The other day, I was driving in my car, listening to my radio, when a song sung by Alan Jackson was played. It was entitled “Remember When” and Jackson used that phrase to hasten back to when he was married and how life had changed so much for he and his wife since then. For me, it made me harken to time when life was pretty easy….at least for me. I was simply a kid going to school, breezing through my homework and looking for ways to get out of the house. My first bike helped me achieve that.
At that time, Schwinn came out with a revoluntionary bike called the Stingray. Man, it was to die for and I would have given all of my marbles and toy soldiers to have one. You could do wheelies with it, it had ape hanger type handlebars and it didn’t have coaster brakes. It was the cat’s meow. Plus, it came in really cool colors. It was what every boy my age wanted. Unfortunately for my twin brother and me, my parents thought that bike was too radical. As much as we begged, pleaded and cajoled, it was not going to happen. In fact, bicycles did not enter our lives until we were in 8th grade…13 years old. We may have been the last in our grammer school class to get a bike, but once they arrived that 8th grade Christmas, my brother and I made up for lost time.
I couldn’t tell you what else I received that Christmas in 1965, but I’ll never forget my glee when my parents told us to go downstairs into the garage to receive our present….the big present. As a kid, we always had presents…but one big present that was suppossed to be the granddaddy of them all. And..as usual…that present always came last, building to an excitement crescendo second to none for a grammer school kid. And what a crescendo it was: there sitting in the middle of the garage were not one, but two shiny new Schwinn 3 speed bikes. It had to be a big deal because my dad left the red 1964 Chevy Malibu station wagon with 3 on the three and rear seat that faced backwards (remember when?) parked in front of our house that night. To this day, that may have been the only time my father’s car was left outside over night. We couldn’t wait to get on them and take them for a test ride all over the neighborhood.
What we discovered almost immediately is that those wheels could take us places our feet couldn’t. More importantly, we didn’t need a ride from my dad any longer and could manuver in our graphical territory without the use of a bus pass. Life was good…very good. Of course, no sooner did we have the bikes in our hands then we wanted to modify them as much as our technical abilities and paper route earnings would let us. I remember disassembling the 3 speed shifter on the handlebar because Iwanted to put 3 speed shifter, like that on the floorboard of a car, on the top tube of my bike. And darn if I didn’t do it, much to the chagrin of my father. I thought the old man was going to kill me, but deep down inside, I think he was proud of the fact that I managed to do it myself and get it to work. At least that is what I thought then and so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!
Once summer rolled around, we had graduated from grammer school. We were ready to roll into high school that fall and feeling our oats, we decided to explore the city on our bikes. Of course, my parents were not going to be privy to this plan. We would feign staying in bed until we heard the garage door close, dress as quickly as we could, dismiss all thoughts of eating breakfast and head out on our daily adventure. Time was of the essence because we knew that my parents would be home at 5:30 and we needed them to see our smiling faces when they got home from work. (I’ll make this pitch now…having both parents work did not ruin the family institution as some would make you think today. We knew we had to be home to have dinner with the family…not because we had such a huge sense of family, but rather because my father had a huge sense of leather belt).
We decided that we wanted to ride to the other side of the city, but didn’t know how to get there. So we grabbed one of my father’s maps and formulated a route. We knew we would have to do som
e climbing, but with 3 speeds, there were no hills in San Francisco that were a match for us!! So off we went….over Silver Avenue, past Alemany Blvd and finally, our first real hill: O’Shaughnessy Blvd. From the base of Alemany Blvd, it would lead you to the top of Market Street, where given your choice, you go one of three ways and see totally different parts of the city. But no matter which way you turned, the view from the top of O’Shaughnessy was always the same: breathtaking. Even as a young boy, I was always awed by the view and even more so, that I was able to climb that hill on my three speed. From there, it was downhill through 7th Avenue until we crossed Lincoln Avenue and made our way into Golden Gate Park. We no longer had views of houses and buildings, but rather, we rode beside lush green fields and trees that seemed larger than life to us. Sometimes we would stop and watch the radio controlled boats that skimmed across one of the many ponds in the park, but mostly, we needed to get to our destination so we could then return home.
From 7th Avenue, we needed to ride to the Great Highway to get to our destination. Once
inside the confines of the Park, traffic was light enough for us to really let those bikes fly and fly we did. Traffic back in the mid 60’s was nothing like it is today, so we pretty much had free reign on the road, especially during a working day. It didn’t take us long to get to the beach once we smelled the salt in the air. We couldn’t wait to see the tips of the blades of the windmills that were once used to pump water into the park, because we knew then that we were moments away from our destination. Breaking past the green, lush vegetation laid the longest stretch of beach my brother and I had ever seen. We couldn’t even see the end of it, no matter how hard we strained our eyes. To us, it was heaven, even if we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) enter the cold water. That didn’t stop us from taking off our shoes to feel the sand between our toes. Looking back, it really wasn’t much, but to us then, it was if we had died and gone to sandy heaven.
For us back then, life really was a beach. No worries, just getting up in the morning and loving life. Those were the days. Remember when?