Friday, October 21, 2011
"My First Bike...and Freedom"
I was eleven years old when I got my first bike. Getting that first bike is a seminal moment in a child's life. It is every bit as special as your first car. I had dreamed of having a bike for years. I used to sit on the front porch of our house and watch other kids flying by on their bicycles. My eyes followed them down the road until they were out of sight and I would wonder about what great adventures greeted them around the next turn. Once in awhile a kid would come cruising by, a playing card clothes-pinned to a wheel spoke, and my lust for wheeled freedom was intense.
My bike came to me one Saturday morning as usual in childhood, when it is least expected. My mother occasionally took us on Saturdays to a huge farm and food auction in Fresno where she would occasionally find cheap produce or second hand clothes at a bargain price. My sister and brother and I loved to go with her. As soon as we parked in a nearby cow pasture we could hear an auctioneer's machine gun like bellows, ratcheting up the prices by a quarter, two bits, a dollar! We could smell the vendor's offerings; corn dogs and burgers and rat-tat-tating of the popcorn machine.
After paying the dime admission fee, my mother would call out instructions and bewarings and arrange where to meet up if we were to become separated amidst the huge throngs. But on this special morning I spied an old bike for sale at one of the seller booths. It didn't look like much but it fell gracefully in to our price range so I immediately began cajoling and lobbying my mother to buy me the bike. The seller wanted three dollars for it. Of course, my mother found all kinds of reasons why we should not buy the bike; it didn't look safe, the tires were worn bald, the brakes were weak, and so on. My mother, in a bid to shush me, said perhaps, if it was still available after we had finished our shopping, we would come back for a closer look.
I stuck closely to my mother that morning, volunteering to haul the onions and greens and potatoes, anything to win favor with the family banker. Eventually we returned to the fellow selling the bike, and in the absence of any other takers, he sold us the bike for two dollars. We loaded the bike into the trunk of the car and returned home and, from that moment until supper time, I was in a totally new world. A world where I rode my bike down alley ways and down streets that seemed foreign to me in this brave new world of mobility!
Upon rising on Sunday morning I ran immediately to the back porch to check on my bike. The front tire looked a little flat. I got out a bike pump and pumped up the tire and wiped it down, trying carefully to ignore the peeling paint and tarnished chrome. Soon it was time to board the bus for Sunday School and my mother fought off all arguments for my staying home so I went reluctantly. I'm afraid I learned nothing that morning in Sunday School. Lost in visions of riding to far horizons I missed all of the moral lessons I might have been taught that Sunday morning.
Of course, like any kid, I lived to love and curse that bike. I loved that first taste of freedom on the streets of my little town. When the confines of youthful obedience got me down I could always "saddle up" and ride down the street to see how the rest of the world was spending their day. I learned how to adjust the brakes, tighten a bolt and pour evaporated milk into an inner tube to seal a leak in an inner tube. I learned to live with scrapes and cuts that is the life of a boy and a bike.
Mostly, I learned that freedom, even in the first tentative steps, is a wonderful thing. A bike gives you that first subtle taste of the world outside, and, as Martha says, "that is a good thing". I have since travelled a million miles to and from far off corners of the world. High flying jets have propelled me into foreign cultures that I could never have imagined. Yet, I have never forgotten the thrill of adventure I experienced in those first daring forays around the corner on my first bike.