It all pretty much starts here, on a country lane in County Clare, Ireland:
That's my mom with the coolest, most indestructible looking, do-anything bike I think I've ever seen. They just don't make them like this anymore folks (the bike and my mom). She regaled us with tales of biking five whole miles to and from the schoolhouse with her books strapped to the back through whatever weather the Atlantic threw at her. With biking DNA like this, is it any wonder that she popped out a budding Bikeist at a mere 22 years of age? Legend has it that she biked herself to the hospital in Brooklyn, but there are no actual eyewitness accounts to confirm.
Within about a week of birth, as I recall, I was whizzing around on one of these:
While, technically, a trike, not a "bike," the brilliantly designed "Big Wheel" had me and my Bikeist Brothers and Sister (all four of us popped out within a four year period) pedaling like maniacs around the basement of our Brooklyn apartment building before we had truly even mastered walking. When we soon after moved to the Jersey suburbs, we abandoned the pedals and turned them into makeshift scooters -- standing on the seat with one foot while using the other to achieve maximum propulsion toward the various jumps and other obstacles (pretty sure a hula hoop "Ring of Fire" was devised at some point) laid out on our steep driveway.
Cracked wheels hardly even slowed us down, but when my foot finally broke all the way through the seat, it was time to get this little Bikeist on an honest to goodness bike:
No known family photos of my original Schwinn exist (East Coast Detachment of my crack research team could only unearth the museum quality image of herself and her turn of the century "Safety Bicycle" -- how did people get by without smart phones in the 70's? -- Those long distance drives must have been murder for the driver without a handheld device to distract him or herself from bikes and other inconvenient obstacles along the way . . .). My bike was definitely blue like this one, with the chopper handles, but had a speckled silver, disco-style banana seat along with silver tassels emanating from the plastic handle grips. Cool! It weighed about 100 lbs and was much too big for me (a theme we'll later revisit). My dad installed, useless, training wheels about five inches off the ground on each side which served only to minimally interrupt my inevitable falls onto my side. This (strongly) encouraged quick mastery of the whole balance thing, so I was soon whizzing off behind the confines of our driveway, up the hill to the woods and elementary school grounds outside the watchful eye of my protective Irish mother. Climbing to the crest of our hill and whizzing down the other side, beyond the horizon of her gaze, was sheer bliss!
The banana-bike got me through pre-school, kindergarten, and the first grade, and even played a central role in my first-ever date! Like Charlie Brown, I had my very own Little Red Haired-Girl, Debbie. Only difference, was that mine actually dug me. We always played the mom and dad during playtime in kindergarten, forcing bratty little Craig to play the part of the baby. When we went on class trips, we sat together and held hands on the bus (at the encouragement of our teacher's student intern who thought it was so cute that we considered ourselves a "couple"). When kindergarten ended, though, we each went our separate ways - she to the public Elementary School, and me to Our Lady of the Lake, and the internment camp otherwise known as Sr. Desideria's First Grade classroom. Despite overtures from some of the cuter first grade girls, I stayed true to my Debbie, letting it be known to all that I was in a committed relationship. After a couple of months of referring to my never-seen-by-anyone girlfriend, even I started to realize that there was a Te'o like weirdness to my relationship (was I ahead of my time or what?). Something had to be done, but how is a 7 year old boy, with neither money nor transportation supposed to arrange and execute an actual date with an actual, not-made-up girlfriend who lived on the other side of town? Then it came to me -- transportation! That's it! My bike - my ticket to freedom - was also my ticket to my devoted Little Red-Haired Girl! I dug out the phone number I wrote down in my penmanship book at the end of the previous school year and called it. I was expecting Debbie to answer, but, instead I got some dude who identified himself as her dad. Bummer. I asked for her, explaining that I was the Kindergarten boyfriend he had undoubtedly heard so much about. After a pause, I heard him call out "Debbie!" She soon after came on the line, and after a little effort refreshing her memory and convincing her that I was, indeed, the long lost love of her life, I asked if she wanted to go ride bikes.
"Right now, of course, that's why I'm calling!" (Was I forward or what?)
Hadn't really thought that far ahead, so I blurted out the only place I was allowed to go ride by myself: "The elementary school."
"Let me go ask my dad . . ."
I waited for what seemed like forever, then, to my shock and dismay, her dad got back on the phone. He wanted me to explain, again, who I was and what I was after. I somehow maintained my composure and explained that I wanted to go on a bike ride with his daughter at the elementary school. "OK - she'll be there in about a half hour . . . ."
Score! I could hardly believe it -- this dating thing was gonna be a piece of cake. I sprinted out to the driveway, screamed to my mom that I was heading up to the school, and whizzed off on my Schwinn straight to the school -- where I waited, and waited, and waited, for what felt like hours, naively expecting Debbie to soon come flying into the parking lot on her own bike. Instead, a station wagon pulled in, driven by someone whom my intuition told me had to be that dude from the phone. Rats! He got out, came over and shook my hand and told me he was going to stay around and watch. Double Rats!
After that, it was more awkward than I had anticipated -- the spark and familiarity that had been there a mere year earlier had, somehow, disappeared. We traded "hi's" as her dad unloaded her red bike (also with the ubiquitous 70's banana seat) and then rode off around the parking lot. I led her through the playground where we weaved around the swings, slide and merry-go-round of death, and even did a quick lap around the school, out of sight from her dad, where I showed her some of the various poles and rocks that I had run into and fallen over. When we emerged from the alley behind the school back into the parking lot, her (visibly relieved) dad said it was time to go. He unceremoniously loaded her bike and she climbed back into the front seat. She waved and smiled at me (straddling my Schwinn and waving back) as her dad sped out of the parking lot. He didn't bother to wave.
That was the last time I ever saw or heard from Debbie . . .
-- Which was fine with me because, in my opinion at the time, the whole dating thing just wasn't what it had seemed to be cracked up to be. Feeling pretty accomplished and advanced after having successfully achieved an official date with an authentic Little Red-Haired girl, I turned my attention to bikes and baseball for pretty much the next 12 years.
(End of Part I -- Up Next: Bikeography Part II -- Bye Bye Little Boy Bikes)