Florida Boy's "Growing Up in 1970's Florida"

Thanks to Star Trek I've found a fellow blogger going by the name 'Florida Boy'. 'Florida Boy' appears to be very nearly the same age as me because he mentions that he was 12 in 1976. I was 12 in 1976 and that was one of the first years that I remember nearly in it's entirety.

The memories of childhood are important to everyone, for better or worse, and I've always felt that some of my memories were slipping away. I know for a fact that my father and grandfather both failed to remember things from their childhoods that seemed to me things one could never forget. I don't want that to happen to me. 'Florida Boy' is experiencing something similar and has begun his blog in an attempt to regain some of those missing pieces in order to pass them on to his future generations. His focus in his endeavor is admirable. In my case, I'll simply integrate such things here, for now.

Small portions of my own blog already serve a similar purpose. Particularly, my "Things I've Enjoyed Since Childhood" list which can be found in my sidebar. Thanks to 'Florida Boy' I can now expand my list based on reminders I found in his blog's first post.

I had a number of bikes when I was a kid, but the best ones both met with disaster. First, my brother and I got matching white Apollo Racer bicycles one year. I can't remember if it was for Christmas or birthdays, but it was probably birthdays because they occur 1 month apart, in spring, just in time for bicycle season!

The Apollo Racer was a unique machine in that it's frame was constructed of flattened tubes, giving it a very space-age look. What would normally have been a banana seat was a squared-off thing, tapered for comfort, covered in black vinyl with a white bead along it's edges and lines sewn across the seat, all down it's length, to give it a high-tech look. Also, the rear seat support (we always referred to them as sissy-bars back then, but I'm not sure where that came from) was a metal tube that was bent at 90 degrees twice, to fit the squared seat, instead of bent in a 180 degree semi-circle as most 'sissy-bars' were made. Single gear, pedal brake, and APOLLO RACER painted in black down the outside of both upper frame posts.

We lived on a dead-end street with a perpendicular cul-de-sac we called 'the circle'. 'The circle' was directly across from our driveway. One evening when we had been called home (my memory says it was for dinner, but the rest of the memory doesn't jibe with that) we jumped on our bikes and raced to see who could get home first. Being a dead-end street there was very little traffic and we all played in the street, a lot. I was in the lead and planned to race right down the driveway, but a VW bus was crossing at the same time. I was hit. It was entirely my own fault, and thankfully, the driver wasn't speeding on our 25 MPH dead-end street. He was probably going slower because he was on a slight, but lengthy, incline. My bike and I experienced asphalt the way neither were meant to and I went blank for... I don't know. 911 and cell phones didn't exist yet, so when something happened everyone ran to the scene to help instead of calling in the medics. I opened my eyes to find my mother and a crowd standing around so I must've been out for at least a minute. I got up, a bit dazed, considerably scraped, but with no permanent damage (of which we are yet aware), but the Apollo Racer didn't fair so well. The rear wheel and 'sissy-bar' had been seriously bent. For all intents and purposes, it was dead.

I don't recall being punished for my foolishness. Mom knew that she had taught us to learn from our mistakes. Besides, she was probably so thankful I wasn't seriously hurt that a grounding never crossed her mind. My punishment was to be the only kid without a bike for at least the remainder of that year. It was a very long year. I remember that my brother and some of the other kids would occasionally let me use their bikes if our play demanded it, which was rather frequent. I also remember picking up bikes and taking off down the street without the owners authorization. Keep in mind, picking up a bike like this wasn't theft, nor was it ever assumed by anyone to be so. If the chase was on you grabbed the nearest bike and rode! It was a short street and cul-de-sac, and everyone knew and watched out for everyone else... but the snatch-n-ride was usually pretty stressful for the owner of the bike at that moment, at least until the bike was returned, and they always were.

Believe me, the loss of my own bike was a terrible experience. I felt it deeply and would never inflict that loss on any other kid. That thought was somewhere in my mind every time I was using someone else's bike and I took care when using other people's bikes. And you can bet I never crossed a street without looking ever again.

These times were probably the closest memories I have to anything that Norman Rockwell ever painted. I don't have a solid reference for how old I was at this time, but I was probably 10 or 11 years old. Eventually, with the help of neighbors, my Apollo Racer was Frankensteined using spare parts from other kids' dead bikes. I now had a racing slick rear tire and a rounded sissy-bar which had to be forced to fit on the squared-off seat. Other Franken-bikes followed. We began experimenting with chopper-style forks by sawing forks off of old bikes and pounding them onto the ends of our forks as extensions. These things were hard to get used to, as far as steering was concerned, and, due to road conditions, would eventually vibrate loose, leading to very graceless wipe-outs.

As I'm sure most other kids did, we loved doing wheelies, brake skids, gravel spin-outs, and... (drum roll) ramp jumping! I mentioned earlier that our driveway was the best in the neighborhood. It was, bar none. Where the drive and the street met was the 'top' of the driveway because as you entered the drive it immediately began a downhill slope. I've never tried to determine the angle, but it's nearly 30 degrees from horizontal, and the slope alone is 4-5 cars long, depending on the cars. The driveway widens at the bottom and adds another 2 car lengths to the distance traveled before encountering flat open yard. We would build ramps at the bottom with cinder blocks and whatever wood was available then race down the driveway and see who could jump farthest, highest, etc. Sometimes we didn't even care about skilled landings, letting the bikes go in mid-air and trying to land on our feet for distance. Sometimes we used skateboards instead of bikes. Sometimes we used our Tonka Trucks or Kenner SSP Racers on the ramps rather than endanger ourselves and our bikes. Oh, the flat part of the driveway had a one car garage on the left, used for storing anything except the car, and an extra space on the right side for turning around. My dad had a black and white Nash Metropolitan for a while and it fit very nicely in that side space. As I mentioned before, 4-5 cars could fit on the slope of the driveway, while another six could fit in two rows of 3 each in the flat area at the bottom, plus the garage, plus the side space... at least twelve cars could fit in our driveway and garage! The importance of this large driveway will become apparent when I reminisce on my later teen years.

[This post was written months ago. I just found it hiding as a 'draft' in my blogger bin. I don't know why it didn't get posted then, but it's going up now with nary an edit. I added labels.]