Tuesday, June 8

Biking History

This is only partially about a bike I once rode. But the bike is kinda central to the story from my perspective. You'll see why soon enough.

The summer of 1988 I worked in hay with my good friend Shane Lightle. We worked for farmers that lived near my house in rural Warren County, Ohio. We made pretty good money, but the work was hard for a scrawny guy like me. Shane on the other hand had a distinct advantage over most other kids our age. I always pictured us to be the River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton characters from Stand By Me, though we were really more like Wil Wheaton (Me) and Bull Shannon from Night Court (Shane).

I had a red Mongoose BMX. It was my baby. I had gotten it for a recent birthday and when I wasn't in school I could most likely be found on the seat of that bike cruising hither and thither.

One particular day I met Shane at a farm to work. His mom dropped him off and I rode my Mongoose the two miles to the farm. The plan was that Shane would walk home with me and either spend the night or my mom would take him home.

We had been fortunate in most of our jobs to work with other local kids our age or just the two of us. The farm we went to that day was a first for both of us, but the farmers in the area all knew each other and just kinda referred us on to the next guy that needed work. When we showed up there was a significantly bigger crew than we normally worked with. I believe there were about 6-7 guys total and the farmer.

Three of the guys were in their 20s and looked rough before we went to work. They were a little gang, less than average intelligence, but big on talk and throwing their weight around. One guy was bulky, one scrawny and the third average. The scrawny guy was all mouth, and he and Shane hit it off righteously, trading barbs that quickly turned icy. Little Man had a chip and Shane didn't back down. At first the other two laughed along with everyone else at Shane's verbal jabs.

Things really got bad when we were putting a load of hay up in the barn loft. Shane and I were in the loft and the Bulky Guy and Little Man were feeding the conveyor from the wagon. A sudden cloud burst dropped some cold hard rain on the guys outside and they started shoving the bales of hay onto the conveyor with no space between and Shane and I were quickly overwhelmed with heavy, wet hay. Shane reacted by kicking the conveyor off the edge of the loft dropping quite a few bales onto the barn floor and stopping the whole operation.

The whole redneck gang took offense to Shane's act and I was guilty by association. By the time the farmer (who had been absent during the rain) was writing our checks there were some really sore rednecks that were ready to pound a couple of teenagers.

Being friends with Shane was very comforting when we were around our own generation. He towered over everyone else and was a wrestler to boot. I never feared the torments of my peers, because they were his peers too. But the gang of three were dangerous. They had claimed they were leaving for Kentucky that night (apparently to do some more glamorous farm work) and had become increasingly hostile toward us as the day waned.

The work was finished and we all parted ways. Shane and I on foot with me pushing my bike and the three rednecks in their pickup. Our ritual was to take our checks to a gas station another mile down the road and cash them. We'd usually buy pop and a candy bar for the walk/ride home. This evening was no different. We walked down the road as the day cooled toward the store which was the opposite direction from my house.

The rednecks drove past a couple of times yelling obscenities out the window. As best I can remember we ignored them but its possible that one of us may have gestured at them in happy response.

We reached the refuge of the store before they could make another pass. I leaned the Mongoose up against the side of the building as usual and we went inside. As we were collecting our cash and preparing to walk back outside we heard a terrible ruckus (can you describe the ruckus?) outside. Tires squealed, voices were raised and we told the cashier about the Redneck Gang. She urged us to stay inside the store until they were gone, and after a few minutes they sped off south and we exited the store in the echoing silence.

My bike was mangled. They had dragged it away from the store, ran over it and replaced it against the wall. We went back inside and told the cashier and she let me call my parents.

That was the end of the Mongoose. There was no fixing it. Some nice acquaintance gave me an old ten speed that I rode until we moved back to Kentucky. It just wasn't the same…

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