The Rotten Kid, the son one, dug out his motorcycle the other day. All excited about spring and the fact that you could finally see the pavement and it was (occasionally) above zero on the Centigrade scale, all of which meant he could actually ride his motorcycle again after having covered it up and put it away for a long winter’s rest — last fall, which was, what, about 14 or 15 months ago?
This got me to reminiscing as I sometimes (often — OK, always) do about the way-back days and the coming of spring and the ceremonial dig-out of various telltale modes of transportation signaled by that epic change of seasons.
The earliest of these, and perhaps the most cherished and classic vehicle of all, was The Jeep.
We used to park it in the old lean-to garage in Parkvale at the first sign of snow in the fall and it was the first thing I looked forward to when spring arrived.
Dad would carry The Jeep to the front sidewalk, set it down and I would climb in and take off like there was no tomorrow.
Now Dad was a lot of good things but he wasn’t Superman.
The Jeep was a pedal car, about the size of a kid’s wagon, and I was six years old. It was a little replica of a real army Jeep, light green and made entirely of metal, and instead of bicycle-type pedals it had pedals that you pushed back and forth, which I did with furious and wild abandon. Rattling up and down 45th street as fast as those little push pedals would take me on my neighbourhood inspection rounds.
Turning into the houses that had decent sidewalks, whipping a U-ey and roaring off to the next house.
I racked up countless miles (a million km) in that thing every spring, summer and fall until even I finally had to admit I was just too big for it.
I believe I might have been in high school when that happened, me being a seriously undersized shrimp in those days, not to mention the fact I really loved that Jeep and didn’t want to give it up.
After The Jeep, as the years melted away like the April snow, springtime brought out a series of seriously iconic transportation machines common to just about everybody, then and now: bicycles.
Even before the “bi” it was the “tri” — and I’m not talking about the sexual revolution, I’m still talking cycles. As in tricycles.
My pride and joy wasn’t even mine, it was my Rotten Sister’s — her being so much older than me, she was basically already pretty much married and elderly by the time I was old enough to ride a trike (just kidding Hedy, ha-ha). It was a huge three-wheeler with a fancy fender on the front wheel, a sheepskin-covered seat, and two oval footrests for someone to hitch a ride on the back axle between the two small wheels. That thing booted it so well I didn’t even mind it was a girl’s tricycle, a fact that you couldn’t really tell by looking at it, and information I certainly never shared with other childhood sidewalk cyclists.
Then came the two-wheelers. No fenders, no chain guard, no gears, no problem! My reprobate buddies and I would pedal our little, um, legs off, only now we were suddenly slipping the surly bonds of sidewalk to rattle off onto the streets and through the springtime puddles — those neighbourhood road-lakes — sending muddy waters off the rear tire streaking up the backs of our little leather fringe jackets leaving telltale swaths of sludge.
The front tires spitting spring up past our black and red rubber boots and throwing mire and muck all over those new khaki pants Mom had got for us at Eaton’s or Kreske’s because it was spring.
And then, as the springtimes flew by like the pages on a calendar in an old movie, it was, like it is for my Rotten Kid, all about motorbikes. Even as the first robin’s chirp began to lay down a background soundtrack to the season, rumbling roars would emerge in neighbourhoods all over the city, popping up like gophers in the empty fields just east of Michener Centre.
Young teenagers rolling their Hondas out to the driveways, turning the keys, giving the kickstarts a hopeful mighty boot, cranking on handlebar throttles.
And if the ensuing cacophony of 50s and 90s and 150s and 300s hitting the streets serendipitously and simultaneously wasn’t a sure sign of spring, it was a sign that we sure wanted it to be. Freedom in the wind and bugs in our teeth.
Then, of course, came that four-wheeled, four-door, three-on–the-tree rite of passage know as Your Parents’ Car. Or more to the point, a driver’s licence — so that one fateful unforgettable spring you find yourself flying solo in a 1958 Ford, the window down, elbow jauntily poking out just so, rumbling by your girlfriend’s house even though she didn’t really know that she was your girlfriend, but hoping she might just happen to be looking out her window at that exact moment, and then picking up your seven best friends — Seat belts? What seat belts? — and heading to the A&W up on the hill so you could order root beers that came in mugs so cold and thick and heavy they almost broke the window when the girl came out and hung the tray on the driver’s side.
And now it’s just lineups at the car wash, running out of windshield washer fluid, and trying to figure out when on earth to swap out your winter tires.
Still, when I was out for a walk the other day — the first spring in nearly 30 years without a family dog tugging on a leash — a distant melancholy wafted through the air, and in my mind’s ear and eye I could clearly hear the rattling of that old tin Army Jeep and I could clearly see a kid with a grin as big an Alberta sky, pedaling like there was no tomorrow. Pedaling like it was yesterday.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.