Thursday, August 23, 2018

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - 1965

This is the story of a summer adventure I had at the age of 10 and a half years old.  It has nothing to do with rowboats.  I was on the roof of 1310 Avenue R., in Brooklyn, New York, where my family lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor.

It was not unusual to go up and sit on the roof; or “tar beach”, as it was known back then; to get some sun without going actually going to the beach, which was less than 1 mile from our apartment. But there was something about the roof that drew me. Maybe it was the privacy, or the smell of the roof itself, with its tar seams emanating that special odor familiar to all who have lived in large apartment buildings.

The radio reception, 7 stories above ground, was excellent; as was the view. You could look North and see the skyline of Manhattan, or Southwest to see Coney Island. It was a fantastic place to be young on a hot summer day; and with the music from my 6 transistor radio; life was complete. And, that’s when I noticed the planes.

We lived about  20 miles from JFK airport in Queens. As I lay there I noticed; seemingly for the first time; that all the planes were headed towards one place to the Southeast of us. And that place was JFK. This caused my 10 and a half year old brain light up like one of those idea bulbs in the cartoons! So, with the Beatles singing "Ticket To Ride" playing on my radio, I knew what my mission was. I would ride my bicycle to the airport.

My bicycle, at that time, was an old single speed, foot braked Huffy with balloon tires. Not the best conveyance for the journey I was about to undertake;  but as the sailor said, “Any port in a storm.” And so, with that bit of reasoning in my head I gathered up my things, radio included, and headed down to the first floor where my bicycle was stored in what was called the “carriage room.” The carriage room was a place where the building’s residents stored their baby buggies, bicycles, and just about anything else that you didn’t want to lug up and down to your apartment.

Unchaining my bicycle I wheeled it out into the bright sunlit day, hopped aboard, and pedaled South down East 14th Street towards Sheepshead Bay. From there I knew that I could access the Belt Parkway and head towards the airport. When I got to the Parkway I realized, seemingly for the first time, that I would have to ride on the thin shoulder of the Parkway to accomplish my goal. It seemed a bit risky, with cars flying past me at 60 miles an hour; several even honked; but I was determined.

More than that; I was committed; as only a10 and a half year old can be, to ride that bike to the airport. It would be a major component of my summer vacation. This would be the subject for the ubiquitous “What I Did with My Summer” composition required of all students each year when school resumed in September. In short;  I was on a mission.

Getting to the Parkway was easy enough; I knew the streets of my neighborhood like the back of my hand. It was only when I had ridden a few miles on the Parkway that I began to realize the journey which lay ahead  of me was not going to be as easy as I thought. There were actually parts of the road which had no shoulder at all;  and I found myself dangerously squeezed between the high speed traffic and a chain link fence! At other points I was forced to ride my bike in the grassy, and also sandy, strips which ran alongside of the highway. This was hard going on a bicycle with balloon tires and no gears. But I pushed on.

By the time I got to Plum Beach; where my family used to go for cookouts in the summer; I knew I was going to make it. And, within about 45 more minutes I was there! The planes were coming in low and loud as I arrived. The noise was deafening, but my pulse was pounding with excitement at what I had accomplished. In my mind, not even Marco Polo had ever faced the challenges which I had overcome on my journey, and I wanted to share that joy.

So, I called home, using the  dime which my parents always insisted my brother and I carry in case of emergency. It was taped to the back of one of my Dad’s business cards and only to be removed for that one important phone call; presumably to be made only if I had been kidnapped or killed.

But this was big; and I mean big! I had traveled almost 20 miles on a balloon tired, one speed Huffy, with only a transistor radio for company, and no money, except for that dime. I could have bought a soda, or a candy bar. But I didn’t. I called home to share my accomplishment with my folks. As they were both home, I assume this was on a weekend.

I dialed our home number with the greatest of expectations. Surely my journey would be lauded as the greatest achievement since Columbus had discovered America. My Mom answered the phone, and unable to contain myself I blurted out, “Guess where I am?” Mom didn’t want to play this game, instead insisting that I tell her where I was,  and what all that noise was. I told her, with great pride, that I was at the airport, and moreover, that I had made the journey by bicycle on the Belt Parkway.

I think she shrieked. At any rate, the next voice I heard was that of my father. He was furious with me, taking me to task for going further than I was allowed to go on my bicycle. He then proceeded to dress me down as being the most stupid human being alive for taking such a dangerous journey, fraught, as it was with peril. It was "a miracle that I had not been killed" making the journey.

I was then instructed to "get back on my bicycle and come home immediately." And to make matters worse, I now owed my parents the dime, which I had misused by calling them for a non-emergency. That dime would be taken out of my next week's allowance and replaced. It was years before I realized the idiocy of their reaction.  But, I’m still real proud of that bike ride.

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