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Reliving the thrill of those first wheels
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There’s nothing like the feeling of independence that comes with getting one’s first set of wheels. I got mine when I was 6 years old. Santa brought me a shiny red 20” Murray bike that Christmas, and I was so excited.
It came with a pair of rear stabilizing wheels –– training wheels, for those of you old enough to remember the term. My dad helped me learn to use it, and held it steady as I took my first ride down the lane behind our house.
After he was satisfied I could stay on it without falling off, he took the training wheels off, and we moved over to the sidewalk on the next street, ours having none. That’s when I learned to hit cracks in the sidewalk and not fall off, going from one end of that block to the other. Later on, my dad took me one more block over to the nearby school yard, where there was plenty of pavement for me to ride on, without having to worry about cars getting in the way.
Oh, how I loved that bike!
Once the training wheels came off, I learned how to ride circles and go fast, do figure eights, “scratch off” and just generally have a great time with my friends on their bikes. Eventually I was old enough my parents let me ride four blocks over to Hull Park, where there was a big playground. It had swing sets, basketball courts, a baseball field, a merry-go-round and a jungle gym contraption we could climb all over. Those were the days!
Then, when I was 12, I got my first “big-boy” wheels –– a burgundy 26” Murray bike that Santa brought. I was in heaven.
I literally rode that bike all over town, to the library, the bowling alley –– across town to Daffin Park or even to school –– anywhere I needed to go. The summer I turned 16, I started working in the warehouse of our family business to save money for college, so I rode to and from work with my dad. I quickly tired of that, however, so the next summer, I either rode the bus (which seemed much too slow to me) or rode my bike.
There weren’t as many cars on the roads back then, and people didn’t drive as crazily, so I was fine riding my bike all the way downtown and across the old Bay Street viaduct. I was usually able to beat the bus, too. What a jewel those wheels were. Other than the occasional flat tire, it cost me nothing to operate but my own energy, and I always had plenty of that.
By the time I got to be a junior at (the original) Savannah High School, however, the attraction of a bike faded. I never had a car of my own, although I did get to use one of the two family cars for dates on the weekend.
The next time I got a “set of wheels,” was the summer after I graduated college and was heading back to graduate school in Athens. It was a used (now they call them “pre-owned”) Mercury Capri with a burgundy interior and a wood-grained dash. It was great!
The main downside was it was a stick-shift, which I’d never driven before. But I learned how, and then I discovered how expensive a car could be. Gas and oil, belts and hoses, tune-ups, tires and batteries, all those ordinary maintenance items that one has to keep up with. But it was worth it to have the freedom to come and go as I pleased.
Even with all the vehicles I’ve owned since, I’ve never forgotten that first, fire-engine red, 20” set of wheels. It opened the doors to more adventure than I could have ever imagined.
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