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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sweet Ride: Discovering a New World

At 10 I inherited  an oversized boy’s bike from my cousin.  It was officially my first bike since we couldn’t afford the popular Schwinns of the day.

It made me happy to have my own "wheels." I cleaned and painted the secondhand bike red and even added a silver thunderbolt to the fender to make it look fast and ready to roll.

Once it was "restored" and no longer looked like a dust catcher from someone’s basement, I took it for a test drive.

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 many falls and scraped knees, I wobbly made my way over the streets and sidewalks of our immigrant Chicago neighborhood in the ‘50s.

I was curious about what was outside the safety of the few blocks I already knew. I decided to risk a ride beyond the boundaries of my Greek, Irish, Polish and Swedish neighborhood. There was a bigger world out there; and my bike, like a trusty steed, would take me there.

So I headed for the nearest stoop, straddled my bike, and set off for my first trip across neighborhood borders into foreign territory with other nationalities on Chicago's South Side.

I was breaking the rules by leaving my neighborhood, but I couldn’t resist the adventure.

As I rode, I heard new languages and saw different ethnic faces.

Even so, the lifestyles seemed familiar to my neighborhood with open market tables covered with fresh breads, fish, and produce, many displayed just outside of family-owned shops housed under their apartments.

Some of the food and the odors were unfamiliar.Other sidewalk tables held clothing and trinkets for sale.

I didn’t feel comfortable getting off my bike just yet.  After all, these were strangers I was told not to go near.

When I returned home, I didn't dare tell anyone of my explorations just a few blocks away. I kept my travels a secret so I could return to discover more about the new territory.

As time passed, I grew bolder and got off my bike to taste and touch the foods and wares of the other immigrants' lives.

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, 2009-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

1 comment:

  1. Erana, this is the second blog about bikes that I have read today. My first bike was a battered three-wheeler back in WWII. My first two- wheeler was a hand-me-down from my cousin. Learning to ride on this was quite spectacular as it had a fixed wheel. My last was a ladies 'sit-up-and-beg' with a basket on the front. This was given to me by the village coalman after he had run over my 'best' second-hand bike with his lorry.
    I can't match exploring Chicago but I feel an article coming on.