My faith in humanity was crushed at the young age of fifteen when my beloved ten-speed racer, for which I saved all summer my lawn mowing and busboy earnings, was stolen from behind the Village Inn Pancake House while I bussed tables. Whoever stole my bike must have needed it badly since they cut the thick chain that secured it to the old oak tree by the dumpster. All they left behind was a half-link of cut chain as a reminder that adults were capable of the most heartless cruelty.
My bike was beautiful- chocolate brown frame, gleaming silver chrome trim, white fabric-wrapped hand grips, snow-white seat. I rode it joyfully, thrilled with its speed, the smoothness of its gears, the exhilarating feel of the wind in my face. I smile now at the memory.
My favorite waitress, Juanita, plump, friendly, and world-wise, drove me around for hours in her old beat up blue Chevy van looking for my bike. Juanita liked me and looked out for me like a big sister, including warning me once that the regular customer who always sat in C-Section, who took a liking to me and gave me tickets to plays at USF where he taught drama, was gay. I don’t think I knew what gay was at that age, but I liked the drama teacher and was sad when I learned years later that he had passed away. As it turns out, he gave up a brilliant start as an actor in British cinema to teach drama. He left a wife and children behind when he died. Rest in peace old friend.
I remember hiding my tears from Juanita as I slowly came to the painful realization that I would never see my beloved bike again. I said thank you when she dropped me off at home, and fled to my deep-purple painted bedroom where I cried over man’s cruel nature.
I had given my mom my paychecks all summer until I had enough money saved to buy the beautiful bike I saw at the JC Penny store at University Square Mall. Next to the pair of cowboy boots that fulfilled my six-year old boy’s Christmas wish in the Netherlands, I never wanted something as much as I wanted that bike. My heart leapt when I visited it in the mall.
And I did visit my bike. I’d walk to the mall to look upon my dearest wish, trace its gleaming frame with my fingers, inhale the heady fragrance of its rubber tires, squeeze the hand brakes and feel their smooth resistance. Ohhh, I loved that bike.
When the day I had waited impatiently for finally arrived, I felt like I was walking on air when I paid the cashier with my hard-earned cash, walked my bike out of the store, sat upon that snowy white seat like Midas on his throne, bid adieu to my happy and smiling mom, and pedaled the mile home. Not a single mile, no, not two miles, but many miles as I rode up and down every street in my neighborhood, circled the pond where the alligators I shot BBs at eyeballed me with menace, up to Belle Witter Elementary School, on to Sulphur Springs where I played Little League Baseball, and finally home.
Home. My bike was the brother I never had, the faithful companion that went everywhere with me with never a contrary word, but an eagerness of spirit to share in my smiles and laughter and innocent pleasure in the life that blew through my hair like a winged zephyr as we rode the twenty-miles to Tampa International Aitport to watch the jets taking off directly overhead for exciting but unknown destinations.
I would travel to exciting destinations in just a few years with the US Navy, but until then, my chocolate brown ten-speed racer with gleaming silver chrome trim and white-fabric wrapped hand grips and snow-white seat was my aircraft carrier, my “Heigh-Ho Silver, awaaaay!” my tramp steamer sailing the backwater streets of Northeast Tampa. Until youthful innocence met adult cynicism and learned the hard lesson that only the young and enthusiastic are truly free.