Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Role Models

It's really no wonder that as soon as kids turn 15 or 16, and take driver training and get licensed, they immediately abandon any other form of transportation. After all, in almost every case, that's how Mom and Dad, and 'most every other adult they know, get around. It's the grownup thing to do.

My formative years weren't a lot different from that.

Mom was pretty much exclusively car… beginning with her '52 Chevy, followed by a parade of station wagons as the family grew.

Dad didn't fit the mold exactly. 3 or 4 days a week, he drove to the office in his Rambler. BUT… we lived (deliberately) within walking or bike-riding distance from his office, and he'd occasionally propel himself. It wasn't unusual for Mom to be driving us someplace, and we'd see Dad walking along his route, reading a book. The guy loved to read! He also had a Schwinn "ten speed" that he'd ride somewhat regularly… although not enough to wear out the tires. (Until I was much older, I didn't know you could wear out a set of bike tires… I assumed they just rotted and the rubber got crumbly, before they could wear out.)

We'd all go on family bike rides, and I liked riding to school… but bicycles weren't generally seen as a serious form of transportation at my house. (Just like every other house.)

I attended Roosevelt School, here in Boise.

Right across the street was Roosevelt Market. That's where I hung out with my friends. If we had a dime, we'd get a can of soda pop, or a Milky Way bar. (Actually you could get a Milky Way and a Hershey bar, for a dime.)

Wesley also hung out at Roosevelt Market. And perhaps he had more influence on me than I realized, at the time.

Wesley seemed really old! (Of course, to a third-grader, somebody who's 20 seems really old.) He smoked a pipe, and had a wrinkled face, and always a few days' growth of beard. He was actually friendly enough… but his appearance made him somewhat intimidating to us kids. He'd hang out front of Roosevelt Market, just steps away from us… leaning against the wall, smoking his pipe and drinking beer out of a quart bottle.

Wesley rode a bicycle. Exclusively. It was an awesome bike! It was a big ol' heavy "cruiser" type bike, with fat tires… and it was covered with baskets, reflectors, lights, horns and bells, fluttering flags, etc. (The guy was years ahead of Pee-Wee Herman!)

You'd see him all over the east end of Boise, rolling along on that distinctive bicycle, puffing his pipe as he went. He didn't go fast… but I bet he put thousands of miles on that bike!

Wesley lived a simple life. Besides riding his bike, he did lawn jobs in the summer. Since he lived with his brother, mostly he needed money for bike tires, beer and Prince Albert.

There was another guy who would stop by Roosevelt Market on his bike. I'd see him regularly. His bike was an "English 3-speed," with a rack on the back. His face always had a smile on it. And he had a normal job – he worked at Holsinger Music downtown. (I knew, because I'd see him when Mom took me down there for my weekly trumpet lesson.)

Both Wesley and the other guy (I wish I knew his name) made an impression on me. They obviously used bikes-as-transportation… but because of that, both seemed rather eccentric.

I spent 2 years in Uruguay as a missionary, most of that time with no car available. And learned that I, too, could get around on foot, or bike, or city bus.

I came home and got a job. And a couple lady friends had an influence on me.

Toni Roberts didn't ride all the time, but she rode several times a week. And I'd talk to her about it… I was impressed. (At the time, I lived literally across the parking lot from the office I worked at, so transportation wasn't an issue. I've always followed Dad's example of living close to where I spend most of my not-at-home time. It just makes sense.)

It was Betty Vickrey who truly changed my life. She and I worked at City Hall together. She was probably 7-10 years older than me… but you never would have guessed. She was so full of vitality and energy. She was a dedicated bicycle commuter… she had a car (or so she said), but it rarely came out of the garage. And would she EVER sing the praises of her bicycle transportation?!! (She had a sweet European road bike… that was pretty impressive, too.) It was a long, and not-particularly-bike-friendly commute… she lived off South Cole Road, near the Intermountain Gas building. Probably 7 miles each way, on busy roads.

It was 1984. I was pretty tired of arguing with my wife over whether I could take our (one) car to work, looking for a parking spot, pumping gas, etc. I bought a mountain bike… that was back before anybody knew whether they'd catch on or not. And beginning in early '85, I strapped on my brain bucket and rode. I became an eccentric.

Betty was right! I've never gone back – never will. "You can have my bike when you pry the handlebars out of my cold, dead fingers." (Hahahaha)

My oldest daughter was 3 years old. My youngest daughter was born 6 years later. I hope I've been a bike-riding role model… to possibly counter the perception they get everywhere else… that driving cars is the grownup thing to do. It doesn't have to be that way. (I'm happy to say my oldest daughter got a new job a few weeks back… and she's been quite a faithful bike commuter. If she can go for a month or two, she may catch the vision herself… and have extra dollars in her savings account to boot!)

It's been 45 years or so since I first noticed Wesley on his basket-and-reflector-laden cruiser bike. He upgraded to an "English 3-speed" a few years later… and installed the baskets and reflectors on it. I still see him occasionally… smoking his pipe and riding slowly, nowadays on a basket-and-reflector-equipped mountain bike. He's a hero of mine. (And apparently he wasn't as old as he seemed, back in the early 60s.) And the Holsinger-music bike guy, too. Now I know why he was always smiling.

1 comment:

Clancy said...

Nice writing and great story. I think I have seen Wesley riding in the Northend.