Summertime, 15 years old. I would practice the piano a few hours in the mornings, then head out on my bicycle. I would ride out, some days, to a little town called Seminole, on the far north part of the bay about 8 or so miles away. Other days, I would go in the opposite direction, all the way out to the beach, which was 14 miles away.
At that age, I was largely fueled by my unpopularity, so I could ride quite a ways.
Just riding was my main purpose in riding, but occasionally I would ride by the house of a girl I liked, imagining various scenarios that never happened. I don’t believe I ever actually approached these houses, except once, and that went, not as I imagined it, but as you no doubt can imagine it now:
Me: Hi. Is Pam home?
Mom: Yes. [Over her shoulder] Pam!? Somebody at the door!
Pam: [Running up breathlessly looking excited, then crestfallen] Oh. Um, hi.
Me: I was, uh… just riding by, and I thought I would, um… say hi.
Me: Okay, well, enjoy your summer.
Pam: [Rolling her eyes] Yeah. You, too. [Door closes]
If I live to be a hundred, that will still be the prototype for a lifetime of interactions with women. Girls like boys, just… not me.
When I would ride out the Seminole route, I would get to where there were farms: my best friend’s grandfather had one out that way. I didn’t actually visit the place until a year or so later, when he was old enough to drive us out there.
For those of you who’ve never lived where there are dirt roads, they are interesting to navigate on a bicycle. I had the sort of standard issue 1970’s bicycle: it wasn’t a dirt bike or a ten-speed or anything fancy, just a bicycle large enough to hold someone my age, although I was skinny as a rail… I think I weighed less than 115 pounds, and that was possibly from so much bicycle riding.
We did not wear helmets or elbow or knee pads when we rode, back in those days, and I had a few memorable falls, most commonly, from getting a pant leg caught in the gears. However, in the summer, wearing shorts, that was not a thing, so falls then were rare. I remember having turned down a dirt road that summer, passed a group of mailboxes, and starting to skid on a little hill on the road. Rather than fall, I just sort of put my feet down and slowed enough to walk the bike upright. As I slowed to a stop to look back and see if I had hit anything, I heard a voice from the yard nearby:
Girl: You okay?
Me: Yeah, just, not used to this type of road I guess.
Girl: It’s Owen, right?
Me: Yeah, oh, hi! You’re James’ sister, right? Ann?
Girl: That’s right. What are doing out this way? No one comes out here!
Me: I’m just riding. And not very well.
We looked at each other in silence for a bit.
Ann: Well, I’d ask you inside, but my parents would kill me.
Me: Yeah, and I need to get back home. Besides, I’ve quite a bit of mud on me.
I rode back home, took a shower, and sat down to do my afternoon piano practicing. My dad made pizza that night, which was my favorite meal we had at home. I remember reading some book or other for a while, then going bed. And as I lay in bed, something in my head suddenly clunked into place:
Well, I’d ask you inside, but my parents would kill me.
Wait a minute, what? She would… what? What had just happened? What was she saying?
My imagination went into overdrive.
It rained the next day. The day after that, I rode my happy self back out to Seminole. Turned down that dirt road. Marched up to that door. Knocked.
James answered, with the sound of two dogs barking right behind him.
James: Hey, Owen. Ann mentioned you came by.
Owen: Yeah. Now that I know where you live, I thought I’d say hi. Are your parents here?
James: No, they took Ann up to my Aunt and Uncle’s for the summer. That’s why the dogs are in the house with me. They are normally in the back, but, I’m supposed to keep them here with me until they get back.
Owen: How long will Ann be there?
James: Until school starts.
I told him I didn’t want to make him have to hold the attack dogs back, and turned to leave.
James: Do you play D&D? A bunch of us are playing at Ken’s this Friday. He lives near you, if you want to come, be there at 6:00.
Me: Thanks. That sounds like fun, so long as you don’t mind having a rookie. I’ve never played.
About halfway back home, it started to rain, and when it rains in Florida, in RAINS. I came in the house dripping wet, using one of the towels we kept near the front door to kind of towel off and/or stand on before heading to the shower.
Me: Dad, do you mind if I go over to Ken’s Friday? Some friends are meeting to play games.
Dad: That’s fine with me if it’s okay with your Mother.
Mother [from the other room]: And it’s fine with me. What time will you be home?
Me: I don’t know. Midnight? 1:00?
To move, to ride, to wander free —
To be just where you want to be –
No work, no stress, no crowd, no school:
The one good part of being so