18 February 2009

Pink Lightning

Pink Lightning. That was the name of the bike. And it was just as its name implied--with pink handles, a pink and white seat, and pink decor to be found along the frame (including a pink bolt of lightning), that bike was amazing. And to me, it seemed like no bike could go faster, look cooler, or fit me better.

Unfortunately, Pink Lightning belonged to my sister. I wasn't even born yet as she was staring longingly across the street at the neighbor kids who all had bikes and spent their lives outside of preschool on them. And when she finally had saved up the half of the sum (as required by my parents) through neighborhood cookie sales that excluded any making of change to friendly old people with whole dollars instead of just pennies, she already knew how to ride it from her attempts on neighbors' bikes. After making more laps around the driveway-turned-sport court than can be counted, she forged her way to official bike rider status by saying goodbye to the driveway and hello to the sidewalks of the young suburb, joining in with the first bike gang of the neighborhood.

My brother wasn't far behind her. Every moment that Amy wasn't on her bike, he unashamedly took Pink Lightning for a spin, his bare feet pumping the pedals so hard the wind whipped even his buzz. When my sister wanted her bike back, he'd drive straight onto the grass of the front yard and jump off because his legs weren't long enough to reach the ground. Then he'd follow her on his large, white-wheeled scooter.

I, in the meantime, little more than a toddler on my trike, a truck-like red vehicle that I got to be pretty fast on, was limited to the driveway and the sidewalk immediately in front of our comfy starter home. From there I observed my older siblings. They were each others' best friends, which left me to myself, pedaling slowly around under the basketball hoop wearing nothing but a onesie. Sometimes I wouldn't pedal at all, preferring to just sit and think to myself. At other times, I played around with pedaling as fast as I could and then holding my legs out to the side so that the pedals would move by themselves as I did what I imagined was "hurtling" down the slight slope of the sidewalk. I loved my trusty red trike, enough that even several years later when it got backed over by the car I was devastated.

But my younger brother was soon getting big enough for my trike, and Amy was soon looking at bigger bikes, bikes with those mysterious things called "gears" and thin tires that didn't seem to be balance-able. Naturally, she needed money for such a purchase, and I was soon looking to acquire Pink Lightning. If I'd had all the money in the world, it would have been hers. But, being five, I didn't have any money whatsoever. I started gathering pennies from the couch, which started a fight with my brother who saw me in the process and hurriedly took a dime. When Grandma had us pick something from the grab bag, I would always pick the film canisters she had put quarters into. Each day, I practiced my first-ever recital piano piece, "Bike Ride," and each evening, I lined up my quarters and counted them, and thus was sorely disappointed when I realized that a dollar is made up of four quarters and not three. Somehow or another I provided my sister with the $15 or $20 she asked for, and Pink Lightning was all mine!

Now I just had to get to the business of taming the thing. Even after the training wheels came off, I still was quite afraid of riding it but wanted to show it off anyway. When my friend Kristen asked me to come over to play, I walked my bike there, and it lay on her front lawn, forlornly left behind as I ended up admiring everything of hers. I loved her new Easter dress and hat, the scary bogey-man movies her parents let her watch, and the mystery nintendo game she had that is the reason I still check behind all drawn shower curtains. I was so fascinated by all her treasures that my mom came to get me for dinner and was quite mad that I had stayed longer than she had told me I could. I regretfully picked up Pink Lightning and walked up the hill, feeling my mom's anger behind me and knowing I had done wrong, but unable to forget about everything Kristen had. When my mom suddenly came toward me, I thought she was going to spank me and I ran ahead. "I was just going to help you practice riding your bike!" she snapped, and we walked home with tense disappointment between us.

Luckily, that tension didn't last long. My mom would sometimes help me practice in the afternoons, and in the evenings, my dad would pull into the driveway and I'd excitedly pull him out of the car so he could run behind me, holding onto the curved, shiny bar at the back of the banana seat. Eventually Pink Lightning and I were good enough friends that we'd join the rest of the family for a neighborhood bike ride, with Sica in the baby seat attached to my mom's bike and Jeff on my old trike. But I never went on bike rides with friends, at least, not until we moved.

In our new neighborhood, my friend Craig would ride over on his black and red mountain bike, the new epitome of coolness because of that one extra word--"mountain." We'd ride to the favorite old lady of the neighborhood, Pat. She would talk to us, show us the pictures on her fridge, and let us cut her roses. After mourning that she had a dog and we didn't, we adopted Goochie as our unofficial dog to be visited whenever possible, which was simple enough as he ran the border of the local elementary school, barking during all three recesses.

On the hot summer days, we'd pedal around after visiting Pat and Gootchie, longing to experience the nearby but off-limit "dirt hills" where every other kid in our school rode up and down and around in the dust to their heart's delight. Sometimes I'd purposely push my hand against the rubbery pink handle and then show my red pinky to Craig in order to get his sympathy. He'd allow me to ride his bike, his gangly, blond-haired knees coming nearly to the handlebars on Pink Lightning.

One day, my mom told me that Craig was very sick. He had crashed his bike, cut open his wrists with a jar he had been carrying, and had hid the wounds from his mom until they had gotten infected. We didn't go biking together very much in the coming years, though I finally sold Pink Lightning to a younger sibling and bought Mike's neon orange Huffy during junior high school, followed by a purple bike that had an impressive water bottle holder. It was during this time that Pink Lightning disappeared into bike oblivion.

In high school, I got a razor scooter for Christmas, which I pretended to despise as a substitute for a car. In reality, it was cheap and a convenient vehicle because it fit in my locker when folded. I loved flying down the hill towards home as soon as the last class period was over, though the sticker on the bottom claimed it was not for "downhill riding." That scooter, with its translucent red wheels and spongy Ute-red handles, connected me to the bus stop to college and later the train to work. I took it for spins around Lincoln Circle with my younger sisters and sometimes simply rode it alone around our circle when I needed to think, doing bunny hops and spinning the footbar around and stopping it suddenly with my foot. Although I considered taking it with me to Germany, I knew its skinny, small wheels would be no match for the impossibly rough cobblestones.

The bikes in Germany made me laugh. Many of them look like they're for either old ladies or the Wicked Witch of the West, or both, always with a light (because of the law) and sometimes with a basket. Nevertheless, I bought the cheapest bike I could find from another student. I now enjoy the bumpy rides along the cobblestone streets, the comments I get when people see I'm carrying a helmet, the feeling that I'm being responsible when I signal a turn, and the pride of carrying my bike into my apartment building to lock it up with the others. Sure, it's completely rusted, too tall for me, and seems to only have one gear--a difficult one that only becomes more and more so, making me the slowest bike rider on the street, but I like my bike--enough that I'm planning on not buying a train ticket for the next semester in favor of always riding my bike, rain or shine.

So today when a professor suggested an article to me, its title, "The Rise and Fall of the Bicycle" seemed to reflect the history of bikes in my life, minus the repeated "rise." In a way, I've written my own version of that article and may not need to read it. Besides, if it didn't include Pink Lightning, a shiny silver and red scooter, and a rusted old granny bike, it wouldn't be complete.

(This is this month's write-away contest at Scribbit.)


  1. We need to find a picture of "Pink Lightning" to go along with your story. Good times!

  2. And I'm totally hearing "Grease Lightning" playing over and over in my head after that :)

  3. Wow, I no longer feel bad about not getting my entry written because our tales are quite similar. There was even a black and red mountain bike in mine too.

  4. I had "email Michelle about pink lightening" on my do-to list, but now I guess I can cross it off.

    I'm surprised at your memories of our family--they are vivid and totally different from my faded ones.