When chrome turns dull –
We were knights, pilots, adventurers, daredevils and the right kind of biker gang members.
We were really just kids on bicycles, but the world was ours, as long as we got home in time for supper, or when school was out, at 9:30 am.
I was late to learn to ride a bike; attending a different school than most of my peers, and preferring the company of my dog and adults, I lacked the encouragement and positive pressure to truly master a two-wheeler. My brother Mike, almost a professional cyclist, threw up his hands in frustration. After grabbing a crabapple branch on my forehead for the third time, I finally resorted to an old motorcycle helmet. When I finally managed to stay upright and the helmet was thrown aside, there were few places I wasn’t willing to climb, with my dog Dudley running faithfully and sometimes frantically beside it.
The learning curve was steep for me, but the driveway next to our house was largely paved. It was a bloody process, but with the help of a neighbor who was a year younger than me, I finally managed to balance, pedal, turn and stop.
My first bike was a defrocked pale blue girl model given to me by my Uncle Bob; we spent a few hours making sure everything was in working order before putting it in the back of my dad’s Oldsmobile. I was worried the whole first night that someone would steal him while he was out.
Dad and I painted it dark blue, and it didn’t take long for me to join the ranks of other kids who were struggling to ride on the sidewalks or down the street. I was still confused – if we weren’t supposed to ride on the sidewalk, and if we weren’t supposed to ride on the street, what were we going to do? Try to force those skinny 26 x 1 3/8 inch tires through the grass?
We moved the following year and luckily the sidewalk issue was solved: there just weren’t many in our new town, and since there was only one main road going through town , riding in the street was not also publicize.
On a brilliant and perfect Eastern Sunday, there was a new and brilliant three-speed parked on the front steps. I had admired the bike many times when I dragged my lawn mower from one shaggy lawn to another, or on my way to any of the tasks that kept me from fishing, playing ball, to hunt or just to be a child. I don’t remember the price, but I knew it was more than I could afford. I bravely spoke to the store owner about putting it aside, but he wasn’t impressed with the $ 15 per week I was making as a lawn mower then.
In all fairness, either of my bikes was a better option for transport for much of that first year, until everything was fixed. I never appreciated the poetic justice of riding my bike to the auto parts store, salvage yard, or gas station.
The bike had shiny chrome fenders, a silvery blue paint job, a rear rack, and several reflectors that weren’t held in place with wire (my early days of training were rough on the reflectors). There were matching grips on the handlebars. The tires had wide white walls and the bumps showed that it had never been driven hard, let alone wet. I didn’t ask my parents, oddly enough. I probably mentioned it once or twice, but I knew they couldn’t afford a new bike, especially when I had a perfectly usable one.
In retrospect, I should have been more grateful for the bike I had and the love it represented, even though it had come to me from a cousin. Retrospection and introspection, however, have very little place in the mind of the average 13-year-old. My friends all had newer bikes, and while they didn’t pester me much, they still joked a little more than I liked.
My new bike was “too good” to haul my lawn mower, but it did for everything else. I could follow and sometimes overtake my friends and their ten gears (momentum played a part in that, because even with tens of miles per week I was a chubby kid). For a long time, I took care of it, washing, carefully oiling the chain and the hub, and making things to maintain. A few times this meant a trip to the real repair shop, so my service could be repaired by a professional.
As usual in such cases, my first bike was relegated to a forgotten spot next to the shed, under a huge hydrangea bush. My old blue bike punctured one day, and I ended up coming home with a bent rim and a flat tire, pulling my mower, so the ‘new’ bike was put into service as a mower-tractor, door -camping equipment, and fishing equipment transporter. Eventually the shiny fenders folded, so I just unbolted them entirely and threw them away with my old bike. The headlight batteries got wet and the light went out, so it was removed. The stand has been kept as a convenient place to attach items like shotguns and fishing rods.
My second bike continued to perform well – even after the brake cables broke and I had to use my feet – until that magical day, a freezing cold January when I became a licensed rider. My great aunt had left me her car, which I had lovingly washed when I was six years old, and it came to us after her death. In all fairness, either of my bikes was a better option for transport for much of that first year, until everything was fixed. I never appreciated the poetic justice of riding my bike to the auto parts store, salvage yard, or gas station.
Eventually, however, my “new” bike joined its counterpart. Both accompanied the family when we moved in my senior year, but I was never sure what happened to them after that. I have a vague memory that they were taken away by a man who cannibalized old bikes into new bikes, but I can’t swear it.
I rode with others along the way, of course – before Hurricane Matthew hit me and got us moving, I cycled around the farm, doing housework and doing some riding. exercise. In college, biking was the most convenient way to get around campus, even though I had become a big pig again. I tried cycling here and there again – for health, for fun – but never managed to do it with any regularity.
On my way home the other day, I happened to drop by a dump in another county. They have a well organized system there and for government operation, financially responsible, but that’s a column for another day. I stopped to speak to an attendant I know in passing and took a look at the junk container.
Sitting atop a pile of worthless roofing sheets, a greasy stove and a broken hose reel was a three-speed silvery blue that had seen much better days. One wheel was gone, the other was a mass of broken spokes and rust, and the handlebars were incredibly twisted. The painting was a parody of itself.
I felt sorry for the old bike, as I should have felt for mine when I put them aside for an internal combustion engine and two-speed Powerglide transmission. I missed my two bikes for a while, although a bike is hardly practical when you have two bad knees, need back surgery, and live far enough away from an asphalt road on a bumpy country road .
I wondered, briefly, if the bike in the dumpster had ever been chased by a loyal dog, or pedaled furiously to make it to baseball practice on time, or carried enough camping gear for five children. I wondered if it ever belonged to a knight with a sword made from a broken cane, or maybe a WWII fighter pilot in tennis shoes with a homemade bandage on a scraped knee, chasing Nazis down the street near a sleeping church.
I wondered how many memories remained beside the barn under a hydrangea bush, when the metal got old and the chrome turned dull.