. The important thing is that I've made something of myself. I didn't answer your question, and I'm not going to.

PT: That's perfectly OK. When is the last time you were on a bike?

KB: I haven't been on a bike in over 10 years. I have no desire to ride. I get satisfaction from a customer who comes back in and tells me his bike works perfectly.

PT: What's the last thing you'd do?

KB: Quit this job. It would kill me if for some reason I get too old to do it. If I hit the lottery, I would still come to work. I have seen so many people come and go in this business. To them, this is a job or a hobby. To me, it's a career. In the winter, I go stir-crazy as it is because there's nothing to do. There are times I come in here just to hang out. What do I do at home? I do what chores I have to do during the day, and I lie around and listen to the radio. Read books.

PT: How do you spoil yourself?

KB: My greatest joy is to come home from work and sit right in the beginning of my garage, staring at my driveway, radio on, beer in hand. It's relaxing. There's nothing greater than knowing you put in a day's work. I live in Cheektowaga. The only thing I don't do that a lot of Cheektowaga guys do is water my driveway.

PT: You have a strong work ethic.

KB: I was raised that you went to work every day. My father went to work every day of his life. My father, at 86, still works.

PT: Good genes.

KB: I'm adopted. As a matter of fact, my parents adopted me and three others.

PT: Anything else?

KB: People ask what I miss most -- from a sighted life to not being able to see at age 24. I miss driving. I had a dream about driving last night. I backed into somebody. Didn't do any damage, though.

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