March 2013

The Ferguson Cyclist columns were first written in November, 2007. By my reckoning this one will be the 65th column written since then. One for every year I’ve been around! I enjoy going back and reading previous columns. Some of the writing has been good; some not so good. But the stories in the columns always trigger fond memories. The stories of my boyhood riding from the very first column were among the best. You’ll find those stories below, in the rest of this column.

All 65 of the columns and all of the stories can be found online. Just google “Ferguson Cyclist” and you’ll find them…

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Like most of us, I learned to ride a bike when young. Many pleasant boyhood memories are attached to times I spent on my bike:

  • Taking baseball cards and attaching them to the frame in such a way that they made a “brup-brup-brup-brup” noise as the wheel spokes flicked past them. Think “Wheel of Fortune”. That’s the sound. It let us boys pretend we were really riding motorcycles, not bicycles. (Motorcycles would be a few more years down the road.)
  • Taking the bubblegum that came with the baseball cards and putting it in the bike saddlebag for later chewing.
  • Putting on my Little League uniform, hooking my glove over the handlebars, and riding to the game.

In my older years of boyhood, my bike gave me a way to earn money. I had a paper route that required delivery of a daily newspaper six days a week. Looking back on it, I am surprised that I was willing to give up my time after school, and some of each Saturday, to deliver newspapers. But my memory of the paper route is not that it was a chore that I had to endure. My memory is that it was fun! Riding fast down hills with a full load of papers, wind blowing on my face, weaving in and out of driveways, riding with no hands, throwing folded up papers while on the move…and collecting money at the end of the week. What could be a better way for a boy to earn money?

There were also lessons to be learned on the bike route that helped me mature and grow as a person. One early lesson involved collecting from my customers. Each Friday I would take the paper to my customers’ doors. They would be expecting me and would give me the weekly delivery price. However, some of my customers were Jewish. They would not handle money on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and runs until sundown Saturday. Sundown Friday in the winter does not leave much time for collecting after school. As a young Catholic boy I learned that some people have religious beliefs that are different than my own. I also learned that this difference didn’t prevent them from being some of my friendliest and most generous customers.

For my Jewish customers, I cheerfully collected on Monday.

The most difficult lesson I learned from my paper route was the last lesson. My “boss” was the route manager. He was a grown man and managed a group of delivery boys. To me he represented the newspaper company. He made sure the daily papers were bundled up and distributed to the pickup points for all of the delivery boys; he found substitutes if any of us couldn’t make deliveries; and he was the person to whom we gave the money we collected. When I came to the point where I wanted to stop delivering papers, I gave him advanced notice and asked him to find a replacement. He said he would, but weeks went by with no replacement. After repeated requests for a replacement, I finally went to my Dad and explained the situation to him. He wisely said that I would have to be firm, give the route manager a deadline, and stick to it. Taking my Dad’s advice, I told the route manager that I would continue delivering the papers until a certain date, but after that I would be finished. When the deadline rolled around, there still was no replacement. Though the route manager begged me to continue a little longer, I had to tell him no, I wouldn’t be there tomorrow to pick up my papers. He would have to find someone else. Afterwards I went in my room and cried from the emotional tension of having to stand up to an adult and tell him “no”.

My old bike is long since gone. I’d love to see and ride it again. What were the brakes like, how many gears did it have and how did they shift, how comfortable was the seat, etc.? I would probably be amazed at how primitive it was.

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Those days of youth are long gone but I still have the memories. And I’m glad that I wrote them down so that when my memory fails the writings will serve as reminders.