Recently our bikes were stolen out of our garage. We didn’t realize that neither of us had closed the garage door, and it remained open overnight. While I wanted to think that our neighborhood didn’t harbor the type of people who would do such a thing, crimes of opportunity should apparently be expected. My son took the loss of his bike pretty calmly. He is probably due for a larger model anyway, so we are on the lookout for something suitable. Still, I couldn’t help but think about two things from my childhood when I broke the news to him.
The first was that I never had to worry that my bike, or anything else, would be stolen from my yard or garage. It was the kind of place where you could confidently leave your keys in your unlocked car overnight. I could ramble around the countryside, sometimes miles from home, without my parents worrying. Like many small towns, the years have probably taken their toll. If I lived there now, I doubt I would let my son have the freedom I enjoyed without adult accompaniment.
The second thing I remembered from my childhood was the vital role my bike played in my adventures with the help of my imagination. Sometimes it was a speeder bike flying through the dense forest of Endor. Other times it was my faithful destrier, as I pedaled it into battle with my lance (stick) couched and my shield (pot lid) braced to deflect the smite of my enemy. Sometimes it was just a bike, but it was a form of transport that gave me a sense of independence and my first taste of speed’s thrills and dangers. It took it off some pretty sweet jumps. Had my bike gone missing, I would have demanded the police, and possibly the A-Team, get involved in apprehending the thieves. My sense of justice was pretty black-and-white back then, based mostly on westerns and comic books.
I still remember some of my favorite places to ride my bike. There had once been a railroad running through the edge of town. The track is still there, mostly overgrown. I took a short walk down it when I last visited home last year. Cinders still coat the bed, and rusty spikes can still be pried from the mud. I scavenged several of them as a kid, marveling at their weight. On my bike, I could ride a couple of miles along the bed before dead falls and brambles blocked the path. It ran roughly parallel to the river where I fished with my dad, and sometimes we would use it to get to some choice angling holes. Alone, and without my fishing pole, I would sometimes park my bike and walk the short distance to the river edge, where I would skip stones or just enjoy the cool shade of the mossy shadows. If I sat completely still, the birds and other wildlife would resume their activities and allow me an occasional glimpse of deer, confidently nosing around the water as if they knew hunting season was still months away.
Another great biking destination was the airstrip. When you consider that the population of my town numbered in the hundreds, having a local airfield was a big deal. I even remember getting to take a ride in a tiny plane with my father and grandfather when I was very young. We flew out to view the farm that’s still in my family. I don’t remember much else, but the airport belonged to a local resident who occasionally flew. By the time I biked there, it was disused and the runway riddled with weedy cracks. It was a veritable drag strip for me and my imaginary racing opponents. My tires thrummed on the tarmac in a different frequency than on the road, nearly hypnotic, as though I could grow wings and soar over the town. A friend and I liked to argue the rumor that drug dealers used the strip to fly in product from Miami or some other exotic locale. It was a lot more likely that they just used the freeway far from our little hamlet, but in the days of Miami Vice we saw only the potential for TV’s brand of excitement.
My son’s nonchalant attitude about the bike theft was a blessing in its way. I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable in our home, afraid of burglars or other criminal opportunists. At the same time, I realized that the bicycle, a basic and vital element of my childhood, isn’t something he shares. It saddens me a bit, that he should miss out on the simple joy I experienced when combining my bike with my youthful imagination. He will undoubtedly find the equivalent of my bike to his own childhood, and I hope I’m there when he does.