I had my first brush with certain death when I was seven years old. After weeks of riding my bike with training wheels, I decided to ask my father to take them off. My father, not being very handy, took forever to remove them. He fumbled with the screwdriver. He couldn’t find the proper wrench. I stood by practically bursting with anticipation. Finally he removed them and I leaped on. A few fits and starts, a lot of falls and finally—FREEDOM! I could now ride on my own. No need to ride in dreary circles in front of my house because I couldn’t keep up with the big kids. Now I was a big kid.
Bikes not only represented freedom but status as well. Mine unfortunately pegged me as refugee from Eastern Europe. My parents, in their infinite cheapness, bought me a used bike. It might have been blue at one time, or green or even red for that matter. The dirt, grime, and rust obscured the original color. Still, it was a two wheeler. It could have been worse. My friend Earl Garland’s parents were only able to afford a girls bike for him. When he went riding down the street we used to yell out, “Earl the girl, Earl the girl!” I’m not sure if that was the catalyst, but the last I heard from him, he and his partner owned a decorating company in the San Francisco area.
Back in the fifties and sixties, we never wore a helmet. For anyone to even suggest that you wear a helmet would be looked upon as the village idiot. Our bikes were our horses when we played Usurpers and Native Americans (Cowboys and Indians). We had sword fights with sharpened sticks when we played knights in armor. No one, I repeat no one ever lost an eye. If you fell, you just got up, rubbed the gaping wound with a little dirt and played on. My friend Stan Shapiro once tied off a spurting artery with nothing more than some twine and a paper clip. He continued to play until lunch whereupon his mother whisked him to the hospital. I heard the doctor was very impressed with his surgical skills.
Oh--my near brush with certain death. I was riding about 120 miles per hour down Merritt Street in Bridgeport. I decided to take a turn at Pete Street, a street that ran perpendicular to Merritt. I tapped the brakes, and went into a full power slide. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, a car was traveling down Pete Street going at about 90 miles an hour. The closing speed was 210 miles per hour; a recipe for disaster. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the car coming. I jammed on the brakes, gripped the handlebars tightly and went into the longest skid in the history of bike riding. The lady in the car hit her brakes. The screech was deafening. My tires threw up a huge plume of acrid grey smoke. I stopped. The lady stopped. We were less than two feet apart. The lady was white as a ghost. She jumped out of the car and started babbling incoherently. Well I thought it was incoherent until I figured out that she was talking in Polish. She had taken a look at my dilapidated bike and pegged me for an Eastern European refugee. I would have jumped off my bike but I was petrified with fright. After a few minutes I was finally able to move. I told the lady I was okay and slowly began to pedal back to my house. When I was halfway home I saw my mother running towards me. Apparently her mom radar was on and picked up a disturbance in the ozone that alerted her that her child was in mortal danger. I received another spugging; the simultaneous spanking and hugging. I love you, BAM! Don’t ever do that again, SMACK! You are grounded until you are thirty-five, POW!
After a few days I mounted up again. I wasn’t going to let a mere almost head on collision stop me from racing around the neighborhood. I looked certain death in the eye and walked away. Shaken, but not deterred!