Thursday, August 16, 2007

Part 1 of Bicycle Memories "My Flying Father"

Running hasn’t been the only way I kept in shape over the years. Since before high school, the bicycle was a common mode of transport for me, and of course I also reaped the secondary benefits of extra aerobic fitness.

I bought my first "very own" 3-speed from Sears not long after I started my new life as a post-military brat. I say very own because I paid for it out of my allowance savings. It was the first "major purchase" of my life. I needed it after having just gotten my first job ever delivering The Saginaw News house-to-house.

It was less than a year since my dad had retired to his home state of Michigan and we were still living with my grandma Haley and Uncle Bill in Birch Run while a contractor built my parents' "dream house." It was during my 13th summer, the June-July-August period just before I started the 9th grade.

I nicknamed that bicycle “Blacky.” I’ll give you one guess what color it was.

I can’t remember for sure if I had my own bicycle before that one, but I’m pretty sure my parents had bought me one that I quickly outgrew. I’m dimly aware of having a little red boy’s bike when we lived in Turkey for the second time from the autumn of 1969 until late 1970. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m sure I did, because even as I write this that little red bicycle is prompting memories of another red bicycle—my father’s.

During that second tour at Karamursel Air Station, my dad bought a used direct drive bicycle, the kind with no gear shifting. The chain simply went from the pedal hub sprocket to the rear wheel sprocket. To stop while riding it, the rider stood on the pedals in the reverse direction exactly like BMX bikes still work today. When it was new that bike had been painted red, but when my dad brought it home you couldn’t tell where the rust started and the paint ended.

He took that clunker apart, sanded off all the rust, fixed its mechanical problems, and painted it a bright candy apple crimson. He had that thing in pretty good shape too—it looked brand new when he was done. That’s my dad—always has to have a “project” going, and fixing up that crappy bike and making it new was just one in a countless series of his undertakings over the decades.

One early afternoon, he didn’t see me, but I saw him on that shiny red bike of his. He was coming home during a break from where he worked in the “elephant cage,” which was a gigantic peculiar looking Cold War eavesdropping antenna that the American Air Force used to “listen in on” the Soviets.

I can see him now as he was then, wearing starched and creased olive drab fatigues with sharply contrasting bright white and blue master sergeant stripes on his short sleeves; a day-glo orange squadron cap is pushed down low over his eyes to keep it from blowing off as he rides.

I watched him from my vantage point on one of the deserted little league fields. I was hanging out in the 1st base dugout behind a chain link fence. It felt like I was spying on him, since he didn’t notice me watching him. It seems strange to think about, but at 42 he was eight years younger than I am now.

Riding that bike back and forth to work everyday must have gotten him into pretty good shape because he was really zooming along. I thought about calling out to him as he passed by only about 20 yards away, but I was enjoying seeing him like that, tooling along down the long straight road from his radio maintenance shop. I knew he was heading back towards base housing where we lived for a quick lunch break and I didn’t want to hold him up from that.

I was 12 years old, so that was 38 years ago, but I can still envisage his legs pumping like pistons. His head low over the handlebars, he stood on the pedals straining for speed. As he approached I could hear him breathing strong and rhythmically, almost panting. Boy oh boy, was he ever flying!

I had been lying lazily on the scarred wooden dugout bench having just ridden there on that little red boy's bike I described at the beginning of this post. It was leaned up against the chain link just a few feet away from where I had been idly reposing; but then, excited to see him so unexpectedly, I stood up, pressing my nose against the links of the fence for a better view of my “flying father.” I remember feeling a surge of love for him and being so proud that he was my dad.

Good memories those…

If you get the time, come back later for more “bicycle memories” in some future posts…

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18 Comments:

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous macmac said...

A great memory, and well written... Your mention of the "Elephant Cage" started this line of thought-- You know that white elephant "expo pilipino" on Clark? The one that Fidel Ramos and Doy Laurel supposedly had built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Philippine Independance, on Ramos' last term in office? Well, that colossal ripoff is nothing more than an FLR-7 "elephant cage" antenna built back in the '70s by the USAF, sporting a coat of paint and a few flags and gee-gaws and sold to the Pilipino people for a cool 4 billion pesos. Now it stands today, abandoned and forlorn-- a monument to misguided and corrupt leadership.

 
At 11:47 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks mac. Yeah, I knew about the elephant cage here on Clark, but I hadn't realized that the gov't had tried to fool everyone into thinking that they had built it. So someone profited by 4 billion pesos off it? I'd also heard that the expo was a bust. I think one of the problems with Clark and local environs is that among Filipinos this place has an "evil" reputation because of its association with "sin city." And truthfully, until the new mayor cleans this place up, both aesthetically and governmentally, that ugly rep is a valid one.

 
At 1:59 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

I had a yellow and black bike named Verge. I don't remember the reason for the name anymore but I'm sure I had a good one.

 
At 11:13 AM, Anonymous macmac said...

Phil, I think you are "spot on" with your analysis as to why investors and others are gun-shy when it comes to Angeles City, vis-a-vis their reputation. I know everytime i visit the States and tell someone where I live, I get that eye-rolling leer. Unfortunately, in my view, its worse now than when the base was open. Go down to fields any night of the week, see the same sights-- elderly losers from evey corner of the globe, drooling over the girls. And new bars/hotels going up like mushrooms. Sooner or later the bubble will burst; an investigative reporter will stumble upon this little 'secret' and suddenly the "human trafficing" aspect will come to fore. Im anything but a prude, but its easy to see that the new immigration laws in Thailand has opened the flood-gates for an undesirable class of "tourists" here in AC.

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I don't understand all the hotels going up. It doesn't make any sense. Is it a case of "if they build it, they will come?" And from what I can see there is no human trafficking here. Its simply a case of supply and demand. I've never met any girls forced to do anything, other than by their own circumstances. Most are here because they have limited options after their boyfriends or husbands abandoned them. Nope, the only people getting victimized out there are the tourists, usually by the cops.

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous macmac said...

I learned the other day from a bar-owner that one of the reasons for all the hotels is this: the angeles city council is close to approving a law which will allow hotels which cater to foreigners to have a casino on the premises. Cant vouch for the accuracy of that...doesnt seem reasonable, as that would compete with PAGCOR, which is the agency providing oversight to government sanctioned gambling facilities...

 
At 1:45 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

That's funny, as if these guys come here to gamble in casinos. The only gambling going on out there by the incoming foreigners is when they decide to forgo a condom! One of the bars decided to try to put in some kind of gambling machines in the bar. For the short time they were on, no one used them. Its a stupid idea, like trying to sell sand to Saudis.

 
At 5:55 PM, Blogger watson said...

Incidentally, my car was named Blackie!

Some of our old, black and white photos are those of my brother and sister on bikes. I have a photo beside a jeepney. During those times, toy cars were made of 100% metal. I didn't mind sitting on the cold seat and driving around in the early morning before my siblings woke up and wrested control of the vehicle.

Radio Flyers are quite popular in your country. At least, that's what I see in movies. Did you also own one?

 
At 8:23 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I might well have had a little red wagon, but its not prominent in my memory.

Unless you are a well-to-do Filipino living in a rich subdivision I think kid's wagons might be a bit dangerous here. I haven't seen any sidewalks here where people live.

Even bicycles here are a scary concept for my kids. Luckily I live at the end of a dead end in my subdivision so the traffic is scarce. Elsewhere, I don't know how children learn to ride their bikes without getting run over.

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Katana said...

I once read a story that my father wrote years ago. I always knew my father was a writer, and a great one to boot, but I never read anything of his until then. He doesn't know that I read it, but I think I felt the same way as you did watching your father fly on the bike... extremely proud.

 
At 3:54 AM, Blogger Amadeo said...

Well, what do you know?

Just had the extra time to clean and ride one of the bikes left in the house by my daughter's family.

After pumping air on both tires, hosing it down, cloth-drying it, a little grease on the chain and spokes, was ready to breeze around the subdivision. A good feeling of speed and breeze on one's face.

But wait, it has 18 speeds? Gee, what are the extra 17 gear speeds for? So studied the mechanism, shock-absorbing system, etc. And oh, it is made in China.

Anyway, will revisit you after more sessions with my new-found chore, riding the bike.

 
At 4:03 AM, Blogger Amadeo said...

A little more . . .

Can't even remember properly some parts of the vehicle that was our principal mode of transport growing up.

Grease the spokes? It should be sprockets, right? One attached to the pedal and the others, maybe a dozen?, with the rear wheel.

Why my ignorance? Because growing up bikes had no gear shifts. Thus, you made do with the one you had, whether for upgrades or downgrades.

And brakes on the handlebars? You only needed to reverse-pedal to stop it.

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Amadeo, Wikipedia is my go-to site of choice now for just about any information that I want to check up on. For instance, want to be "reminded" on all the parts of a bicycle, go here!

 
At 12:18 PM, Anonymous rogio said...

I am an avid cyclist too, but not mountain bike but road. I have many good memories of cycling, but the bad ones are not really memorable until my very last one when I had a seizure episode. Without the camcomder mounted on my bike, I would not have seen what happened. Memory? I did not remember anything about the episode even after watching the footage. Bicycle seizure on youtube. That`s me.

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Oh yeah, its on U-tube?

 
At 3:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phil, It's Joe in Tennessee. I was just curious if you are still writing much? At the top of your site it says last updated in July of '09 I believe. I went to some of your links and Katana's and the journal site were down. Would you mind giving me an update on those two people. I have read many of Katana's posts here and also the journal site says the owner has died. Thanks, Joe

 
At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, do you know Dave Starr, Rusty Ferguson, and Bob Martin. They are all expats from America that have blogs there while living in the Philippines. Just curious, Joe

 
At 7:49 AM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Don't go by the listing Joe. I haven't updated it in years. Best thing is to find the latest posts by clicking on the PhilippinesPhil primary site and then finding what you are looking for in the archives list. Nope, I don't know nor have I heard of any of those other bloggers... cheers!

 

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