Three Generations On A Big Dummy!
If I asked you, Dear Cyclist, to talk about your fondest childhood memories, you would probably get all nostalgic and smile. You would definitely start talking about the important role bikes played in your youth.
You might talk about a special Christmas morning, when Santa left a shiny new bike under the tree for you. Your father cut his knuckles, and was up until 1 AM assembling it the night before, but he didn't ruin the surprise. You were on the good list, so as far as you knew, Kris Kringle delivered it while you slept. You might not remember anything else Santa brought for you that Christmas, but you'll never forget your first bike.
You might talk about the day your training wheels were removed. A two-wheeler never looked so intimidating. Dad (or mom!) chased you down the sidewalk, as you tentatively weaved back and forth, gradually building confidence and speed. You might show me the scar on your knee from one of the many spills you took that day. You were a little more grown-up when you went to bed that night. Your two-wheeler wasn't so intimidating anymore.
If you're under the age of thirty, you might tell me about the the trailer your Mom (or Dad!) would buckle you in to, and how trips to the park, grocery store, or preschool were bumpy and fun. There were toys and books and a little plastic container of Cheerios, and maybe even a sibling back there with you. Getting around in the trailer was better than being strapped in the back seat of the family car. You felt loved and safe in your little nylon cocoon, and your chauffeur always seemed to be in a good mood when you got to where you were going.
There are many more stories out there. They are all worth telling, and worth hearing. I encourage you, Dear Cyclist, to think back, and remember the highlights of your personal velo-history. Write them down, and share them with friends...especially the friends who don't ride. Take time to thank those who took time to make bikes part of your life.
I would like to share one, or some, of my fondest memories with you. I'll start by saying I never got a bike for Christmas. I learned to ride without the benefit of training wheels. I am too old to have ever been in a child trailer. My memories do, however, involve a bike. They also involve my father, Jim. He has always been 'Papa' to me.
Papa was ahead of his time. He was a stay-at-home dad back in the mid 70's. When International Harvester closed its San Leandro plant in the early 70's, Papa got laid off. He didn't fret, though. My mom had a job that paid well, so Papa didn't go back to work right away. He stayed home and took care of my older brother and me. My parents have always been frugal people, and my father streamlined the budget by keeping the '67 Chevy Impala parked, and chauffeuring my brother and me around on his '69 Schwinn Heavy-Duti. My brother straddled the paper-boy rated rear rack, and I sat side-saddle on the top tube. Before BMX was part of the American vocabulary, before you could buy a plaid top tube pad for your fixie, Papa fashioned a cushion for me from a carefully folded towel, and secured it with a length of rope. My perch was comfortable, and I could see the road ahead. Franklin, Lincoln, Washington, and Little John Parks were all a few minutes away. Papa would play basketball, and my brother and I would work up an appetite on the playground. Countless Summer days found the three of us getting around Alameda in this manner. I felt special and loved, sitting on that top tube, between my father's strong arms.
The school year was different. My brother went to a nearby school, and walked. Lum Elementary was almost 3 miles away, and I straddled the Heavy-Duti's rear rack while my father pedaled me to school for most of the 2nd and 3rd grades. I remember many foggy and cold mornings. The smell of the beach, the singing of birds. Crab Cove didn't yet exist, and the trail through that part of the beach was bumpy and unpaved. The bouncing and jostling I was subjected to appealed to my developing sense of adventure. No cars could be heard; the loudest sound was the bike's rubber rolling over the sand and gravel path. My memories of the paved streets between home and school are strangely absent.
I was unaware at the time, but I was getting an education in resourcefulness, innovation, and appropriate transportation. I don't think Papa was aware, at the time, but he was teaching me valuable life-skills. He had planted a seed in me.
I switched to Longfellow Elementary for the 4th grade. It was a 5 minute walk from my front door, so...I walked. Papa needed to go back to work, so my brother and I took to pedaling ourselves around. Papa's trusty old Schwinn was relegated to the balcony, and he rode it less and less. For very practical, unavoidable reasons, my days of being chauffeured by bike came to an end.
The seed that Papa planted sprouted and grew into a tree. That tree started to bear fruit. I continued to ride for fun and basic transportation. I got a mountain bike for my 12th birthday, and taught myself how to adjust my gears and brakes. I started commuting to work on my bike when I was 16. My first bike shop gig came when I was 20. I entered my first mountain bike race when I was 22 (crashed and bent my frame while in 2nd place...DNF!). I took a 6000 mile, 100 day solo cycle-tour of North America the Summer of my 28th year (that's a story for another time). I can't count the number and variety of characters I've met, and friends I've made, through cycling. That tree continues to bear fruit.
I hope you enjoyed my story, Dear Cyclist. It's my pleasure to share the fruit. If you enjoyed it, please don't thank me. Thank my father.
Papa, I am so very appreciative of your gardening skills. I am grateful beyond words for so many fond memories. Thank you.