I was talking to Pops on the phone the other day while I was driving to court. “I’ve started riding my bike again,” he said. Pops is 76.
“Yep, had to stop taking my walks because of my heel.”
“Biking’s better, anyhow.”
“I got a helmet and everything. But hey, I have a question for you,” he said.
“I’m trying to find the right kind of mirror and don’t know if I should get one for my helmet or for my glasses.”
Pops has a very stiff neck and can’t turn around to see what’s behind him. “Let me ask around and get back with you.”
“Okay. Boy, riding sure does bring back memories of my first bicycle when I was a kid.”
“Oh, yes. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Pops, would you do me a big favor?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Would you write down your bicycle memories and email them to me? I’d love to post it on my blog.”
“Consider it done.”
Pops’s Old Timey Bike Story
Bikes. Not easy to come by when I was growing up in the dusty little wide spot in the road in southern New Mexico of Lordsburg, population 3,000 or so, not including rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, and horny toads. Well, used bikes were fairly easy to come by. But a new one, that required big money, and the cool dudes had them. I dreamed that I, too, might one day acquire one. We’re talking the 1940’s.
I got my first bike after I got my first gun. My dad was a U.S. Border Patrolman. He wore a pistol and loved guns. He had grown up on a West Texas cattle ranch, and you needed guns to kill rattlers, deer, rabbits, foxes, rustlers, and so forth. Maybe not the rustlers. When I was nine or ten I asked my mom if she would tell Santa Claus I’d like a BB gun for Christmas. Several of my friends had one. A week or so later she informed me that Santa had said “No.”
BB guns were dangerous, and Santa said kids thought they were toys and would shoot each other with them, sometimes putting out an eye or doing some other kind of damage. “Oh well,” I thought.
Christmas morning I walked into the living room, and there under the tree was a gun. “A BB gun!” I yelled and raced toward it.
“No,” my dad said. “It’s not.” I picked it up. It was a bolt-action Springfield .22 rifle, complete with a scope sight. I thought I was dreaming. My dad said, “That can kill someone real quick. And you’re not going to shoot it until we have some safety lessons.” Later that morning he took me into the desert outside town and I spent quite a while learning about gun safety. I never killed anybody unintentionally thereafter. What a Christmas! I never had another one quite that exciting, not even the one a year or two later when I got a bike.
But that was a pretty exciting present, too. It was a brand new single speed, which was standard in the 1940’s. It was also kind of fancy. There was a thingamajig beneath the cross bar that enclosed a battery and a buzzer. Whenever I came up behind someone, instead of merely ringing a little bell on the handlebar, I pressed a button on the thingamajig and it would buzz. Damn! Now I was really, truly a cool dude because I didn’t simply ride a bike, but a new bike with a buzzer.
That Christmas season I rode around town a lot on my bike, of course. What’s a bike with a buzzer for if not to show off, especially to the girls? Some of them had bikes, too, but they were, well, girls’ bikes, without a cross bar, so they could get on and off without raising a leg and kicking their skirt up. No cross bar, no thingamajig, no buzzer.
I had a lot of fun with that bike, even beyond showing it off. After a bit of rough weather in Lordsburg such as a sandstorm, say, that could sandblast a car windshield, a new bike wasn’t new any longer. There was one place in particular I liked to ride it. South of town there was a ghost town called Shakespeare. Only one family lived there. The rest of the community had long left or died or both. It had a great cemetery, and some old 19th Century buildings. It was a bit up on a hill, and I found it hard getting there, although a serious biker would scoff at anybody who would call the climb hard. But I was not, well, a serious biker. Coming back to Lordsburg from Shakespeare was a lot of fun, anyhow. It gave a new meaning to “Going downhill,” at least in the good sense of the term. I’m now going downhill in a different sense, and that’s another story. Instead of traveling from a ghost town, I think I may be heading toward one.
Anyhow, such was a biker’s life in Lordsburg, New Mexico near the end of World War II. We didn’t even wear bicycle helmets. I don’t think we had even heard of them, or really anything except Levi’s and tennies. Helmets were something soldiers wore. We had no idea that bikers, real bikers, wore biking outfits. I don’t think we had ever heard of the Tour de France. Of course, there was no Tour during World War II, and that was before TV, anyhow.
Well, there you have it in a nutshell, a young biker’s life in the New Mexico desert. I thought it was the good life. I guess I still do.
— Chandler Davidson