It all started with a bicycle and a random gaggle of neighborhood boys.
Bicycles were cool. You simply had to have one if you wanted any kind of street rep. There was no discussion on the matter. If you did not have a bicycle, your rank in society was in question, at the very least, and you might even be subject to merciless torment, depending on the budding testosterone levels and the heat of the day.
I did happen to have a bicycle, which gave me a leg up, but it was a very questionable example of a bicycle. I’m not even sure how I came into possession of this thing, but it had been clearly modified over the years. Things were just not right. You couldn’t put your finger on it, but some critical wow factor was simply amiss with that contraption.
And it had a banana seat.
Now, I wasn’t schooled in the mechanical history of bicycles, but I knew enough to realize that they didn’t always have banana seats. I’m not sure if they ever should have had banana seats, those elongated, slightly-phallic things that could probably seat three separate individuals if everyone positioned themselves just right. I’m sure they were a fad at one point, but that era had faded into the dust by the time I assumed ownership of this vehicle.
So, I was cool, but only on a conditional basis. To seal the deal, I had to prove that I could also ride the thing, and ride it in a macho manner that would completely dispel any inclinations to brand me a sissy. I must prove my worth.
Bit of background: My training in the proper operation of a bicycle was notably minimal. This critical schooling took place when Mom was still married to Dad, and we still lived in Tulsa, so, at most, I was 6 years old. Dad plunked me on a bicycle he had found, (screw the training wheels), got behind me, and started running and pushing the bike when my own pedaling efforts proved unsatisfactory.
Dad ran faster and faster, my tiny feet flying off the pedals that were whipping around in a blur, and then with a tremendous grunt Dad shoved me forward with Herculean strength. I shot down the quaint little urban street with amazing velocity, left to my own devices. Dad did not believe in expending any wasted time on things like nurturing, carefully-controlled learning environments, or my undetermined capacity to save my own ass.
So basically, I had just a very few seconds to either learn how to control a speeding vehicle, or die. After several jarring pedal-whacks that tore hunks of flesh out of my legs, I managed to get my feet properly positioned and was actually somewhat responsible for the speed of the bicycle, although I had to pump my legs with incredible rapidity, looking like a hamster on diet pills.
The body can do amazing things in times of stress, and somehow I gained mastership of the bicycle. And the wobbling stopped. I could actually steer the thing. I did a few lazy arcs back and forth across the street, my heart still racing, but now in a good way. I was riding a bike, on my own and not dying. I eventually did a full turn and headed back up the street toward home, grinning and happy.
Dad was already walking back in the house. I hadn’t been killed, so he was done. No congratulations, no kudos. My smile and the speed of the bike tapered off. I was six years old, and already knew this routine, knew this wall. There was something missing in him, something he couldn’t give, or didn’t know how to give. I slowly pulled up to the curb in front of the house, dismounted, thought a bit about things that six-year-olds shouldn’t have to think about, then went to put my bike away.
Flash forward to the boys in the hood at the new house in Broken Arrow, after the divorce, with the neighborhood gang assessing my ride. One of the older boys had a question: “Can you ride that thing down The Hill?”
The Hill. This was located on the next street over, to the east. The area around our house and the accompanying street was flat as a board. As was most of the county. But here and there in the burg were these odd hills that rose dramatically out of the landscape. Probably had something to do with the pressure of massive glaciers back in the day, but who knows, I’m not a geologist. We just had these random hills, that’s all we knew.
And The Hill in question was a real humdinger. The street where it was situated started out flat as hell like most of the streets, but then you suddenly encountered this mind-boggling, very steep incline that shot up at an amazing angle. If you were in a car, you had to shift into a lower gear just to get up the thing, since the road was gravel and traction was always in question. So this menacing hill became a proving ground for the entertainment-starved boys in the neighborhood. If you could ride your bike down the hill and survive, what with the astonishing speeds you couldn’t help but attain, then you were fairly hip and possibly worthy of admiration.
I gulped and carefully considered my response to the inquiring older boy. “Well, I haven’t tried it on this bike.” (I hadn’t tried it on ANY bike, but I was hoping to save my ass here.) “This thing’s pretty old. Maybe I better wait until I get a better bike…”
Luckily, the gang took another glance at my modified ride and decided I was probably right, maybe not a good idea to take the Mt. Everest plunge on something as questionable as what was currently between my legs. But the big boys wanted to make a run anyway, so all of us made our way to the next street over.
Once at the base of the mountain, us younger guys took up a watching position down below, while the older guys made the long trek to the top, pushing and shoving their bikes ahead of them since there was no possible way to ride up the hill. Then, one by one, the big boys plunged over the crest of the hill and raced downward, shooting past the peanut gallery at the base with amazing speed, the wind pressure flattening our cheeks into ghoulish masks as they zoomed to the right or the left of the ancient tree in the middle of the road.
Yes, dear reader, there was a tree right smack in the center of the gravel road at the point where the street leveled off. I guess somebody thought this was a really cute idea, leaving the tree standing and making drivers swerve around it. It was Oklahoma in the 70’s, need I say more?
Eventually, all of the older boys made their run, and then they raced home for dinner. The rest of the younger boys tagged along after them. Until it was just me at the base of the hill, staring up at the precipice above me as the lowering sun cast odd shadows across the landscape. And then madness seized me with its seductive hands.
I decided I was going to try it, hybrid bike be damned.
There I went, trudging up the hill, shoving my piece of crap bike ahead of me. To say it took a while is an understatement. It took forever. Loads of sweat and strain later, I reached the summit. Wiping my brow, I turned to survey the perilous descent below me. I could barely see the massive tree in the middle of the road, way down yonder. Oh boy. But something egged me on, maybe the ghost of a six-year-old that just wanted validation, and I was going to do this. I straddled my bike, took a deep breath, and rolled forward.
The first several seconds were deceptively easy. I really wasn’t moving that fast. I actually thought I might enjoy this little mission. But then gravity and physics muscled their way in, and before I knew it I was hurtling downward in a jaw-dropping rush of utter panic. I lost all sense of time and space. I was beyond anything that I understood. Things were happening so fast that my quivering brain could not process the input.
Then the handlebars started to shimmy. I was cognizant enough to realize that this was not a good development, but I didn’t know what was expected of me to correct the situation. The front wheel was wobbling at an alarming rate as I approached the final third of the descent. Oh, this was SO not good.
Then the front wheel took on a life of its own, jerking dramatically to the left and completely locking up the bike. It stopped moving, but I didn’t. Suddenly, I was airborne over the handlebars. Stupidly, I didn’t let go of those handlebars, clinging to them with some short-circuited fervor.
I slammed into the gravel roadway with a brain-rattling crunch. The demon bike landed on top of me, and both of us slid the rest of the way down the hill, completely out of control and subject to some law of nature that I hadn’t studied yet. As we tumbled head over heels, my bouncing body pivoted in a crucial way and I could see where we were headed.
Directly toward that freakin’ tree in the middle of the road.
Three seconds later, we hit the stupid tree. It stopped my descent with an alarming noise that didn’t sound healthy at all. The bike was wrenched from my grasp and landed somewhere else. Gravel dust was billowing all around as I tried to figure out if I would ever be able to walk again. It was too late to scream and I was too shocked to cry, so I just laid there as chalky grit covered my body.
Then I heard a car coming.
Some instinct that I didn’t even know I had kicked in. I scrambled to my feet (okay, great, I wasn’t paralyzed) and I frantically searched for the bike. (Why I even cared about the bike at that point, I don’t know.) I spied the twisted metal a few feet away. I staggered over to it, grabbed one of the handlebars that had failed me, and half-crawled to the side of the road, falling into the ditch just seconds before the car thundered past.
I laid there for quite a while.
Eventually, I stirred and stood up, and then assessed the damage. I was bleeding in several places, but nothing seemed life-threatening. The bike, however, was a complete mess. The front wheel frame was so jacked that the tire wouldn’t even turn. And the banana seat, interestingly enough, was split.
So I took a deep breath, sucked it up, and started dragging the bike home. It took some time, because I wasn’t in the best of spirits, and everything hurt. What seemed like hours later, I made it to our yard, still lugging the now-hated, non-functioning bike, blood still dripping. Mom came racing out of the house, and it wasn’t until that exact point that I started crying. This is where I need love, people. Everybody act accordingly.
Mom, after an initial panic at the sight of me, determined that I would live, patched me up, and said all the right things. I felt much better, even though I vowed that I would never ride a bike again. (This conviction lasted approximately three days.) Then Mom startled me with an absurd question. “Well, are you ready to head to the skating rink? Remember, we’re meeting my friend Sharon and she’s bringing Kerry and Kristy so you and your sister will have somebody to play with.”
Hold up. I almost died a tragic and dusty death, I can barely bend any of my limbs, and now you want me to go skating? With those Hellion Twins that I can’t stand to be around? You have GOT to be kidding me.
But she wasn’t.
I sighed and hobbled to the car, where I sat in the back seat and studied my new wounds and watched things flash past the window, waiting for the day when I made better decisions and had more control and there were no stupid trees in the middle of the road.
Note: This is a modified excerpt from one of my Memory Remix stories, “George of the Jungle”, originally published on 02/04/10. The banana bike was purple, by the way, not yellow, for those who might be curious, George. And the photo is of a tree in Spain, not the tree on The Hill in Broken Arrow. But still, it’s a tree.
Categories: My Life