Five years ago I landed in a new job five miles from home. After commuting to Boston for more than twenty years a forty five mile trip one way, I was delighted.
I went down to our basement and grabbed one of our old family bicycles that my wife Frannie God Bless Her bought for us over twenty years before when we were a young family of three.
I brought it to the bike shop for a tune up and began riding it to work nearly every fair weather day.
My route varies but some of it is a fairly to very busy road one of the main roads out of town to the highway. The rest is rural and beautiful hilly but not too challenging which is good because I ride in my civvies’ and I am more Mary Poppins on the bike than Lance Armstrong.
I just began riding again a few weeks ago after a winter hiatus and it is nice to be out of the car and poking along down the road on the bike as I ride past the Clinton Dam Nashua River and Wachusett Reservoir.
You notice things that you would never see driving like little nip bottles. I counted seventy two along my way this morning. A person driving around downing nips is bad but I’m more offended that they toss the empties out the window the pigs. That and other trash you see is mind boggling stuff you hardly notice at all in your car.
I get many warnings from well meaning people about how dangerous it is riding my bike as if I hadn’t weighed the risk. It takes me thirty five minutes riding my bike the five miles a time I easily would have run it in once upon a time, young man Hodgie beats old man Hodgie riding a bike.
When I was a child I wanted a bike bad. All of my friends had a bike and every birthday and at Christmas I would ask for one but no go.
When my friend’s ages around eight to ten would ride off into the sunset after our pick up baseball game I would run after them like I was their mascot.
I started collecting bicycle parts that turned up around my Acre Lowell neighborhood like flotsam and jetsam. I would keep all of these parts in the alleyway near our apartment. I never seemed to be able to get enough parts together to make a whole bike until one time I did except for a seat.
So I grabbed one of the cushions from the family couch and some clothesline string and I tied the pillow onto the pole sticking out of the frame and bam I had a whole freakin bitchin’ bike.
This bike with all its mismatched parts looked like something Jethro Bodine would ride around on in Beverly Hills for laughs. It was quite the conversation piece in the hood until my Dad came home and said “Bobby, where the hell is the couch cushion?” My older brothers had no problem telling him.
On my birthday that summer ten years old and the only kid in Lowell without a bike I had the usual cake and blow out the candles and got the really groovy coonskin cap to go with my Davy Crocket musket and powder horn.
After the cake and ice cream I went to the bathroom and when I came out right there in the middle of the kitchen in our third floor apartment was a brand spanking’ new red white bicycle.
I stood there agog.
I rode off into the hood on my new bike wearing my coonskin cap thinking how maybe I could ride all the way to Kentucky right through the Cumberland Gap.
When I was a little knucklehead around age 10 me and my little urchin friends would gather mob like on the North Common Acre Lowell Ma and we would loosely organize two hand tag or more likely two hand push football.
The end zones of our makeshift field were sidewalks mostly cracked and broken. We might have anywhere from four to twelve or more players divided up to make teams and then the riot started.
My favorite play was to go long and hope our QB could throw far enough and when I saw that ball coming I would get in the zone focused on the ball eye out for the opposing players and I knew if I caught that ball in the end zone could be hell to pay.
About every game ended in a brawl, mayhem and pandemonium but we always came back for more.
Most of us were not tough guys at all just punk kids but there were a few legit murderous bastards amongst us and you better not mess with them. One of the MB’s suckered punched me one day when I was walking home from the slot car track at Western Ave. mill buildings.
One of my friends who would become a wrestler at Lowell High tackled him and pinned him on the ground to my amazement and dismay.
As I stood there licking my bloody lip looking down at my assailant he pointed up at me “you’re dead.”
My friend the future wrestler slapped him around a little bit and then sent him on his way. “Bobby, I can’t be always fighting your fights for you.”
After one game we ended up in a brawl where just about everyone got a punch in somewhere along the way nothing too vicious.
As we retreated to our separate spaces someone hurled a rock a high arching throw and I watched it coming down from out of the sky in a slow motion and never a thought it would hit me and then I stuck my arm out hand extended like I was shading myself from the sun and
Hit with rock in head.
I was out down for the count and when I came to people were leaning over me staring and I was helped up and felt the warm blood flowing from the back of my aching head.
When I got home my head was bandaged and I lay down with some aspirin and Chelmsford Golden Ginger Ale while the adults fussed over me including my aunt my mom’s older sister.
But, I recovered.
Street Fighting Man