Something was definitely up when I got home from work one day and there was a big, bulky, oddly-shaped cardboard box sitting on my front porch.
We hadn’t ordered any appliances or human-sized robots. Heck, we hadn’t ordered anything significant, to my knowledge; certainly nothing that would need to be packaged this way. Maybe the FedEx person had missed the neighbors’ house.
Nope. It didn’t take me long upon getting to a closer inspection of the box, and the text and bicyclic images printed on the side were a giveaway. Amber had ordered me a bike without telling me.
It was sweet and unexpected, but I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Amber had found out several days before then that I’d been riding her sister’s bike when I’d gone to play basketball. She thinks her husband rolling around town on a purple-colored “girl’s” bike is embarrassing, whereas I could care less what the neighbors think. She told me to stop; I retorted that I wasn’t going to drive to courts a few blocks from our house. Thus, I got a new bicycle for the first time since I was a kid.
There was a time when I couldn’t imagine life without a bike of my own. Some of my earliest memories are of playing Ghostbusters while riding between the two driveways of my parents’ house. I wasn’t spoiled with fancy things like, you know, actual Ghostbusters toys. Plastic bowling pins had to suffice as guns as my friends and siblings and I shot each other with invisible lasers.
I outgrew the Ghostbusters games, but it took a lot longer to outgrow constant bike riding. Looking back now, it seems like if I wasn’t playing backyard football, driveway basketball or having a home-run derby at the Sibbitts (who had a row of bushes at the end of their yard that worked well as an outfield fence), or building a fort down by the creek, I was riding my bike.
I did have a Nintendo, and later a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis, and I’m sure I watched more than my share of television, but man, it seems like I spent a thousand times more of my childhood outside doing stuff than today’s kids do. And yes, I am totally evolving into a crotchety old man for saying stuff like that.
Bike riding was especially important when I landed my first real job — paper delivery boy for, you guessed it, the Morris Daily Herald. The task of delivering papers on the north side of the tracks in Verona was split between my three siblings and I five days each week.
Now, it seems a ridiculously menial task — carting the news to approximately one-eighth of a podunk down like Verona — but back then, it was a big deal. My bike was a necessity, especially when I drew the short straw on a given day and had to deliver to the most distant section — uptown and Ann Street. I don’t know how I’d have made it to houses that were three, four and even five blocks away without being able to pedal there.
Eventually and unfortunately, I grew up. Bicycling no longer seemed efficient or cool once commuting places in a 1991 Chevy S-10 became a viable alternative. Probably around the time I turned 16, the bike made its way into the back of the shed, or maybe it was the basement, or the rafters of the garage. I’m not even sure. It probably hasn’t seen the light of day since, unless Mom sold it in a garage sale or something.
I may have gone a decade or more without riding a bike after that. I’m sure I rode somebody’s bike somewhere during the years that followed, but I don’t specifically recall doing so.
Then again, the only activity I did regularly during my late teens and early 20s that could be described as a sport is golf, and rounds usually included a six-pack and a cart. Some workout.
Last Memorial Day weekend, I was finally forced to do some pedaling again. Many of my friends and neighbors have participated in a bike-a-thon on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for the past several years. Because Memorial Saturday also happens to be a huge day of regional and sectional action for prep baseball and softball, I could never participate. By last May, I’d moved into my current role of page designer here at the Herald, so I finally signed up.
When I hopped onto my borrowed bike that morning, I remember that it felt a little strange balancing and turning at first. Like the saying goes, you don’t forget how to do it, but it seemed funny. Stopping at each of Seneca’s watering holes throughout the day as we biked along didn’t make the tasks of balancing and turning any easier, but I managed to complete the whole route without falling and breaking my neck.
It isn’t like I’ve been biking every day since, but that bike-a-thon was sort of the start of something for me. Amber and her mother started going on semi-regular bike rides last summer, and I’d join them occasionally. As I’ve gotten into regular jogging and tried to make a real effort to stay active and in shape, I’ve gone more and more, whether the wife and mother-and-law are with me or not. In the days since I got a bike to call my own, I’ve done more than just cruise around town; I’ve gone as far as Marseilles and Morris and back. Now that is a legitimate workout.
When time and the weather cooperate, I try to get out and do something outside, be it a jog, a bike ride, a basketball game or some combination of the three. I might be too old to play Ghostbusters with plastic bowling pins, but I’m not too old to ride my bike.
You never are.