Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

My first bicycle was a red 24" single-speed Schwinn cruiser. My father taught me to ride it on Pam Street, the next street over from ours, because there was hardly any traffic there. Time after time he ran alongside me, holding me up, then letting go. Time after time I fell over, and, each time, I wanted to give up and go home. But Dad convinced me to stick it out, and I eventually got the hang of it.

Having a bike gave me so much freedom. My world suddenly grew exponentially bigger. During the summer, my friends and I rode all over town: the library for books, Boyce Theater for a Saturday double-feature, Judd's Drugs for a phosphate or soda, the fairgrounds during the county fair, Pike Lake for fishing or swimming (taking the shortcut through the cemetery). I'll never forget the exhilaration of the wind in my face as I coasted down a hill.

My favorite place to go was Readmore Bookstore, on the courthouse square. (My friend Jim told me that the store was named for its owners. Jim was a year older than me, and I believed everything he told me. For years I called the owners "Mr. and Mrs. Readmore.") Not only did Readmore's have the best selection of books and comics, they had penny candy and one of those enormous old Coke machines with an open top. You had to pull your bottle along a slot and up through a hatch that opened when you put your money in. Once, I got my hand caught in there.

I remember the first time I rode all the way downtown by myself: south on Harrison, west on Sheridan, south on Lincoln (past the school), west on Center to the courthouse square. It was only a couple of miles, but at the time it seemed an impossible distance. I stopped in to visit my father at his firm's law offices on the second floor of the Lake City Bank Building. (I don't remember why—probably to ask him for money to spend at Readmore's.) He must have been busy, but he took time to visit with me, show me around the offices, and introduce me to his partners. I can still remember the smell of that place: a spicy blend of pipe tobacco and old law books.

I kept raising the seat and handlebars on my old red Schwinn until I finally outgrew it and traded it in for a used three-speed. My last bike was also a red Schwinn—a five-speed touring model my parents gave me when I was in high school. I got rid of it about sixteen years ago. Loretta and I had quit riding, and our bikes were just gathering dust and taking up space in the garage. But I'd like to ride again sometime. I'd like to once again feel the exhilaration of the wind in my face as I coast downhill.

The trouble is, you can't coast downhill without pedaling uphill first.

I want to ride my bicycle;
I want to ride my bike.
I want to ride my bicycle;
I want to ride it where I like.
—Freddie Mercury

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