The Bike Man
As a very young child, I never had one of those classic, fire engine red tricycles that seem to be a staple of a normal, suburban childhood. I didn't even have a variation of the cliché. My tricycle was not blue, with the aforementioned traits or even a green knock off of the usual look at a cheaper price. Instead, my tricycle was a white and purple plastic number, with a hot pink seat, handles and peddles. It had a bit of a big wheel feel to it, except for one key point: the front wheel was as tiny as the two in back. I'm sure that when the tricycle was brand new, it was beautiful, something a three-year-old could be proud of. However, I can't even remember it new. To me, it was always dirty, old, and cracked in a few places. The stickers that had decorated it at one point were either faded, peeling, or completely gone. And from time to time, the peddles would some how manage to lose their grip on the front wheel and I would be left peddling as fast as I could, but going absolutely nowhere until my dad could drag out some super glue, or tape, or whatever else he had around that could save my dying little tricycle. When you're as young as I was back then, very little seems useless or worn out, but my tricycle was so far gone that even I could identify that it was time to give it up and move on.
On my fifth birthday, my parents told me that they would buy me my first real, big girl bike. I couldn't have been more thrilled. There would be no more faded stickers! No more cracked plastic! And most importantly, I would never peddle in place again! (Until I started going to the gym, of course, but that's another story.) A few hours after this announcement, we piled into the car and set off to get my wonderful new bike.
I had been expecting to go to Models or Sports Authority like where I had gotten my soccer equipment, or maybe even ToysRUs. One of my best friends had just gotten a new bike from there a few weeks before. So, imagine my surprise when, instead of going to one of these wonderful institutions, we turned into a residential driveway only a few minutes away from home. To say that I was confused wouldn't do justice to what was going through my mind at the time. If I had been standing up at the time, I probably would have fallen over out of pure shock. What kind of bike could we get here?
Sometimes you can just tell when an elderly person is living in a house. Well, this particular property practically screamed "Old person!" The little old house, set far back from the road at the end of the driveway was obviously in desperate need of a good paint job, what with its peeling, graying white paint. I couldn't help but notice that the door of the screened in porch was a much brighter white than the rest, signaling that it had recently been replaced. The porch's roof was also sagging. It seemed like a miracle that it didn't just collapse as I stared at it.
But most notable to my five-year-old eyes was the big, dilapidated garage that stood just a few feet away from the road, yards and yards away from the house. Its entire outside was made out of old fashioned, dark, rough wooden siding—the kind you might see on a historical out building on a farm. There were a few windows, perhaps two per side, but no matter how hard I strained to see, they gave me no insight to what might be inside. This might have been because it was pitch black inside, but most likely, it was because of the filth that covered the windows. The garage might have been used to house a car at one point, long, long ago, but somehow I doubted that was its use now. For one, there was no garage door—at least not the kind I was used to seeing. Instead, there was a set of two, slide away barn doors in the front, but it looked like it had been years since they had been last used. Besides the rusty, obviously unusable state of their tracks, the doors themselves no longer attached to the road. Instead of a continuation of the driveway in front of them, there was just a thin slice of grass, a sidewalk, and the street curb.
This was certainly not a place where we could buy a bike. What were my parents thinking? Maybe they had been given the wrong address! Yes, that had to be it. They had gotten the address from someone else and that person had given them the wrong address. I immediately brightened. We'd be going to the sports store or ToysRUs after all.
But my hopes were dashed when my parents stepped out of the car. "This is the place!" Dad announced cheerfully.
Still completely taken aback by where we were (apparently it was the right place after all), I apprehensively got out of the car as well.
A moment later, the front door of the old house creaked open and a little old man made his way out of the porch and down the driveway to greet us. His appearance both frightened and fascinated me. He looked so thin and frail that his clothing almost seemed to hang off of his body despite the belt and suspenders he wore. The sloped angle of his back made it seem as if each step he took should have taken a great toll on him, yet he still continued towards us at a steady, confident rate my own grandmother, perhaps ten years his junior, couldn't match.
His name has since been lost to time in my memory, but I remember that he introduced himself to my parents, politely shaking their hands. His voice was gruff and he didn't say much. I'll always remember that he completely ignoring me in those first few moments. My mother later explained that this was because he had come from a time when children were seen and never heard. It would have been strange for him to introduce himself to a five-year-old.
"But aren't I a big girl?" I had asked, confused. After all, I now had a big girl bike.
My mother laughed. "Yes," she agreed. "But there's a difference between a big girl and a grown up." Even I could see the inescapable truth in her statement.
The moment the introductions were finished, the old man wordlessly headed towards the garage, pushing open the rickety old side door and disappearing into the gloom. My parents and I waited silently for him to return. I could tell from the looks on their faces that this was not exactly what they had been expecting either.
A minute or so later, the old man returned, a rusted, old blue bike hoisted over his shoulder. "What about this?" He asked, putting it down in front of my parents. "It's her size. Pedal brakes are new." My father eyed it skeptically before shaking his head no.
This continued for a while. The old man seemed to have scores of bikes in his garage of every size, shape, age, and color. Some of them were rusted like the first, while others seemed as if they had just been purchased the day before. Still, none of them seemed quite right for me, but the procession itself was still fascinating to watch. Before long, I found that I was enjoying myself. This was certainly something I had never experienced before.
Finally, the old man brought out a small, blue and white striped bike, with the most intriguing, matching seat. "What's that?" I found myself asking my mom.
"A banana seat," she replied.
It was easy to see that the bike could easily be one of the oldest the old man had brought out yet, perhaps from the seventies or even the sixties. But still, it was in beautiful shape. I could spot one small scrape on some of the metal holding the back wheel on, but that was it. There was no rust at all. And that banana seat… ohhh… I knew immediately that I had to have this bike.
My parents seemed to agree. For the first time since we had arrived, my father turned to me. "What do you think, Alex?" He asked. "Want to try it out?"
I nodded vigorously and the old man offered the bike to me. He held the handlebars as I struggled to get on. The seat was a little high and I had never ridden a real bike before. This one didn't even have training wheels on it yet.
"You'll need a wrench to lower the seat on this one," the old man told my father. "It's not like those new fangled models where the adjuster's built in." He glanced down at the back wheels. "And it looks like there's been training wheels on it before, so they'll be easy to attach."
My father examined the grin on my face for a moment before saying, "We'll take it."
The next fifteen minutes were a whirlwind of activity. My mother took the old man's place, holding the handlebars as he went off to talk to my father about how much the bike would be. While they bartered, my mother helped me ride around the driveway, her hands never leaving the bars. If she had, I'm sure I would have fallen, but I didn't mind. I was so happy I could hardly contain myself.
Before I knew it, I was home and the bike was officially mine. Because there were no training wheels on it yet, I couldn't ride it without help and my parents had other things to do, but I was content to stare, and imagine what it would be like, riding my own big girl bike for real.
From then on, I couldn't help but think about the old man whenever we passed his house. Had he sold any bikes lately? We never saw him outside and there were never any cars in his driveway. After a few years of passing his house and the old, brown garage, I began to wonder if he had died. But then there was a car in his driveway a few weeks later and I assumed that I had been mistaken. I continued to think about his bikes. I hoped that he was still selling them so that other people could share in the pleasure I had felt upon seeing my Banana Bike as I had come to call it.
However, only a year or so later, I saw a moving van in the driveway as we passed by the house. "Oh, the old man must have died," my mother commented. "What a shame." I agreed with her. But still, more than thinking about the old man's death, I couldn't help but worry about the bikes. He surely hadn't sold them all—we had never seen even one being purchased and we drove by his house every day. What would happen to them now that their owner was dead and someone new was moving in? A nagging voice in the back of my head told me that they would all just be thrown out in a land dump somewhere. This bothered me for weeks. It seemed like such a waste…
And then, one day as we drove by, I noticed that someone had finally cleaned the garage windows. I was surprised and charmed to see that through the gloom, I could make out rows upon rows of bikes, hanging from the ceiling.
The bike man's legacy continued on.
Author's Note: The assignment behind this story was to write a 'descriptive' story about a person who had an impact on our lives, so yes, this is a true story. The old man died around five years ago now, but the bikes are STILL in the garage. Personally, I think it's kind of abandoned... The house isn't though. Maybe they just don't want to pay to remove the bikes.