The Bike From Lester’s Fix-It Shop

November 2, 2008

Memory’s a funny thing.

You know how it is: You’re sitting somewhere thinking about God-knows-what or nothing whatsoever and something, a smell, a comment, a sound, brings something you haven’t thought of for years rattling out of the past in a flash of chrome.

I was sitting at a local eatery last week, waiting to have coffee and ice-cream and conversation with my buddy Ira. I was early, so I spent my time getting caffeinated and writing in my journal.

I do most of my writing on computers these days, but I stubbornly hold on to the occasional session of scribbling in a bound journal, preferably with a fountain pen. I feel smarter when I write with a real pen. It’s slower than typing, which is not entirely a bad thing. Something about shaping each letter by hand, making it legible, hopefully, and, also hopefully, graceful in a way that typed letters can’t match.

Anyway, I was deep in that process, swirling and looping away, thinking about the day’s labors in the garden, of standing thigh-deep in the fish pond cutting back the plants for the winter, pulling the nets over the water to keep out the autumn leaves while blimpish fantailed goldfish brushed companionably against my calves.

And the group of guys behind me started talking about their bikes.

Out of the blue, I was back maybe 40 years, standing next to the very best bike in the world at the top of our driveway, wondering which worlds to conquer next.

This was no sissy English bike with brakes on the handlebars and, for God’s sake, GEARS, and effete skinny tires.

This was a bike made to go anywhere, usually at breakneck speed. A heavy frame, painted a belligerent red. Yellow handgrips. Chrome fenders and chain cover, until the latter got torn off in a helter-skelter plunge through the piney woods. And chubby, knobby balloon tires about three inches wide for chewing their way up banks of wet red Georgia clay.

It was a mongrel, like my dog, Gramps (a.k.a. the best dog in the world,) and me, for that matter. My dad got it for me. He took me down to Lester’s Fix-It Shop on Park Ave. and let me pick it out.

Lester’s shop was attached to his house, a gloriously ramshackle place a few blocks from my dad’s favorite watering hole. Lester was pretty ramshackle himself. Picture bib overalls and a khaki shirt stuffed with coat-hangers. He was older than dirt, and so skinny it was a wonder he didn’t clatter when he walked.

His specialty was lawnmowers, but he took in a lot of bikes, mostly wrecked ones he got from the cops or people just selling them for a buck or two. Lester took every bike apart, threw away the parts that were junk, and reassembled whatever was left, gave each one a fresh coat of plain old enamel paint in one of the primary colors, and that was it.

The bike that was to be mine leaned up against a wall with maybe half a dozen others, but for some reason it stood out. Maybe it was the ferocious red paint. Maybe the mirror surfaces of the fenders. But whatever it was, it seemed to stand there and purr with a sort of hybrid vigor that would make up for whatever deficiencies my own bookwormish self might possess.

Yeah, I know. It’s a wonder I don’t drive a Harley or a ‘Vette now. But that was it.

I walked the bike out into what little open area there was in the shop and popped my scrawny pre-teen butt up on the tan saddle. Everything was perfect. It was as though I had found a body part that had been missing for the previous dozen or so years.

The bike’s purr increased in volume, I swear it did. I looked at my dad. My dad looked at Lester, and in a few minutes, my bike. MY bike, in all the permutations of that word’s meaning, was jammed into the back of Dad’s ’58 Dodge wagon, and we were headed home.

I have often said that my guardian angel has a patch over one eye, tremors, and hives. I’ve settled down a lot because my celestial sentry told me long ago he had had it and was thinking he would consider re-incarnation over having to watch over my crazy ass any more. So, I’ve calmed down.

But in those days, it had apparently escaped my attention that I was mortal. I tore through the woods on that bike like a zephyr on meth. I flashed downhill and into the path of automobiles driven by staid Methodist neighbors, doing my part to keep their lines of communication with the Almighty open, though some of the comments I heard shouted out open windows made me think that The Good Lord was not the first person they chose to address.

I would come home from a day in the woods, the bike’s battered basket brimming with treasure. Odd rocks. Old pieces of metal I had found in or around abandoned shanties deep in the woods. A box turtle. A horse’s skull. A half dozen baby possums, orphaned by Gramps. I decided to raise them as pets. They promptly died in my bedroom closet.

My mother, by the way, had understandably vowed not to enter my room until I went off to college, got married, or killed myself on that bike. I think if she knew some of the things that lived in there with me, I might have been forced to live in the back yard.

I don’t know what happened to my wonderful bike. Eventually, I got myself a motor scooter, an Allstate Husky, which is to a Harley as a hang glider is to the Space Shuttle, and I hardly ever rode my bike again. There is nothing as fickle as a teenage boy seduced by motors.

But the image I had that night at Friendly’s has stuck with me. It was the summer when I read all eight of the “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” books over a period of a week, and my head was filled with rockets, jet boats, and pirates hiding amongst the asteroids.” That was my world, that day at the top of that driveway, all that black space and hurtling danger.

I put my left foot on the pedal and started down the hill, swinging my other leg over the seat and down to the pedal with, I thought, consummate grace. At the bottom of the drive, I leaned the bike into a sharp turn, startling Mrs. Phillips, who was just pulling her car out of the moon’s orbit, but had to stop her station wagon to avoid hitting me.

I hit the pedals hard, standing and leaning over the handlebars, preparing for lightspeed. Watch out pirates. Here I come.

==============================.
© 2008 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

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