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The author (center) with his cousin and his brother, outfitted for a bike ride. Clamdiggers?

The author (center) with his cousin and his brother, outfitted for a bike ride. Clamdiggers?


My First Bike

Wobbly Training Wheels and All


My first bike was emerald green, brand spanking new, and given to me by Captain Kangaroo. Yes, you heard right – the Captain Kangaroo. Well, not exactly personally from the captain. Allow me to explain.

Let me take you back to the early spring of 1958 (almost to the time when dinosaurs walked the earth). Upon arriving home to New Jersey from Buffalo, New York, where my dad had been working, my parents, brother, and I found, tacked to our front door, a telegram. For those of you that may not know, before Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones , faxes, dial and push-button phones, there was a thing called a telegram. This was a message sent from one telegraph office to another (in a code of “dash” or “dot” electronic beeps representing the alphabet) and then delivered in printed or written form. In other words, it was barely one step up from two tin cans and a long piece of string.

Click to enlarge photo

The telegram was from Captain Kangaroo, which was a kid’s TV series starring Bob Keeshan, that ran nationally on CBS from 1955 until 1984.The telegram informed us that my entry had been randomly selected on the show and that I had won a bike! Not just any bike though, but a very red, three-speed, Schwinn Racer.

We were given a voucher and, shortly after, headed over to Marcello’s Sporting Goods in Boonton, New Jersey, to redeem our prize. On the way over, my dad schemed that my brother, being three years older, should pose as me in order to claim that Schwinn “big boy” bike and he would then purchase a smaller one for me.

But instead of the deluxe Schwinn, my brother preferred and substituted a less expensive Columbia. To compensate for the difference in price, the salesman threw in a tinny green bike with suspiciously wobbly training wheels, for me.

Since, at that time, I was still too little for a two-wheeler, even one with training wheels, the thing sat in the corner of our rec room for two years until I was old enough to learn how to ride it. That first bike of mine was short-lived, owing its early demise to snowy, salty New Jersey winters and being backed over in the driveway too many times by my hurried mom on her way to Shop-Rite.

My brother’s Columbia, however, endured for many, many years, even outliving Sheba, our persistent border collie, and evolving through many incarnations and upgrades, including replacement of the handlebars with an illegal suicide knob on a steering wheel.

It was my next bike, a clunky old hand-me-down dinosaur, that was my favorite, given to me by my Uncle Joe. I slathered so much red and white enamel on its heavy frame that, for many years, the paint remained tacky enough that dog hair, road gravel, Bazooka gum wrappers, leaves, and anything else that crossed its path clung to it forever, almost obscuring the numerous and varied Ed “Big Daddy” Roth Rat Fink decals that functioned as a base coat.

Playing cards attached to the spokes with clothespins “clack clack clacked” as I rode, and a bell further alerted pedestrians and other riders. Of course, there was a basket, and multi-colored vinyl streamers emerged and flew from the rubber handlebar grips. No chance of being cool but still – a lot going on there. Riding it today would be considered performance art.

Later, when I became stylish, a wicked Schwinn Sting Ray followed, complete with banana seat and large, V-shaped handlebars. I can still recall how it felt to ride that thing, arms held high above me and hands gripping those cool-to-the-touch chrome bars. No basket or bell this time, you can be sure.

A few more have come and gone, but a few years back I settled on a much-too-heavy Diamondback mountain bike. I can’t commit, so it has semi-knobby tires that also function well around town, where I do most of my riding. I have a helmet, a rack on the back, some safe, yet blinding, LED lights and still no bell. And, it’s green. Emerald green, just like that first bike. The bike with the wobbly training wheels, that was given to me by the captain.

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Randy Arnowitz, or Mr. Greenjeans as he is known around Santa Barbara, is a horticulturalist, gardener, and writer.

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