Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Back In The Day . . . Really?

It was one of those really fine days yesterday; low 80s, blue sky, puffy clouds, gentle breeze, and decidedly early spring. Days like that are a catalyst, making each moment on my bike like a journey aboard a time machine.

I chuckle when someone in his or her twenties (or younger) makes reference to "back in the day" so instead of applying the much overused phrase I'll be more precise, Back in the late 50s I had a red bike. I've no idea what kind, just that it was red and had smaller wheels than anyone else (probably 24 inch) and I rode it a lot. Everybody in the neighborhood had a bike (there were five boys living in adjacent houses and we were within a three year age range) and we used them to go everywhere around town. In the summer you'd hang your baseball glove on the handlebar and hold your bat horizontally across it to ride to the "stone quarry" (which wasn't one but was mostly gravel) or the Acorn League field (because the town wasn't big enough to support Little League) or the Teener League field across from the American Legion building and you'd play baseball all day.

I received my red bike when I was 8 or 9 and the 24 inch wheels and smaller frame were ok then, but by age 12 I was six feet tall and probably looked as weird as I thought I did. One of the neighbor boys had a Schwinn with a knee action spring fork. He had a passion for adjusting things (which usually meant taking things apart and not reassembling them properly) and had removed the front fender. It was common to carry passengers sitting on the handle bars which resulted in the fork striking the front wheel when hitting a severe bump and causing an abrupt stop and an over-the-handlebars dismount. I didn't envy him.

I did envy the boy with the Raleigh English three speed, or so we reverentially called it. I was fascinated by the mechanical advantage he had over the rest of us. And the wire baskets on the back. And its exotic appearance compared to the rest of us. He'd drop his glove in one basket, add a bat or two, even a ball and then he'd handle all but the steepest hills without standing and zigging and zagging from side to side. Eventually we got older and someone had a car and the bikes became less necessary. (When you could ride in the back of a Corvair pickup why would you want to ride a bike?) And baseball became more organized and competitive and life in general lost its innocence.

Yesterday was like one of those early naive
summer vacation days. The Dodgers still played in Brooklyn. Roger Maris wasn't a Yankee, but most of us hated the Yankees anyhow. The Pirates were showing some signs of improvement and By Saam tried to make you believe the Phillies weren't mediocre. The joy of doing something that is wonderful just because you can do it slips from our adult grasp, but occasionally it can be seen and gripped and enjoyed. Bombings and disasters and anger and hatred may continue to follow, but for as many moments as you can manage you can embrace simplicity. Ride that bike!

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