SHORT STORIES

BICYCLE RAMP

 

My youthful pastimes consisted of things that caused my mother worry. She had good reason. I was usually in a state of bodily repair, or making preparations for an event that would send me to the emergency room, or at least to the medicine cabinet. Often it was a bike stunt that made me bleed, limp, or cry.

One day my buddy, Shawn and I, decided to build the best bicycle ramp the neighborhood had ever seen.  We knew that it would take some time, so we planned ahead and put the word out to the neighborhood kids that we would be building a cool ramp on the up-coming Saturday. In this event, we didn’t have to build it to get them to come. We just had to tell them.

Saturday came and we began, uncharacteristically, early in the morning. There was much to be done. First we had to steal the wood from a very mean man whose back yard was full of miscellaneous scraps of rotting lumber, which was conveniently adjacent to the woods where we could establish a supply line and go undetected. We were small, twelve year-old kids, without large muscles, or a wheelbarrow, so we had to carry it piece by piece. We looked like a line of ants carrying away the lumber and plywood into the woods, and out to Shawn’s house. Once we had gathered enough supplies to build the ramp, we assembled into something of a production line. Some kids were charged with pulling the nails out of the wood, some with cutting the lumber with handsaws. Andrew, a much younger boy, was too small to do anything except straighten the nails we had pulled out of the scrap lumber. Shawn and I were in charge of the design. We wanted it to be a very strong ramp, with no bowing in the middle, and we wanted it to last. We accomplished this by using every piece of wood and every nail we could get our hands on.

When spent all of the morning and the majority of the afternoon building this beauty of a ramp. One of the most amazing things about the construction of this ramp was that it was something that could bring all the neighborhood kids together. You see, there were ever-evolving groups of kids who would hang out with one-another. For example, maybe William had recently fought Michael, or maybe Shawn had recently called Kip retarded (an undeniable truth), or, more likely my cousin Sammy and I had fought. Those events divided our allegiances. But this was truly a multi-partisan effort; everyone came together for the common good. But the common good turned out to be something uncommonly dangerous.

When we had finished, I stepped back for a good look at what we had created. I don’t know if it was because we didn’t have enough lumber, or that Shawn and I were terrible engineers, or both, but it was more like a ticket to the afterlife than a ramp. We hadn’t taken into account the idea of rise over run. We got the “rise” part right, but our “ramp” rose two feet over a run of two feet, essentially replicating the angle of the Great Pyramids. Jets don’t take off at that angle. That wasn’t a big deal as far as I was concerned. We just needed more traction. After all, the last thing you want when riding up that ramp is for your tires to slip. We procured some asphalt shingles and nailed them to the surface which provided good grip. With it all said and done, however, gaining more speed on the ramp would prove to be the last thing anyone wanted.

We dragged the ramp out of Shawn’s driveway and into the street. We assumed that his driveway was not even close to long enough for gaining the proper speed to launch. Shawn’s street turned out to be too busy, so we took the ramp over to Sammy’s street. The problem was that this ramp was small, but weighed about as much as it’s apparent inspiration – an Egyptian pyramid. Sammy had a three-wheel granny bike that he towed a boat with.

-Short aside-

Sammy had prosthetic legs due to a birth defect. One or both would often be taken from him during a fight. We never asked him why he had a granny bike but I think the reason was obvious: he had a boat and a trailer to pull it with, and three wheels made that easier. A twelve-foot fiberglass boat being towed by an overweight twelve year-old amputee on a granny bike must have been one of the strangest things the adults of the neighborhood had ever seen. To us it not only made sense; it was awesome.

With a Hurculean effort, we loaded this ramp on his boat trailer. Once we got it to his house we set it up right in the middle of his road. And then began the debate of who should go first. Michael wouldn’t do it. He always erred on the side of caution. In the language of twelve year olds he was a chicken. But he wasn’t the only one that day. We all were. Evel Kneivel would have been too chicken to jump that ramp. We stood with our bikes and discussed who should jump first, which amounted to dares, and double dog dares, which, when proved ineffective, turned into calling each other pussies. Several times someone would accept the challenge and speed toward the ramp only to hit the breaks and leave a long trail of black rubber that stopped right at the edge of the ramp.

Eventually we came to the conclusion that we needed someone a little older, stronger, faster, better than us to be the test pilot. And that’s exactly what we needed: a pilot, because whoever jumped that ramp would fly, for sure. Our thoughts were drawn to Michael Weaver. Michael Weaver was older and stronger than us. He had that strength that is associated with the mentally handicapped.  It’s called retard strength. Michael Weaver had retard strength because he was, in fact, kind of retarded. He had one two other traits that were required to muster the bravery to jump this ramp: a lethally positive attitude, and general trust in mankind. He could be talked into anything. Michael Weaver always smiled. Always. My brother called it the “perma-grin.”

We knocked on his door and asked him if he wanted to jump our ramp. He was excited that we asked him to jump our ramp because he had just bought a used bike from the flea market. Michael Weaver was proud of his new bike. He painted it black with spray paint. He was excited until he saw the ramp. It was enough for even him to think twice. But with a gang of kids telling him that he could do it because he was so much stronger, and that he should be honored that we were giving him the first jump, he couldn’t resist.

Finally, we had our man. Michael Weaver rode down the road to his starting point, which was about one hundred yards away. We discussed whether that would be enough room for him to reach the proper speed (escape velocity) required to jump the ramp. It was. It certainly, certainly was. Michael Weaver shot like a lightning bolt toward the ramp, head down, feet furiously pumping his pedals. We watched him. Wow, was Michael Weaver fast! We stood to the side of the ramp to watch him launch.

Just before his front tire hit the ramp, Michael Weaver looked up, and I saw that he had no look of worry on his face. He was smiling. I had never seen such an output of raw physical strength accompanied by a joyous smile. Michael Weaver smiled as he hit the ramp with a loud “whump.” It sounded like he had hit a wall rather than a ramp. Ramps are intended to propel the rider up and forward. This ramp fulfilled only one of those intentions, but it fulfilled it well. Michael Weaver made a rapturous (vertical) ascent to eight feet in the air. His momentum did not carry him forward. Only up. As the saying goes, things that go up must come down, but it doesn’t say “softly.” Michael Weaver returned to the pavement in the most direct route -straight down. He, still smiling, slammed onto the road, miraculously, landing on both tires. The sound was strange: a combination of popping tires, a thump, a grunt, snapping metals and scraping blacktop. WHACK POP CLANG UUUGGGHHH went Michael Weaver and his new bicycle. He hit the ground so hard that his tires popped, his chain came off, and the frame literally broke in half at the seat post. Michael Weaver lay on the ground, grunting in pain, rolling left and right, with furrowed brows … but still smiling between gasps for air. The “touchdown,” knocked the breath out of him, but Michael Weaver still smiled. Kip evacuated the area with haste, as he normally did when someone got hurt. Maybe he thought he would get talked into jumping it next.

After regaining respiratory function, Michael Weaver stood up and looked at his bicycle that lay in two distinct halves. With the handle bar portion in one hand, and the seat portion in the other, Michael Weaver limped home, visibly upset, but still smiling.

Thank God we got Michael Weaver to jump the ramp first. No one else would have been able to withstand that kind of an impact. We very well could have died. No one ever jumped that ramp again. We dragged it into Sammy’s yard and left it there. And there it probably still remains, brazenly challenging nature to destroy it, and the neighborhood kids to jump it.

 

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