Somewhere I have a photo of myself standing next to my first faux Stingray bicycle on Christmas morning. My smile is huge. A bicycle for a young person means freedom. For the first time, you’re able to expand the physical boundaries of your adventures. The narrow, two lane road we lived just off of saw a lot of traffic because at the time, a small Navy base was located at one end, just off the beach. My family ran a tow service, and periodically a young sailor would drive too fast or too drunk or both. Later, you could tell where the accident had been, due to the new stretch of wooden fencing. I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on that road since my parents were afraid I’d be run over. Later, when I was older, that five-mile-road between town and the beach was one of my favorite jaunts.
As I got older, of course, the bikes got bigger too. I put a lot of miles on a Schwinn Varsity that I saved my money to buy. I think it cost around $100. I later regretted buying the small frame, because I got my big growth spurt the next year and raising the saddle was not a perfect solution. I’ve never been much of a mechanic and some lessons along that vein are learned the hard way. One morning I decided to ride the 15 miles to our county seat. Later, I would make that same trip with my sister and my bike would be stolen, only to be returned to me by the police when we made our way there to report the theft. But that’s another story. The day before my first ride I had worked on my bike, mostly cleaning and doing minor adjustments. The brake pads on this model were mounted in such a way that they slid in one end of a bracket. It was important to have the open end facing opposite the direction the wheel was going, otherwise the pressure of the wheel would slide the rubber brake pads out and you would lose the ability to stop. I learned the hard way that I had put the brake pads in backward when they popped out about halfway down a hill connecting to the main thoroughfare. Several drivers witnessed my demise, so after laying my bike down to avoid the traffic at the bottom of the hill I got up and waved that I was okay. Later, after I had made it home, I was listening to a local radio station. The on-air host told about going to work that morning and seeing a bicycle accident. He described exactly what happened to me. The only thing that could have made it better would have been film.