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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sweet Ride: Discovering a New World

At 10, I inherited an oversized boy’s bike from my cousin. We couldn’t afford the popular Schwinns of the day. I was happy to have my first bike. I cleaned and painted it, adding a thunderbolt on the fender to make it look fast and give the hand-me-down a new look.

Once it looked like a bike to be proud of rather than a dust catcher from someone’s basement, I had to learn to ride. The first step was to find a place to mount the boy’s bike since I wasn’t tall enough to reach over the frame without starting from a stoop. Then I had to manage to stay upright and balanced.

After several falls and scraped knees, I wobbly made my way over the streets and sidewalks of our immigrant Chicago neighborhood in the ‘50s. Eventually I wanted to see more and ventured beyond the boundaries of my Greek, Irish, Polish and Swedish neighborhood. I was curious to know what was outside the safety of the few blocks I already knew.

So I mounted my bike and boldly crossed the ethnic borders into foreign territory on the South Side, into a new place of different ethnic faces, their open market stalls, family-owned shops, churches and schools.

As I rode my bike by their open markets, I saw and smelled unfamiliar foods on display on sidewalk tables strewn with breads, produce, clothing and trinkets. I didn’t feel comfortable getting off my bike just yet. After all, these were strangers I was told not to go near.

I knew I was breaking the rules by leaving my neighborhood, but I couldn’t pass up the adventure. I didn't dare tell anyone of my explorations just a few blocks away from home. I kept my travels a secret so I could return to this exotic place.

Thanks to my secondhand bike, I got to discover a new world and its inhabitants in Chicago's immigrant melting pot of the '50s.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

1 comment:

  1. Your writing brings back so many memories of my own childhood. Thanks