Gone with the Schwinn
Yeah. Yeah. This isn’t Craigslist. I realize that.
On the other hand…
Today only, I’m accepting offers on the flashy red ten-speed bicycle that I bought in 1979.
(Make your bids by emailing [email protected] Payment in gold, firearms, or cryptocurrency accepted.)
Don’t turn up your nose at the advanced age of my two-wheeled steed. Or the paucity of gears.
My bike is a Schwinn Paramount, a hand-built P-13 Road Racer that was top of the line in its day.
I know. Modern bicycles now come with gobs of gears, comfy seat cushions, and latte makers, for all I know.
Think of my bike as classic cool, like the Mustang GT that Steve McQueen terrorized San Francisco in Bullitt.
In near-mint condition, my twenty-three-pound Paramount still runs like a fleeing felon. And trust me when I say that I would never consider parting with such a personal precious keepsake if the damn thing hadn’t tried TO MURDER ME!
My bad for getting caught up in all the “let’s go biking” hoo-haw sweeping post-pandemic America.
I’ll regale you momentarily with my near-death experience. But first, saddle up for a time trek some forty years and 6,000-odd pizzas into the past.
I was a mean, lean cycling geek back then.
I lived to bike, rode 100-mile “century” rides and devoured biking magazines for the latest on derailleur adjustment.
My pal Bubby Frank and I once pedaled all the way from Coeur d’Alene to Troy, Mont.
In one day!
But all that doesn’t explain how an underpaid newspaper editor with a family could come up with 900 bucks for a bicycle. (Not to be overly nostalgic, but that’s $3,283.60 in the deflated dough of today.)
Weirdly enough, I must give credit to my former Print Overlord: Duane B. Hagadone, the bazillionaire hospitality, real estate and media mogul who died last April at age eighty-eight.
I worked at the Dewey-owned Coeur d’Alene Press for seven years, beginning as sports editor in 1976. Then I wormed my way up the Weasel Ladder to become managing editor.
Until the spring of 1983, that is, when I migrated thirty-five-miles west to write three columns a week for my hometown paper, The Spokesman-Review.
But getting back to 1979, this was a windfall year thanks to the Hagadone-owned (and now defunct) Elizabeth Daily Journal. Upset over a plethora of issues long-forgotten, disgruntled staffers took a strike vote and hit the bricks.
Hagadone responded by sending minions from his other rags to keep New Jersey’s oldest newspaper operating.
I know what you’re thinking. And the answer is NO. Clarksville did NOT go to New Jersey as a lowly “Scab.”
I was already an editor. In that case, “Management Goon” is the correct insult in defamatory labor parlance.
I could write several columns about my role as interim police reporter for a strike-hobbled newspaper.
Take the story I unearthed during one of my daily scavenges through the police blotter. It centered around some so-called priest who had apparently been giving erotic communion to a married parishioner.
Upon finding out, the jilted spouse stormed the church in an enraged state.
Huge mistake. The priest reportedly grabbed a kindling hatchet and chopped hubby into bloody tinder.
I’ll admit I was pretty jacked when I returned to the Journal newsroom with visions of garish New York Post-style banner headlines dancing through my mind.
(“Carousing Cleric Cuffed for Holy Hatchet Job!”)
I excitedly told City Editor “Buddy D” about the salacious tale I intended to spin. And I’ll never forget those six words of wisdom he imparted.
“We don’t write about The Church.”
Welcome to Joisey!
The good news is that my Goon Time came with double-pay. I ordered the Paramount and I’ll never forget the moment this red-and-chrome vision arrived.
Didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of the last Paramounts to come out of the iconic Chicago Schwinn factory before labor woes and business blunders sent the famous brand into a tailspin.
Getting my dream gig in Spokane put a crimp my biking. I was always too busy chasing down the next yarn, arranging interviews, and writing for deadline after deadline after…
Rode the Paramount to work a few times. Then it went into storage. And the decades rolled by. Until the other day, when I became inspired by current events.
“Cycling appears to have become the outdoors activity of choice for many Americans amid nationwide shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, as evidenced by the surge in bike sales in recent months,” stated a CBS report.
With everybody wasting away in Quarantinaville, bikes started becoming as scarce as early Covid Charmin rolls.
“Basic adult bicycles, known in the industry as ‘leisure’ bicycles,” the report continued, “have seen double and triple-digit sales increases…”
I discovered this when I hauled my Paramount to a bike shop to get its age-deflated tires refilled. Which quashed my idea to buy a more sedate, ass-friendly cruiser style of bike.
Explaining that I hadn’t been on my Paramount since the early 1990’s, I asked Bike Shop Guy if he could give me any insight before I got back on the saddle.
“Well, it’s kinda like riding a bike,” he said dryly. “Once you learn, you …”
Okay. I deserved that.
So, back home I slipped on my stiff-soled cycle shoes, strapped on my red helmet, and set off to reacquaint myself with Old Red.
Delusion. It really is the strongest drug.
Looking back, it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to take my reunion ride on a country highway during rush hour. Or without my clip-on rearview mirror, which I couldn’t locate.
But I was too lost in my memories to worry about the pluses of having actual hindsight on the mechanized doom that would be speeding up my backside.
After all, I told myself, I was once a competent cyclist. So what if Clinton was president at the time? And so what if I’ve grown old and fat and now pedal with two fake implanted knees?
How much difference could it be?
Quite a bit, I quickly realized.
Working from the fog of memory, I pushed the bike forward while sliding my left foot into the toe clip at the same time swinging my right leg over the high seat post and down onto the other pedal. The trick, which takes practice, is to smoothly insert the right foot into the other toe clip with a quick spin of the pedal.
Which, of course, didn’t happen. While I managed to reach the other pedal, I couldn’t insert my shoe. Kept spinning and missing and spinning and missing.
Meanwhile, the bike took off coasting downhill at an ever-increasing speed.
Hmm. The highway was apparently on a slight slope, which, of course, I hadn’t bothered to notice.
So, picture me going downhill faster and faster while trying to A. flip my right shoe into the toe clip and B. stay as upright as possible while gripping the top of the highly uncomfortable drop-style handlebars, which are made for younger, thinner riders.
Oh, did I mention the wobble?
Turns out, you actually can forget how to ride a bike. At least one with skinny high-pressure tires. It was like all those years with it never existed as I wobbled along like a six-year-old’s first ride sans training wheels.
The sheer terror I experienced took my mind off the scrotal discomfort caused by the narrow leather Brooks saddle.
Scrotal Discomfort, now that I mention it, would be a great name for a punk band.
Don’t Fall. Don’t Fall. Don’t Fall.
Those two words became my internal mantra as I tried to keep my bike as close to the white shoulder line as possible.
I can only imagine the conversations going on in the trucks, cars, and school buses that “whooshed” past me.
“Oh, look at the poor man.”
“Think he’s having a stroke?”
“Do his caretakers know he’s escaped?”
My goal now was not to ride the bike. My goal was to not wobble into traffic and become grill du jour.
At 37th and Glenrose, I managed to, well, the word “dismount” is too reminiscent of an Olympic pommel horse event. My exit was more like your drunk brother-in-law stumbling off a porch.
But I managed to stay semi-upright and avoid the humiliation of possibly becoming a meme.
Waiting for the traffic to subside, I walked my bike across Glenrose to try again on a quieter side street.
The fact that you loyal readers have made it this far should tell you that I didn’t die, which I’m counting as a moral victory.
Four similarly inept dismounts and one long walk/roll up a hill led me to a park bench, just two miles from my front door.
“Bring the truck,” I gasped when my lovely wife, Sherry, answered her iPhone. “I think my bike racing days are over.”
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