I’m going to share a short story I did for The Moth @ Tour De Fat. I will follow this with more details on that event, since it was, fucking awesome. Like Mardi Gras for cyclist and beer, totally amazing. All the stories for this festival (hosted by New Belgium Brewing) had to have a bike at their core. Hopefully you like it:)
When I was young, the ultimate punishment in my life was having my bike taken away. I was a foster kid, and lived in many different homes over the years but each family learned pretty quickly that my bike was the key to some measure of good behavior.
By age 14, I ended up in The McGregor Baptist Childrens Home in Ft Myers Florida. The Childrens Home held the homey charm of any incorporated institution that worried its inmates might rebel and attack at any time. Everything was graded on a point system. when I say everything, I mean it. Shower time, drawer organization, vocal tone, helpfulness, bible study readiness, anything you can think of was on that list of assessment. Then those points or deductions (perhaps you can guess which was more relevant for me?) were applied to THE BOARD, a giant whiteboard in the center of the house. Levels were denoted by precious metals, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Copper. Whatever your current metal was, represented your freedom level. Staying in your room, chore responsibility, going outside, all of it was something to be graded on. Most importantly the bikes were a high privilege. The Home had a huge rack of bikes outside, donated through the generosity of our holy sponsors of course, and they taunted me. Only Gold and Platinum level were allowed you to use them and even that was confined to the car park and the cul de sac that the Home resided at the end of, but they soon became a desperate symbol of freedom for me.
I came into the house in late November and I thought; yes! Just in time to have yet another awkward holiday dinner with strangers filled with horrible food and worse conversations. But this time it was different because there was another kid that came in at the same time as I did, his name was Tom. He had a horrible attitude problem, was highly combative and was possibly more snarky than I was and I LOVED it. I found a kindred spirit and some company for the copper and Bronze realm of our world. When we were allowed out we would lie on the merry go round in the yard, watching the sky spin and making big plans for when we were out. Inside life at the home felt like a slow suffocation with all of the restrictions, it felt as if each of those points, taken or given were pieces of ourselves being stolen away. We needed something, so we began to hatch other, more immediate and achievable plans. We got a notebook to keep our conversations private and that notebook became the path to our salvation. Within those lined pages, secret, furtive conversations began to be hashed out with bullet points and diagrams,.
There was a constant ratio of children to adults required at the Home, including at night. Counselors would do regular rounds through the girls and boys wings, checking each room. Timetables were drawn and filled in. A date was chosen and soon we were ready.
Night fell. Doc martens were donned. I stuffed pillows and clothes under the blankets and laid down on the floor to wait. Soon enough I heard the footsteps coming toward my room, I tried not to breath.. The door was quietly opened and a flashlight’s’ beam began its sweep. After it seemed to pause on my bed much too long, it retreated and the door closed as quietly as it opened and the soft knock on my window almost made me pee. I helped wrench up the window from the inside as Thom worked from the outside. We had spent a week on good behavior to get outside privileges, so we could sabotage the locks that were on the outside of our windows and I had taken olive oil on paper towels from the kitchen to grease the frame so no telltale squeak could give up the game, all of which finally paid off as it finally went up smoothly. I shimmied out. We inched away from the house and its watching windows, in a silly crouched (stealthy!) crab walk towards our goal. The bike rack. We set our watches for two hours. He chose a mountain bike with aggressive looking tires and pegs on the back. I chose a bike that looked like it was from a different era, it was pink with a banana seat, wide handlebars, and a basket, it was only missing streamers.
We walked those beautiful bikes up to the main road. Florida is really flat, there are no hills to speak of and that flat wide expanse at the edge of town stretched before us like the beckoning hand of God, just asking us to conquer it. We sat on the seats and pushed off and began our ride, singing, laughing and congratulating ourselves on our brilliant escape. We had done it, we were so awesome! We tested our skills at riding with no hands, mocking each other and exploring the world in the hush of deep night, when everything seems a little more special and intimate. It felt as if everyone had decided to give us this moment. There were no people and almost no cars. We took Colonial Blvd down towards the town center and turned left onto Summerlin. It felt like the laughter I couldn’t stop was the first real thing to come out of me in years. I hooted at Thom and we both almost took dives when I flashed him from my banana seat perch. In our efforts to avoid a patrol car we found ourselves in a massive cemetery with wide paths over acres of resting space. We explored crypts and gravestones and made up stories about their lives. No one was watching, evaluating or grading us, we claimed freedom that I knew the Home would never believe we earned, and I realized that what we took was better than anything they were willing to give. It didn’t matter if we were Gold or silver, it was just the two of us out in the world and that was enough.
We would repeat this adventure, every night that we could, and we became our own little biker gang of two.For two hours and 7 miles we took back pieces of ourselves. We found some place to be joyful, those rides were a way to stay sane, a joint meditation of sorts.
I am still friends with that boy that has become a man and he is still my brother in arms. Some of those dreams came true and some never did; but that feeling of riding through the night, laughing, arms outstretched, possibilities ahead, I still dream of that.