Friday, February 24, 2012

and I still miss my new Ross 3-Speed

It was a genuine thing of beauty…forest green paint with bright chrome wheels and handle bars that exceeded my wildest expectations for a new bike. It was Christmas Eve 1969, and after being coaxed outside for a game of catch by my beloved uncle Ted, I returned inside to the living room of our West Los Angeles home to find a brand new, sparkling Ross 3-speed bicycle parked right next to the fireplace. There are not a lot of vivid holiday images stored in my memory banks, but the picture of that glistening new 3-speed is etched in my brain with crystal-clear clarity.
It had to be a pretty heavy lift at the time for my electrician father and stay-at-home mom. With a car payment, house note, and the intermittent construction work at the time, I can’t imagine the purchase was particularly easy for my conservative Depression era parents. As I rolled the bike outside and hopped on for the inaugural ride, I remember my father telling me to take good care of my new prized possession. As I careened up and down Esther Ave that night (this was long before helmets or even illuminated bicycle lights), I remember thinking life couldn’t possibly get any better.
A couple of weeks later I was riding my new wheels back from my friend Stanley Carmack’s house who lived in Cheviot Hills about two-miles from our place in Rancho Park (at that time, an eight year-old could travel 2 miles to a friend’s house alone on a bike…I still think that’s true but that’s a whole other subject). Just as I passed the bridge that went over the old railroad tracks into the east end of Palms Park, I notice two shady young teenagers walking toward the middle of Northvale Ave. I probably should have turned around, but I proceeded ahead and as I came upon the two, one of them held up is hand and indicated I should stop.
Not really knowing any better, I slowed to a halt to see what the two needed. When I did, the eldest of the two (I’m guessing they were about 16) put his hand on my handlebars and asked me where I lived. Not thinking, I said simply “oh…a ways away from here” and with that he instructed me to get off the bike. The other teenager looked scared, but he moved behind me and grabbed onto the bike rack to prevent me from pulling backward. The kid again told me to get off the bike, but I said I would not. The thug then jerked the handlebars and implored me to get off. He held an object I had not seen before to my stomach, and as he pushed a button, a platinum colored blade swung out. I’m guessing it wasn’t more than a four inches long, but at age 8, it looked to me like a machete.
Well, to be honest, I pretty much froze. I thought about my possible courses of action, but at the end-of-the-day, all I could figure out to do was reluctantly hop off the bike and give it up. I remember the kid climbing on my new bike and riding away with his accomplice sitting on the bike rack. It was a sobering experience that played out over-and-over in my young life, and for a long time, I was haunted by all of the things I could have done. I could have picked up a rock and clocked the guy in the head as he rode away, or ran to the nearest house (literally 50-feet away) to call the cops. I could have chased after them screaming and trying to draw attention to them (they really couldn’t ride too fast). However instead of doing any of those things, I ran home the entire two miles literally sobbing, and I was such a basket case when I finally arrived at the house that it took a good 20 minutes for me to convey to my mother what had transpired.
Aside from losing that beautiful new bicycle, I think I was probably pretty petrified about what my dad would likely do. He had grown up in a rough-n-tumble neighborhood with little in the way of excess, and I suppose I feared he would be disgusted with the way I handled the situation…and the fact that I didn’t fight for my prized bike. In retrospect, I think he probably was a little disappointed. He’d spent hours teaching me how to fight and how to defend myself, and I’m sure he thought there was little chance they would have actually stabbed me just to get my bicycle. To his credit though, if he felt any shame or disappointment he did not show it…not even a hint. I remember him trying to calm me down…and saying “it’s only a bicycle…you did the right thing.” 
That was the last I ever saw of that bicycle…or those two criminals. I was hoping to hear they’d been broadsided later that day by a car on Manning Ave, or hit by the Southern Pacific freight train as they crossed the tracks on Motor Ave by the old Tootsie Roll factory, but we never heard anything. There are literally years that pass between the times I recall that story now, but when I do I try to derive some sense of peace by telling myself those two delinquents are doing hard time at Folsom with big cellmates that have leprosy. Sometimes, I fantasize that they got the chair…and that maybe when I did electrical work I wired the substation that produced the voltage that ridded the world of their pitiful existence. (For the record…I’m not bitter).
What’s the point of all this? Well, if history really is a teacher, I’m guessing there is no point. It’s probably the best I could do at 4:34am on a Friday.
Because it is Friday, start today with a song. If you take the time to listen to this tune you might even find yourself smiling…and that really isn’t such a bad way to kick off the weekend.

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