Saturday, May 20, 2006

Learning how to Ride


I wanted a bike before I could even ride one, but I guess that’s not out of the ordinary. I mean, not many people go about learning to ride a bike before they ever own one. That’s neither here nor there though, because this isn’t necessarily a story about having a bike, it’s a story about not having one. Actually, when I think about it, its not even a story about not having a bike (which seems kind of cliché when you just put it into words like that, “it’s a story about not having a bike,” just sounds typical doesn’t it?), it’s the story about how I learned to ride a bike, which I guess, doesn’t sound to interesting either, but in any case, is what this story is about.

I was 8 or 9 years old at the time, and lived with a pleasant old couple in a foster home near San Francisco State. The neighborhood there is quiet, and all the houses have lawns, which is rare when you live in a city. The street I lived on stretched only three or four blocks before being crossed on either end by a thoroughfare, and all along it like the legs of a spider spread lanes that led into quaint little cul-de-sacs. Our house was pink, which I never really agreed with, and had a large lawn that sloped from the front door to the street and a great wide backyard that grew apple and plum trees. All the neighbor’s houses were similar (though there were subtle differences in shape, and most were of a more attractive shade than pink), and every one knew where every one else lived, including the foster kid.

That being said, it wasn’t long before I met a kid named Jacob who lived about five doors down from me. He was a little older, maybe 13 or 14, and had a good bit of weight on him, as well as a nice array of acne spread all over his face. I cant really say much more about Jacob, I don’t think I ever went into his house, nor do I remember ever wanting to, and I don’t recall meeting his parents, or any other relatives for that matter either. I can only say that I remember he was sort of shy and nervous and probably sympathetic for me, and that he had a bike, and would let me ride it when I asked.

It could have started out as a one-time thing for him. He sees the foster kid messing around on the street and, feeling generous and maybe a bit lonely, offers to play with him for a bit. After a while he divulges that he has a ten-speed bike and suggest maybe the foster kid learn to ride it to which the foster kid eagerly agrees. He pulls out said bike and props foster kid on it and then holds the bike while foster kid furiously pedals. Then he coast him down the hill, which was a not too steep a grade to be dangerous yet steep enough to gain speed on, and watches as foster kid beams with joy and screams, “I’m riding a bike! I’m riding a bike!” and feels a warmth in his heart he though god only saved for movies. After a few more rides the sun is going down and he tells the foster kid that he has to take the bike and go home now and that he had a lot of fun, then when the foster kid ask him if he can ever ride again he says, “sure, whenever you want to,” and he means it too.

Whatever it was, he didn’t think the kid was ask him to ride his bike every other day, and that’s exactly what I did. Not because I was greedy, or trying to take advantage, but because riding a bike had to be one of the coolest things I had ever experienced, and I wanted to get good enough at it to not only go super fast, but to pop a wheelie too. But I was young and I was learning and Jacob wasn’t always with me, so there were a few messy falls. I not only scraped up my knees and elbows and palms and once, my face, but I put Jacobs bike through the same physical misery.

It wasn’t long before he told me I had broken one of his gears, and not long after that that he told me a brake was busted too. I, of course, could only apologize to this as there wasn’t much an 8 year old foster kid could possibly offer to compensate a broken bike, and he would begrudgingly forgive me, and even more begrudgingly offer up his bike again, the next time I asked (providing he had fixed it). Eventually he told me that his bike was broken beyond repair and I could no longer ride it, that no one, in fact, could ride it, and that I should stop asking him about it because it was partly my fault that it was broken, which, of course, it was. I don’t think I was very surprised, and I thanked him not once, but twice, for ever letting me use it at all, then I went back home and played with something else.

That year for my birthday I got my own bike, a dark red one that had thick, out door style tires. I would take it and ride down the street then back up again then back down the street. I got up enough courage a few times to pedal down into one of the cul-de-sacs where a lot of the neighborhood kids would go to ride. It had a huge sundial in the center of it and everyone would hop on and off its curb. They made fun of my bike one time though, saying it was generic and poor looking. I didn’t go back down there much after that.

One night Mary, my foster mother, called to me saying some one was at the door. When I answered I saw it was Jacob and he had on the same hat he always wore and it was pulled deep to his eyebrows, probably to cover up a recent acne outbreak on his forehead. He looked nervous as usual, with his usual twitching and stammering, but there was something else I couldn’t place it at the time, but recognize now as a mixture of anger, annoyance and frustration. When he spoke it was curt and hushed, and his sentences were clipped, as if he had a hard time spitting them out. He asked if he could use my bike to go to the store, then he added, “Since I can’t use mine cause its broke.” I said sure and led him around back to where it was, he hopped on and sped off without saying so much as good bye.

A few hours later he returned the bike, bringing it to the front door and ringing the bell again instead of just leaving it around back where he got it. There was a sweet scent of relief on his sweat and I could see he had reached some comfort that earlier had been missing. He thanked me a few times and left, that was the lat time I ever saw him. the next day I went to ride my bike and the spokes were bent and twisted, my back tire was flat and the frame was all scratched up. I leaned the bike back up against the wall and went inside to watch tv instead.

I knew Jacob had crippled my ride, it was obvious, but I didn’t do anything about it. Even back then I realized that I had it better than him, and that’s taking into account that I was a poor minority from a broken home. I knew he didn’t have much else to do with his time other than spend it with an 8 year old kid, which is pretty sad, even to an 8 year old kid. I also knew that he was lonely, and that he didn’t really have many things to play with other than his bike. Jacob was not only pissed that I had busted up his bike, but that I’d stopped asking him to play with me after I got my own. I figured it was fair, that I deserved what he had done, so I never complained. Still, I wonder sometimes who would have taught me how to ride a bike had he not been around.

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You have seen Conan the Barbarian, you’ve witnessed Conan the Destroyer, but have you ever peeped the new and improved Conan the Raver? You should.

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Creative Commons License
:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.