That’s How I (Used To) Roll
As a kid growing up in the Crescenta Valley, some of the many middle class perks that my friends and I took for granted included living on a quiet, Mayberry-like street (Harmony Place) only a few houses away from a beautiful public park (Two Strike), with my elementary school (Monte Vista) and then Jr. High (Rosemont) within walking distance a little south of my neighborhood. There were wild, adventure-filled mountains (I was a kid, alright?) one long block to the north. We kids had almost unlimited roaming rights for many blocks in any direction with our only boundaries being the dinner hour (6 o’clock sharp) and the setting sun. Even then, a phone call home from a friend’s house could quickly procure a stay of punishment and sometimes even permission to stay overnight or at least until the night’s episode of “Gilligan’s Island” or the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was over.
For us kids, the ability to extend the boundaries of our sanctuary even farther was greatly enhanced by the acquisition of a bicycle. And boy, did I have one heckuva bike. My beautiful, gleaming Candy Apple green and chrome Schwinn Stingray had a long, white vinyl “banana” seat and high rise, swept back butterfly handle bars and … well, more about my sweet, youthful ride in just a bit.
Now, my two older brothers naturally had cooler and way more twitchin’ rides than my simple pedal-powered Stingray. That’s because, even though he was an electronics engineer/computing pioneer by trade, my dad had an amazing way with anything powered by a gasoline engine or electric motor. He and my older brothers would build mini-bikes using old Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engines with pull-cord starters. One year, dad even built a ride-able hovercraft in our garage using yet another lawnmower engine, marine-grade plywood, canvas, aluminum and a made-from-scratch propeller. It was for a science project for one of my brothers. I’m pretty sure he got an “A.”
Not to be outdone, Dad was always building some sort of vehicle of his own, too. I lost count of how many Frankenstein automobiles he created from various donor vehicles, their components cobbled together into a one-of-a-kind, high-performance, hill-climbing, mud-loving truck/Jeep/4×4 creation.
At one time, we even had a single engine, high-wing Piper Cub airplane in our driveway that dad took apart down to the bare fuselage frame and put back together wings, flaps, ailerons, rudder, propeller and all. To say the least, our house (or at least our garage and driveway) was a pretty cool place to call home.
And yet, no matter what sort of vehicle my dad or brothers were building or piloting, as the youngest of the males in our household, I was still more than happy to swing an adolescent leg over the banana seat on my beloved Stingray and pedal off to adventure at any opportunity.
Memories of that bike came cruising back last week when I read about the death of the bike’s creator, Al Fritz, who died last Tuesday at the age of 88. First sold in 1963 for a list price of just $49.50, the bike quickly earned the title of “America’s most popular bike” according to an L.A. Times story about the passing of Mr. Fritz.
I customized my own Stingray with a smooth, extra wide “cheater slick” rear tire (like the rear tires on a dragster or funny car) which was ideal for laying skid marks on the smooth cement sidewalks of Two Strike park. For added thrills (and sometimes spills), my friends and I would scatter sand across the cement. I’d rise up off the seat and piston my legs as fast and as furiously as possible to build up speed, then stomp down on the coaster brakes to lock up the back wheel and hold on for dear life as the bike’s rear end fishtailed to a stop.
Try doing that with a stupid ol’ airplane.
I’ll see you ‘round town.