Every now and then, a kid needs a break from “messing around” during summer vacations.
Baseball in the schoolyard in the mornings, tag football on the street in the afternoons and running around the school playing “blackie,” a version of hide-and-go-seek, in the evenings can get a bit stale after a month or two.
All those involved running, so one way to avoid wearing holes in the bottom of our Keds canvas sneakers before summer vacation ended was to find other transportation.
(Once you wore holes in the soles of your sneakers, you could only wear them when you went wading in a creek trying to catch minnows or tadpoles.)
Some of the primary means of alternate transportation involved things that today’s kids probably never heard of.
One was metal roller skates. For some reason, these were more associated with girls, but guys sometimes tightened them up with a skate key and went rolling along. Not this guy though.
I was clumsy enough to cause my mother to buy industrial-size boxes of plastic bandages and jugs of mercurochrome just to keep me patched up. The last thing I needed was to strap on a pair of metal roller skates and go hurtling off a curb or into the fender of a parked car.
If roller skates were out, a pogo stick was way, way out. Some of the guys made it look so easy. Just hold onto the handles, step onto the foot pads and go bouncing your way up and down the sidewalk.
I tried a pogo stick once. I followed the aforementioned steps and, after I took my first bounce on the alleged toy, I wound up bouncing (without the pogo stick) down the sidewalk and landing in front of the neighbor’s house.
We had a somewhat rusty Radio Flyer wagon parked under the back porch. On one particularly boring day, I got a particularly bad idea — why not try riding the wagon down a nearby hill?
I’ll tell you why not. That black handle on the front of the red wagon is designed for pulling pint-sized passengers for rides. My brothers and I were too big for that and our little sister wasn’t big enough, so that’s why the wagon sat rusting under the porch.
The problem is that when the handle is pulled back, it looks like you can steer the wagon with it. It looks like you can.
I didn’t realize the italicized, boldfaced “looks” was the right one until I pulled the wagon to the top of a steep hill around the corner.
I got in the wagon, grabbed the handle, smiled the smile of the clueless and gave a big thumbs-up to my brothers and friends, and headed down the hill.
As my speed increased, my confidence in decision-making decreased. Not only could I not steer the darn wagon, I realized that it didn’t have any brakes.
By the time I shot past the group of neighborhood kids — who were diving for cover at that point — I realized that my best chance of stopping the wagon somewhere within the town limits was to drag my feet.
It might take a month’s worth of wear off the sneakers, but I had no choice.
Even that strategy didn’t work. If the wagon had ran into a utility pole, I might have gotten hurt. As an added bonus, the impact knocked all the rust off the Radio Flyer.
A couple weeks later, Dad came home from an auction with something guaranteed to raise our emergency room bills — a unicycle.
This time I exercised some rare common sense and passed up the opportunity of trying to ride it. What kind of chance did I have on one wheel when I was the only kid on the block who needed training wheels to learn how to ride his tricycle?