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I Got My First Bike When I Was 5

I got my first bike when I was 5. She was a used red and white girl’s 26” Schwinn bike complete with a basket and  training wheels, you can chuckle, but I didn’t care. I  was 5 and I got my own bike! this was a momentous event, a rite of passage, I was not a little kid anymore, not quite a grown up either, but well on my way!  Summer vacation had  just started and It was the perfect summer afternoon when my Dad wheeled this exquisite beauty into our backyard.  A sun shower  had just passed  and the warm asphalt offered up that sweet smell  of hot tar and steam rose from the alley way behind our house  as the sun evaporated the rain as though to prove who was stronger..

My Dad offered up tips and advice which I never heard and Mom watched from the back steps as I pushed the much too big bike through the yard towards  the alley. I looked both ways as  I reached the edge of the yard  and eased  the front tire from the grass to the blacktop.  Dad held the bike as I mounted my mighty steed , hands on the grips, my feet on the pedals poised for take off.  My Dad released me and stepped back as I pushed on the pedals with all my might. All I managed was an awkward wobble at first and then a lean at such an angle that would have made the Tower of Pisa proud. Tried as I did, I could not ride that bicycle with those training wheels, I flopped from side to side like that fish I had once seen on the shore at the lake. I whined in protest, I wanted them off!

Finally, not heeding any of my Mom’s predictions of certain doom, Dad got a wrench and took them off as I folded my arms and watched, not daring to glance over my shoulder at Mom, now 2 notches below hysteria, I think Dad shot me a sneaky grin as he handed the training wheels to me. I tossed them in the grass with feigned disgust as if they were raccoon innards. In what felt like slow motion I moved towards the bike and it suddenly looked twice the size, but I pushed the rising terror aside and once again walked my beauty to the alleyway. Once again my Dad steadied it as I climbed clumsily aboard. I grabbed those grips, fixed my gaze on the little side street, planted my feet on those pedals and pushed with all my might., All of a sudden I realized no one was supporting me! I looked back and smiled as my Dad grinned and Mom looked like she was constipated. As my parents looked on, I cut the tether and headed out.  I was doing it!  I was riding a two wheeler! Without training wheels! At this rate I’ll have a girlfriend by tomorrow!

Up and down, up And down,rise and fall, up and down I pumped those pedals and away i went, putting more and more distance between the safety of home towards the lure of the unknown!  Down  the alley,a wobbly left, then a quick recovery onto Prospect St., I glided past St. Casimir’s church  and Mike the barbers where I got my haircuts. Soaring like and eagle I felt I was given a  magical power!  I took the next  left smoothly onto  Throop St., gained some speed on the slight downhill, and leaned into a hard right like a pro onto Allen St., past the little corner store where I bought pea shooters and penny candy. I gave a quick look in the window as I now leaned into a quick left turn onto Sherwood  Avenue. I could smell the sweet scent of freshly cut grass as I sped past the ball park heading down towards the playground. I splashed through a puddle feeling the water wet my jeans as Billy’s dog barked at me through the fence like  he always did. I never liked Billy’s dog.He could kiss my butt now, that old dog’ll never catch me!

I huffed and puffed as I stood up to make the slight uphill past Shinkie’s store where the road crested and my path soon was all downhill, and that bike and me rolled on, faster, and  faster. It was thrilling and dangerous and scary as hell all at the same time, my hair blowing back in the breeze, an overwhelming sense of freedom filled my soul I was changing. No mortal chains could hold me, my spirit soared. My mind emptied as all my sneses were assualted at the same time, sight, smells, I could feel the ribs on the blue hangrips as the bike was becoming  an extension of myself. I rode that razor’s edge between this earthly realm and the ethereal.

The familiar side streets of my neighborhood  quickly unfolded before me into a great big world of unknown  places and the wonders they may hold.  I succumbed to the intoxicating  pull of this newfound glorious freedom and  the adventure  that lay ahead. I was a cowboy riding the range or maybe an outlaw on the run from the law.  My being had changed profoundly, I was discovering myself for the first time. Any cares I had faded with each passing block. I swerved back and forth, splashing thru the puddles, the wind in my face, my lips curved into a smile of true happiness. I was living in these moments only, the past was  gone , the future a dream.

It was the greatest thrill I had ever known.  My thoughts drifted away until my head held no thoughts, my mind became crystal clear, focused on the path before me, my reflexes were razor sharp, and I became one with the machine. I smelled everything, lilacs, dog poop, hamburgers and hotdogs on someone’s charcoal grill, the sweet smell of summer weeds. My vision was focused, intense, I took in all my surroundings, the hot sun, the cool breeze, and then let it go all go, making room for my next new experience. Soon unadulterated joy filled me and I knew happiness without measure. I was in love, I had reached the sublime.   We careened downhill, pedaling with all my might when my speed slowed, block after block, past houses, cars, and trees, not thinking about what may be, the past a distant foggy memory, like when waking from a dream.

They say good things never last, alas , a bitter adult lesson that would soon prove to be true. It all turned bad when I stared ahead as the narrow side street became like a canyon, narrowing to a dead end, a solid cliff wall just ahead.  I came to a major intersection, a busy 2 lane road. I pushed on the brakes, felt the rear of the bike slide as we skidded to a halt. I stopped and looked straight ahead, wide eyed. Cars sped by us in both directions as I stared in horror.

I had reached the end of the line. Before me lay a sight that chilled my bones. A MAJOR street – akin to a MORTAL sin!  Just Like the street in front of my house I was forbidden to cross alone under penalty of death. I could only stare in disbelief as Blakely St. loomed before me, Damn! Reality smacked me like a 2X4 across the forehead. My mind raced, thoughts sppeding by too fast to catch. What was I going to do?  I suddenly realized that I was lost. I slowly turned back to look in the direction I had come from.

The little street lined with trees was no longer the sun filled paradise it seemed minutes ago. It looked like a sinister, crooked path up a dark forbidden mountain.  I had to think, then a vague recollection of traveling that crooked path filled my head and I guessed that I probably lived somewhere up there .  Way , way up that big hill, that big bad hill that stretched out as far as I could see. I began to panic (another new emotion) as I remembered left and right turns, but where were they? Which was left if I’m going back? They would be reversed, yes? How far was it? The details did not exist, I couldn’t think. I might as well have been staring across the Andes. A wolf howled in the distance. It sounded like one anyways.

I had no choice, I turned the bike around and my tiny body tried to pedal that big bike up that big hill, but it was not to be.  I got off and started pushing, my legs soon burning with every step. The cool shadows grew longer and turned blue then purple as they gobbled up the sunshine . I trudged ahead as best I could. It wasn’t long before the realization set in that if I lived,I was going to be in big trouble, big, big trouble. Even worse than the time I tried to take my school desk apart with a pocket knife I smuggled into second grade with Mr. Rinaldi.

That is IF I ever managed to get back, I might just die here, far from home and no one would ever know.  Like a weed in a garden. fear  began to creep into my soul and began to consume me. There was simply nothing left to do. I started to cry.

Eventually a nice woman pulled alongside me in a station wagon and asked if I was OK. Tears streaming down my cheeks I stammered out my tale of woe. She kindly offered to bring me home, but I declined several times shaking my head vehemently (They always said don’t talk to strangers, right?) As I was imagining her true motive surely was to lock me up in her basement dungeon and feed me poison apples and spiders, she asked where I lived.  “769 E. Drinker St.” , I managed to blurt out in between sobs. Her eyes grew wide in shock and disbelief and her mouth formed a perfect circle as she gasped past her red lipstick. Her reaction when I told her where I lived chilled me to the bone, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was afraid of, but it was clear I better be scared.  I must have traveled to a different state or maybe a different country even, like the one where the kids would have loved to have my vegetables, I may never see home again! Without thinking I shouted out “Yes, yes, I want a ride!”

She put my bike in the back of her car as I stared at the wood grain running down the side. Weird thing to put on a car, I thought . She opened the huge passenger door and helped me in. She gave me a tissue that smelled like perfume and smiled at me “everything is going to be Ok” she said as she put the iron behemth car into drive and we lumbered up the hill. A million thoughts clamored for attention in my head as she drove me home. She spoke softly but I didn’t hear any of it.  From that point forward my memory is dim and cloudy, I can’t remember very much, my mind was washed clean.

At 5 years old I traveled on my own well over a mile away from home on my first bike ride ever. Yeah, well, of course I got in trouble, a lot of trouble.  I remember my parents thanking the woman profusely for bringing me home, but after that I don’t really recall the details of my punishment, or even the chain of events that followed for that matter. What I do recall with a vengeance is that it was well worth it, worth any repercussion my actions may have had. Every bit of punishment they could throw at me was mere pocket change to pay for an experience like that. I couldn’t sleep that night, that ride and my bike was all I thought about. I dreamt of getting up the next morning and riding. I couldn’t get enough, constantly the road beckoned like the call of a siren as my soul screamed for more.

That experience  was over fifty years ago (Yeah the Dead sea was just sick then).   I don’t remember what my punishment was but my memory can replay at will every detail, sight, sound, and smell of that amazing ride like it was yesterday.
A lot of people ask me why I ride. What is it about riding a motorcycle that makes me so passionate, fiercely defensive, almost to the point of obsession?  Well, this it, the reason why I ride.

What you just read is the easiest way for me to explain it. That feeling has remained with me for over half a century. I am still that outlaw, a gypsy with my tent strapped to my back, heading out as often as I can, with no agenda, no plan, no particular destination. When I ride I am still free, free to ride the wind, free to chase the sunset, free to outrun the rain and let my spirit soar.  Each ride holds the promise of a  new and exciting adventure every time my soul cries for the highway and I succumb to the sweet surrender of that beautiful open road that lay stretched out before me, beckoning, calling me home.

-Alan Jude Summa

  1. 2018