I received as a Christmas gift from my mom and dad a red Schwinn 26-inch single speed bicycle. It had plane black handle grips, big fat balloon tires, and coaster breaks. Breaks you had to pedal backwards in order to stop. The bike was the most basic model. It was like a Ford Fiesta with just motor, tires, and steering wheel. Basic bike with a capital B. It rolled and stopped. That’s it.
The most impressive thing about it was it was red. The color of most risk takers. Hot Rod red. Fire engine red. Red hot! Not Pink. Not Blue. But, R-E-D.
Being an Okie kid with long legs and well exercised from walking to school and back for many years, I could put the bike peddle to the metal. And Make that rolling baby scream. Bike here to there in a flash.
I rode this most ordinary red Schwinn bike to school and everywhere else for about five years or so. It was my basic mode of two wheel rolling transportation. I rode it to school, to Miller’s market, to Wesley’s Five and Dime, to Dennison’s bike shop, down the street to Georges house, up the street to Jimmy’s house, across the empty lots pathway to the railroad station, across Olympic boulevard to Gary’s house, and once or twice to Helm’s bakery for a day old donut. And later rode it to my junior high. I was just a biking Okie boy having fun.
When we eventually moved east near the rolling hills of Montebello I had new biking challenges. My friends and I discovered a steep hill for biking. We would push our bikes up a long and winding utility road. A steep narrow paved passage way into the oil fields high up in the hills overlooking our square box homes. Eventually crossing over a cattle crossing with our bikes and pressing on further up in order to get to the lofty launching summit. Once arriving at the top and straddling our trusty basic bike, we would push off and scream down the steep and narrow black top road about 40-MPH, first rumbling over the cattle crossing, flash through a two-way stop intersection. Hoping and praying the cars actually stop at the stop sign. Then hopefully we would come to a full stop ourselves before reaching Beverly Boulevard. A major four lane, heavy trafficked major arterial. If our fragile coaster breaks failed us, we would be road kill. DOA. Fortunately, that never happened. However, if our moms had ever witnessed what we were doing on that steep hill, we would be MOM kill instead.
Now when I was in junior high riding my bike to school, my super red bike eventually seemed most ordinary to others. Some had three-speed racers or bikes with racks to carry newspapers on the back. Then, my best friend Jim got a light weight, three speeds Schwinn Corvette racing bike. A bike with lighter weight narrow tires and had a battery powered horn and as well as head light. A bike most boys my age coveted. It was cool. It had shifters. It was jet black with handle grips with streamers. And worst of all, it was not mine. Darn!
So what else was there to do with a red fat tire bike? Perhaps a race challenge maybe. So that day did come. A time to put up or shut up. Whose bike was fastest? We constantly argued this possibility. So, my friend Jim challenged me to a race. A race down my street and finishing in front of my house. Hopefully nobody would be watching. Especially Janet the cute Italian girl across the street. So, here I was on my fat tired, single speed, red Schwinn bicycle. Certainly not a racing bike. And, there was Jim on his new three speeds, lightweight, black Corvette Schwinn cruiser. Most definitely a racing bike.
It was now time to race. Who would be the speed biking king of North Sixth Street? Only a brief time will tell. Let’s do it!
So it was a bit of a cool and hazy spring day. No wind to our backs or blowing head winds. We slowly rode our bikes up to the end of our slightly sloping street. A quarter mile run. My brother was standing down back in front of our house ready to give us the starting wave. Our hands were tightly gripping our rubber handle grips, my left foot was on the left pedal, my right was ready to push off on the pavement, and adrenaline was pumping.
My brother’s hand went down; I pushed off and swung my right leg over the seat, straightened out my wobbly trajectory, and quickly positioned my feet on the pedals. So, off we went.
To make a long story short, my Okie walking legs is what made the difference. I won the race. I smoked him. Three speed. Single speed. It didn’t make much difference to me. Jim was no match to Red Dirt Okie Tough. Jim was from Missouri and just couldn’t handle the challenge I guess.
Then sadly to say, one day after school in the eighth grade I came out to the school bike racks and my red bike was gone. Stolen. Run off with. Gone forever. I hadn’t any bike lock that day. So, I reluctantly resumed my daily walking to school routine. Such was life. I was still Red Dirt Tough. I was Okie. A trained professional walker. I know how to get there from here by foot. Never mind school being two-miles from our home. “Yes I’m walking. Yes indeed I’m talking about you and me. I’m walking…” Sung by Fats Domino.