The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Life of Wheels

The author of Irish Gumbo wrote a post that started me thinking (as do so many bloggers' works) about the modes of transportation we work our way through as we grow up (and, eventually, out). I hope he doesn't mind my stealing a bit of his theme.

When I was a wee lad back in the dark ages of the late 40's, I rode a trike. Not a Big Wheel, those came much later, but a metal, steel, tricycle. I don't recall it in any detail but I am sure I had one because I do recall riding it. It was likely a hand-me-down since I rarely got anything new. Those days of early youth have mostly faded from my ever diminishing memory but tiny bits and pieces remain which flare up from time to time. There was also something else I rode... a scooter.

Not a motorscooter but a precursor to the Razor or what is now called a mini scooter. They had a flat ramp, handlebars, and two small wheels. You placed one foot on the ramp and pushed with the other while you held onto the handlebars. there was even a brake of sorts. A flat piece of hinged metal which when pressed with your heel, rubbed against the rear tire. Exercise and transportation. Steering was like a bike, you leaned this way or that (but not too much) and you barely pushed one side of the handlebar or the other. It was good training for bicycle riding. You learned balance and steering. And they were really fun to ride down the gentle hill in front of my home.

If I was really brave, I might ride down our driveway which seemed a steep hill to me in those days.

When I was almost 5, I got a bicycle. A real one. I had to sand it down so it could be painted. It was used, of course. My father owned that bicycle shop, the only one in town, at the time. You would have thought I would get a bright shiny new one but nooooo...

No helmets then, no kneepads or other protective gear. You might get a springy metal clip like thing for holding your right pants leg snug around your ankle. Or you could just stuff it in your sock, as I was taught, which worked as well. If you didn't do this, you were likely to get that pants leg caught in the chain. That would stop any pedaling quickly and interfere with braking (small bikes, most American bikes really, had coaster brakes then, no hand brakes) making stopping an issue. So a pants leg caught in the chain often resulted in a crash as well as a damaged pair of pants. My son would get his thumb caught in his chain when he was 14 (the klutz) and have to play baseball one handed for a couple of weeks. But that's another story for another time.

I rode bikes all over the place. All over the neighborhood. All over town (it was a small town) but not to and from school. I don't know why. Maybe because it was on the other side of downtown and it would be during high traffic hours. School was only a mile away and so I walked. Except for one year when I rode the school bus. That wasn't so bad since my stop was the first one coming home and the last one going to school.

That was in Farmingdale. In New York. In Florida, things changed a bit. I rode a bike to school once. And not until junior high. There the bike was stolen and it (reputedly) ended up in a canal. Mostly I rode the bike for transportation to, and through, Greynolds Park and a lot of other destinations. Only places where I wouldn't be leaving the bike alone for any length of time. I didn't have a lock for it. And theft was always an issue. It was sheer stupidity that I took it to school that one time when it was stolen.

When I was 14, I could get my learner's permit. That meant I could legally ride a motor scooter (less than 5 HP) during daylight hours. Of course, my parents absolutely refused to get me one.

"Too dangerous," they said.
"You'd get hurt," they said.
"Not a chance," they said.

So, I found a way. I borrowed them from friends. I chipped in for one with a friend whose parents were okay with the idea (they didn't know I was co-owner). And, finally, semi-permanently borrowed one from my brother-in-law. A little box scooter (Allstate) with a beefed up engine that exceeded that 5 HP limit. It had no key so I had to get a chain and lock for it. It was ugly. It was noisy. It had only a single seat so no passengers. But I was mobile!

My parents couldn't really argue with me about it since my brother was then riding a motorcycle (a beautiful Triumph Bonneville) which he had purchased with money he claimed he had earned as a paperboy.

I had friends with Vespas and Lambrettas and Cushmans. We traveled all over the place on these things. None of us were killed. Only two I know of even got into accidents. Broken legs in both instances. But by then I had moved on to cars.

My primary transportation between ages 12 and 16 was hitch hiking. This was before it was known there were people called serial killers about. Oh, we ran into the occasional creep but nothing we couldn't handle since we mostly hitched in groups of two or more. I only had a couple of incidents when I was hitching alone. But even those were easily handled. Hitching was fun transportation and fairly reliable in those days. I managed to roam up to 30 miles away. Down into downtown Miami, Miami Beach, or up into Broward. Even hitch hiked into drive-in movies.

But at 16, I got my driver's license. And, soon after, a heavily used, oil leaking, under powered, ugly as sin, green 1952 Studebaker Champion. It cost me $80. My brother-in-law (again) was the source. He also taught me how to work on it. How to change oil, how to tune it, how to replace the brake pads, how to replace the clutch (oh, that was fun), all the things that needed to be done to it to keep it running. The one in the picture isn't mine but it is close. Mine did not have the skirts. Or white walls.

It was, as I said, ugly. Definitely not a "babe magnet". But it got me to high school and back, to the beach, to drive-ins, and the girls I dated didn't seem to mind that the front passenger door was wired shut (until I finally found one in a junk yard to replace it). Or that the front seats were torn.The radio worked (if you banged on it from time to time... ask me about "vibrator tubes") and that was good. And gas was cheap then. I was really mobile then. My travel radius moved out to the hundred mile range. It broke down from time to time, though, and I had to be handy with impromptu repairs. This was pre-duct tape so it was electrical (and friction) tape, coat hangers, in the tool box. Along with channel lock pliers, a couple of screwdrivers, and a few wrenches (the most handy one being a 9/16).

The next year we moved up to Orlando and I managed to convince my mother to get me a more dependable car. A `55 Buick Special. Yellow. With a black roof. Automatic. V-8 (vroom vroom). No torn seats, though, no oil leaks, no wired doors. Still not a babe magnet. But comfy with a nice big back seat for dating uses. And dependable enough for me to take down to Dade County (about 240 miles) on occasional weekends to visit old friends. Or out to Daytona Beach or Tampa.

I went through a few cars between then and my Navy enlistment (a 56 Chevy, a 58 Chevy, a 56 Buick). Used cars don't really hold up all that well. Especially in the hands of a teenager. I never got that MGA I always wanted either.

While in the Navy, I managed to get back into motorcycles except for a period of about a year where I owned an MG sedan. Motorcycles became my primary transportation for almost 3 years. And secondary transportation for another 4.

But cars and pickups took over. Mostly small ones. I liked small cars. They were (are) economical, mostly fun to drive, and cheaper both to buy and to insure. Then middle age struck. Hard. I found myself leaning toward that sofa on wheels. With automatic transmission, air conditioning, am-fm stereo (and more) and that blessed option,cruise control.

So now I drive a Buick Lucerne with all the goodies, even rain sensor wipers, and wonder what happened to that kid on the push scooter.



The Jules said...

Triumph Bonneville? Excellent!

I know exatly what you mean about small cars. I had a 1 litre Rover Metro with no power steering, brakes made out of cheese and a hole in the driver's side floor (the right side, obviously), but at 40mph it was like being at Brands hatch.

Great fun.

Brenda Bowers said...

This post took me back in time too. so many of your posts do that of course since we are of the same era. I had a new tricycle, and a new bike because I was the older grandchild and there were no hand me downs. However my tricycle and my bike went thru five cousins. the bike bit the dust somewhere along the way but the last time I saw the tricycle (about 30 years ago) it was still in good shape and hanging in my uncles barn.

My first care was a 55 Plymouth. Red with black interior. Got her in 1960 my junior year in college. We sure did have fun in that lady bird. Would combine our nickles and dines for gas money and go! BB

PS: Nothin' happened in the back seat. bet you can't say that.

Douglas said...

Jules - None of my first several cars had power steering (or AC). Try wrangling a 55 Buick without power steering. And I owned a Bonny too. Back in 1969. Loved it. Unfortunately, it was stolen (probably by the guy I bought it from).

Brenda - I will not talk about what happened in the back seats (or the front, for that matter) of any of my cars.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Oh, that brought back some memories starting with pant legs getting caught in bike chains and ending with the sofa on wheels.

You are a gifted story teller. Thanks for sharing!