Work In Progress

When you work two jobs as mom did for much of my young life, something’s got to give. In our case, it was housecleaning. Mom wasn’t a pig in the classic sense—she rarely ate table scraps and never played in shit—but things like dusting and scrubbing were low on the to-do lists she scribbled on matchbooks and cocktail napkins lying around the house. Because we didn’t own a car, simple errands like laundry and groceries required far more time and planning. The net effect of these impositions was a home that could be kindly described as bohemian. Compared to Aunt Dianne’s suburban manse or grandma’s spotless two-bedroom cottage, most of the bungalos and apartments mom and I lived in were dumps.

The best dump ever was a tiny one-bedroom efficiency apartment with an attached one-car garage. Situated on an alley behind a laundymat and a Quickie Mart in Lake Worth, Florida, the first abode in our new home town was minutes away from two places where mom and I would spend a good portion of our lives for the next five years: the bus stop on Dixie Highway, and Princeton Cycles.

For reasons still unclear, mom waited well into her forties before consumating her relationship with Florida DMV. A total dependency on public transportation was the pennance she paid for her unwillingness to take the driving exam. When friends provided ground transportation, Mom’s appreciation manifested itself in disproportionate generosity at the gas pump. The combination of Mom’s reticence and indentured servitude nurtured the seeds of independence that were planted during my days as a latchkey kid in Bradenton. With no family car to rely on, the vehicle that moved me—physically and emotionally—was my bicycle.

In the early 1970’s, C.W. McCall’s “Convoy”—a musical homage to long-distance trucking and CB jiving—was a number-one hit. Desperate to quell U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the Nixon Administration cooked up an oil shortage that made two-hour waits at the pump a weekly ritual for American drivers. American drivers, it must be said, who still clutched the keys to Hemi-powered muscle cars and 560-cubic-inch Cadillacs in their porcine hands. This panoply of cultural, geopolitical and technical factors collided with a force so great it catapulted the fortunes of a moribund American bicycle industry into the stratosphere. The Schwinn Bicycle Company—a rustbelt juggernaut that had built sturdy, dependable bicycles in The Windy City since 1895—sold trendy 10-speeds and flashy chopper-styled Sting-Rays to millions of Americans who had grown tired of the petrol-powered coup d’etat. The function, fashion and practicality of America’s favorite bicycle enabled these noble machines to coast effortlessly past cultural and ideological road blocks and appeal to everyone. Hippies rode Schwinns to save the planet. Republicans rode Schwinns to make a statement. Democrats rode Schwinns to support their Union brothers. I rode a Schwinn for the same reason I wore Pro Keds, ate Chick-O-Stix and guzzled Dr. Pepper—they ran the coolest advertising.

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