Old Times, Good Times

A mini-bike similar to the one Jim delivered his papers with.

After reading a story I wrote (It’s Time), a reader responded with a story of his own. My story dealt with a ride I was planning with my long time riding buddy, Bob. The reader, Dave, thanked me for the story and proceeded to write about how he had lost his riding buddy, Kent. They were on a trip in Washington State and Kent was in a fatal accident. Dave’s heartfelt story about his friend got me thinking about the people I’ve known over the years, whose company I’ve enjoyed both on and off motorcycles.

I realized how lucky I’ve been. I’ve lost some relatives, but few that were really close. People I have worked with over the years have passed away, but those were work relationships, not the loss of a close friend as Dave had experienced. Delving deeper into my somewhat blurry memory I recalled having lost a special friend many years ago.

Back in the early ‘70s I had a paper route. Two paper routes, to be exact. The Columbus Citizen Journal was the early morning paper, and the Columbus Dispatch was the afternoon paper. I would rise at four every morning except Sunday and deliver the forty papers that encompassed my morning route. The forty customers on my evening route were delivered after school, except on Sundays when they had to be delivered by eight A.M. I saved my money and my first major purchase was a red mini-bike. Three and one-half horses supplied by a pull-start Tecumseh engine. The motor was black and so was the flat seat, it had no front brake or headlight, but it was a thing of great beauty to an eleven year old. I traveled every road in our housing development those first several weeks of ownership. I’d hurry through my early morning paper route, and ride the mini-bike around the neighborhood until I had to leave for school. After school I would fill my shoulder bag with the evening papers and hop on the bike and deliver those forty or so papers. I was in a state of constant euphoria.

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One Sunday morning after my papers were delivered, I was buzzing around the neighborhood on my trusty steed. With the wind in my face, I felt like Captain America, without a Billy. I was as free as any kid could be. Then I saw another mini-bike sitting in a driveway just up ahead. The closer I got the more envious I became; the bike was bright blue, with high rise handlebars, and a headlight. My trusty steed was starting to feel more like a toy and less like a chopper. Just as I got to the driveway a kid I recognized from school came out of the house and waved. I stopped and after we checked out each other’s rides he asked if I wanted to go for a spin around the neighborhood with him. His name was Kerry, and we were in the same grade. Kerry was a head taller than me and outweighed me by fifty pounds, which is the only reason his mini-bike, powered by four-horse Briggs and Stratton engine, couldn’t outrun mine.

It seemed like we spent every waking hour that summer with each other on those little mini-bikes. After my papers were delivered, we would meet at his house and ride all day and into the night. I stole four Camel cigarettes from my Dad and shared them with Kerry. We would ride to the edge of the housing development and follow tractor paths along the edge of Big Walnut Creek. We shared secrets and talked about things that we had never told anyone else. Dreams and desires were discussed and dissected. I think Kerry taught me how to curse, or at the least he brought it to a new level.

Summer ended and Kerry developed rheumatic heart fever. He stopped going to school and had a tutor come to his home every day. We still saw each other every now and then, but he stopped riding his mini-bike. I saw it leaning against his garage. As it sat out in the weather, I cringed as it rusted away. The next summer I gave my younger brother my mini-bike and bought a real motorcycle. I think it was a 70cc on-/off-road bike, but I don’t remember much about it.

My interest in motorcycles never faded. I discovered girls and music, but kept my love of bikes alive through it all. Many summers later I was talking to a friend from high school and he asked if I remembered Kerry.

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“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “Why?”

“He’s dead. Shot himself.”

The story goes that Kerry had gotten married and started using drugs. His wife left him, and in a bout of despair, he took his own life. I hadn’t talked to or thought about Kerry for 15 or 20 years, so I wasn’t sure how I felt about the news. Not until I read Dave’s response to my story.

I guess what it comes down to is that Kerry is one of the reasons that I am who I am to this day. Sociologists say that the things we experience and that happen around us influence who we are. I never had a chance to say thanks to Kerry, but I appreciate the influence he had on me every time I ride, especially with a good friend. Perhaps Dave’s friend and my old buddy Kerry are putting around on some cool bikes somewhere else today. I hope so, and I hope they’re having a good time.

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