Sunday, June 22, 2008

You're IT!!!

There were no playgrounds nearby in the neighborhood I lived in as a kid in Connecticut.

No ballfields within biking distance or basketball courts either. Our front yards were proportioned perfectly for Whiffleball – the batter would stand at the front steps, the pitcher would be where the sidewalks met. Once the hostas, pachysandras, rhododendrons and azaleas got stomped, though, the game had to move to a different house. Eventually, every home had a dirt patch on either side of their walkway from eager kids chasing bad pitches.

The gathering call, however was three simple words.

“Wanna ride bikes?”

Between games, instead of games; when swinging on swingsets or doodling with sidewalk chalk got too boring or predictable [or if someone was just getting crushed in that day’s Whiffleball], “Wanna ride bikes?” was the easy out. It was what we all really wanted to do all day anyway.

This was the early 70’s. The heyday of the Schwinn StingRay, the Schwinn Krates, the Columbia Choppers. Muscle bikes. Evel Knivel and dragsters.

We would race our bikes down the block with umbrellas hooked into our sissy bars, just to “pop the ‘chute” Yeah, more than one ended up tangled in the axle.

Eventually, our races and excursions would find us on the quiet side street – Linden Avenue. Wide enough for cross town traffic, but close enough to the main thoroughfare, that it was rarely used … by cars anyway.

It was the de facto street hockey rink and touch football stadium … and bike tag arena.

I’m not even sure how bike tag started in our street. This was 25 years before internet, so we only knew the people we knew – it’s not like we read about it on a blog and decided to do it.

Bear with me as I try so very hard to go back there.

[swirly remembering flashbackish effect]

I think we were playing tag – possibly freeze tag – and someone who was not a good runner jumped on a bike, to chase the other kids down. Then, one by one, the kids who were not “IT” hopped on their bikes to get away. At first we rode up and down the sidewalk and tagged each other on the shoulder or arm. The rule then modified so that the bike tires and wheels could be used as well, which moved the play area to Linden Ave. as we chased each other around, brushing tires to each other with a subtle hum. Boys being boys, and girls being tomboys, the game escalated to a small, pedal powered demolition derby. Bikes were skidded into each other, even ghost-ridden across the street, with devastating crashes, raucous cheers and hearty laughs.

When dusk had turned to night and the streetlights came on, we put our wheels away until the next afternoon, when repairs were made from the previous night’s destruction. Handlebars were straightened, wheels were realigned, seats were raised or lowered depending on the fashion that day.

Some time after dinner, the mayhem would resume.

For whatever reason, bike tag didn’t migrate south with my brothers and I when we moved from Connecticut to New Jersey. Maybe it was because the layout of our street was different, maybe because there were more girls than boys in the new neighborhood and the age range was more spread out, but it didn’t catch on.

Perhaps a small germ of the idea did make the trip, though.

As D’Kid and I were riding around a court in a nearby development a week or so ago, making lazy circles in the cul-de-sac, she asked me something.

“Hey, Dad. Do you want to play Bike Tag?”


Anonymous said...

That's such a neat story!! Bike tag sounds like such fun, I know my kids would love it.
You're very eloquent.

Frankie said...

Very cool story! Makes me think of the pre-teen and teenage years and all the hijinks we pulled. Some good, some not so good. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!