Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Dream Bike

As a boy in Brooklyn, you knew you had arrived when you rode a Schwinn bike (left). In the Fifties, this was a kid's two-wheeled equivalent of a Corvette. It was red, black and gold, with tons of chrome. Kids would fasten playing cards with a clothespin to the bike's frame so that they hit the spokes as the wheels turned, making a loud noise that was supposed to sound like a motorcycle….too cool for words. We also attached streamers to the handle bars, extra lights and chrome crossbars to really pimp that ride.

Most of us couldn’t afford the dream bike. I learned to ride on an old girl’s bike handed down from my cousin Joan. Training wheels hadn’t been invented yet, and your skinned shins were the badge of honor of a kid learning to ride a two-wheeler. I can remember my father "Tony Boots" teaching me to ride...I don't think he rode himself, but we would go to the playground and he would run alongside me in his ever present suit, tie and snappy fedora, usually with a Lucky Strike in his mouth. In reality, I was happy to have any bike at all since money was tight and we could never afford anything close to the Schwinn dream bike. Then Fate intervened.

There was an old TV show called “Junior Champions”, hosted by the great broadcaster, Marty Glickman. Glickman was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in Berlin, He and teammate Sam Stoller, two American Jews, were replaced, however, the day before they were scheduled to compete in the 4x100m relay. By Glickman’s own account, the last-minute switch was a straightforward case of anti-Semitism. Avery Brundage, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, was an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler’s regime and denied that the Nazis followed anti-Semitic policies. Marty was justifiably bitter about missing his chance at competing.

Anyhow, I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent my day camp, PS 73, on Marty's show, and competed in a contest to see who could shoot and hit the most layups in one minute. I won, and with a hard cast on my broken left arm. (Thank you, thank you very much.) The winner's prize was a Shelby bike (above left). Now Shelby was to Schwinn what Timex was to Rolex, but what the hell, I had a brand new bike. Except for my pal Johnny, who rode a Schwinn thanks to his father who ran the local barber shop and neighborhood bookie joint, I had the best bike in the neighborhood. Sweet.

PS I now ride a new Schwinn bike, but it's like running into an old girlfriend after 50 years....just not the same. 

(Originally published on 9/23/2008)


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