Monday, June 27, 2011

The First Bicycle

The First Bicycle

     My family never owned an automobile.  My father's hunting and fishing partners provided the transportation for those important needs, and my sister Ruby took my mother wherever she needed to go.  After we moved from 26th Street, we lived near enough to town to walk and, because my father was a "railroad man," we could get passes to ride a train anywhere in the United States.  As a result of these somewhat unusual circumstances, I had seen more of the U.S. as a sub-teenager than I had of my own home town.

            Then, on my eleventh or twelfth birthday, my parents paid a $4.00 down payment on a second hand bicycle to Les Meyers, the owner of the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Shop about a block away from our house on Travis.  Les was a local celebrity, a former professional motorcycle racer who had once won the national championship.  Shortly afterward he ran over and killed a fallen fellow racer and as all the adults said “lost his nerve."  Les had two sons, Bill and Jack, with whom I had friendly but not particularly close relationships.

            I was, of course, expected to pay off the remaining $8.00 for the bicycle.  But first I had to learn how to ride it.  To call it "second hand" was probably euphemistic.  In those days of the newly developed balloon tires and chrome frames, it looked much like the present day  10-speeds, except it was a one speed with narrow, high pressure tires and a seat that was terrifyingly high off the ground.  Undaunted, however, I set out to conquer that sucker by sheer force of will.  Caught giving it a good kicking after multiple falls, one or both of my parents threatened to return it to the motorcycle shop if I did it again.  I eventually learned how to ride it and discovered a whole new world of adventure and entrepreneurship.

            I began by conning all my mother's friends, my teachers, and anyone else I could into "taking" one or more magazines.  I've  forgotten most of the details, but somehow the required number of copies of the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Liberty, Boy's Life, Cosmopolitan, and others I no longer remember  came into my hands and I dutifully rode that old bicycle all over Wichita Falls delivering them to my "subscribers."  I can still remember Miss Dean, one of my first loves and my sixth grade teacher, thanking me for delivering her magazines and making the long ride well worth while.  I also advanced my education by reading all the magazines before delivering them.

            Soon I went on to bigger and better things -- all greatly aided by that marvelous invention, the bicycle.  But with, higher income, the bikes became more fancy with balloon tires, lots of chrome, speedometer, lights, bells and horn, and any other accessory the bicycle shop stocked.  At first I rode out into the country to pick cotton, pull bolls, or any truck farm crop needing to be harvested. But, as soon as I was old enough to qualify, I had a series of paper routes (the most interesting of which  included Lake Street, the wide open Red Light District), and during high I school worked for  the Western Union. I used to boast that at age sixteen I knew every prostitute in Wichita Falls by her real name.  They all sent money somewhere, and Western Union wanted me to carry the money orders because they figured I was the most physically fit; I already had a bit of a reputation as a boxer and a junior high school football player

            The real bonanzas, though, were something that no longer exists in this age of television and instant world wide news, the newspaper "Extra."  I'm not sure how the word got out, but shortly after major disasters or other news of nationwide interest, we newspaper boys gathered at the newspaper publishers, bought numerous "Extras" (at three cents a copy), then spread out through the city on our bicycles shouting "EXTRA EXTRA!  WILL ROGERS AND WALLY POST KILLED IN ALASKA". I've forgotten precisely how much, but I made a bundle off that at five cents a copy.   The crash of the Graf Zeppelin was another winner.  Those were the biggies, but the killing of Bonnie and Clyde (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow) wasn't bad.  They had local ties, and robbing banks during the depression appealed to many if not most of we who were blue collar workers when we could find work. The lovely thing about the "Extras" was that the money you made was extra.  I don't think I sat around wishing for a catastrophe, but I jumped at the chance to cash in on them when they occurred.


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