A charity bicycle shop off Florida Avenue in West Palm Beach lost a beloved employee over the weekend.
“Right here, this is Joel’s workstation,” said shop owner Jack Hairston, pointing to a cubicle front and center of the bicycle-lined warehouse. “This is where he worked every day. This is the way he left it.”
Hairston says he met Joel Solis when he was just five years old. “I gave him his first bike,” said Hairston, a man lovingly called "Jack the Bike Man" in Palm Beach County, known for donating thousands of bicycles to children in need for the last 25 years.
While the bike introduced Solis to Hairston, the two bonded over tires.
“He started having a lot of flat tires,” sad Hairston. “Finally, one day I taught him how to change a tire. I gave him a pump and then he started pumping the other kids tires.
“As soon as he graduated from high school, I hired him.”
That was in 2012. But on Saturday, Hairston got some gut-wrenching news.
Solis was headed south on Florida Turnpike, a little late for work, when a tire blew out on his friend’s Ford Explorer. Solis was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene.
“Everybody here in the shop, we all just completely fell apart,” said Hairston. “My heart had just split right open.”
A young man’s life may be over, but Hairston believes Solis’ legacy lives on in the thousands of bicycles he built for others. “Everyone on of these bikes in this store, somehow, Joel had something to do with every single one of them.”
The idea brings Hairston some peace, but this is one broken cycle he cannot fix and a piece the 77-year-old cannot replace.
“You know, I’m getting up in age and I don’t have any kids here,” said Hairston, sitting at Solis’ empty workstation. “This is the last bike he was working on, and it is going to hang up – it is going to stay here for a long time. I’m not ready to take it away.”
Hairston and his crew are raising money for Solis' funeral services. He says any money left over will go to the Solis' mother.