Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ride David Ride

My friend Dominic wrote about riding his bicycle across town in his blog last week. It reminded me of a very strange time in my life.

When I was a kid there was no destination beyond my reach. All of St. Louis was my neighborhood because my friends and I lived on our bikes.

We’d think nothing of riding down to the riverfront from the Shaw neighborhood. There was a helipad on a barge in front of the Arch. My brother talked the pilot into giving him a ride.

Years later I would take Joanie Thomas on a helicopter ride there for her birthday. Earlier that morning we rode horses. There was a theme I can’t quite remember but it involved modes of transportation and the letter H.

Speaking of themes, Tony Patti and I were living in a little apartment in Soulard and we decided we would base our meals on a color. The first color we came up with was black. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find anything to eat that’s black. Caviar comes to mind now but back then all we could think of was licorice, olives and Coca-Cola. That ended up being our only meal with a theme. As usual I digress……

A few weeks after Joanie and I broke up I discovered I wasn’t prepared to be alone in the world. I’ve always been pretty lucky that way. I tried to woo her back but she wouldn’t have any of it. That’s when I learned you don’t mess with a Thomas.

I sank into a despair I think I actually enjoyed. I stayed with my friend Sue on her farm and spent every day riding my bike on the Katy trail. I had a great Raleigh 10 speed Joanie had given me for my birthday.

It was like the scene in Forrest Gump where he took off running. I rode and rode. It was mindless and I couldn’t ride far enough to get away from my demons. I’d stop at my friend Dave Gebben’s bar in Dutzow, have a few beers and jump back on the trail.

Down from the trail in the Missouri River flood plane sits the Washington Airport. A tiny place used mainly for crop dusters. I didn’t know it at the time but my friend Curly Cowan ran a skydiving operation there years before. His sons Jimmy and Scott were my bosses when I was an instructor at the Sullivan Airport. Scott died in a crash that took several of our friends.

I saw a biplane from the trail and decided to ride down. After speaking to the airport’s FBO we decided to call the owner of the plane. I had to wake him up but he came out to fly. I sat in the front cockpit. Knowing I was a skydiver he did everything he could to make me piss my pants. We did loops, diving spirals and flew upside down. “How high can you take us?” I shouted over the din of the wind. “All the way up--- 3,000 feet,” he yelled back. I wasn’t fazed. I’d already jumped from 21,000 feet which required oxygen.

He finally got me though. He flew down into the river. We flew no more than 10 feet above it for miles. I thought I felt water spraying across my goggles. I was sure he was going to fly under the Washington Bridge when, at the last moment, he pulled back on the stick and climbed suddenly into the sky. One thing you should know about biplanes; they don’t have to slope into a climb, they go straight up. “You know that’s very illegal,” he yelled.

After landing I jumped back on my bike and hit the trail. I still had to outrun my demons.

Eventually I came to a stop and it was over. Just like Forrest Gump I was done riding. Joanie was out of my system too.

Lonesome Dave working the Oyster Bar. Thanks to Valerie for biplane pic.


Dominic said...

once i get going there's nothing like being on a bicycle. unlike running- you can stop and enjoy the ride. it's like flying but you don't leave the ground.

the reason i picked it back up again is my heart sinks every time i get into my car. bike, Metrolink and busses make going places less ulcer inducing.

glad i inspired that cool story!

Dorothy said...

I remember riding bikes all over, too. In South Carolina, we rode to new construction sites, and roamed through all the new houses. In St. Louis, riding with George from Carondelet to Forest Park. I often rode around the old cemetery near Carondelet, and still enjoy riding in cemeteries. I don't think I could handle street traffic anymore! Though over time this should become less dangerous, with the bike friendly initiatives growing everywhere.
We do have awesome bike trails here in Columbus, I must say. Along our beautiful rivers, the Olentangy and Scioto, refreshingl scenery and no fear of getting ploughed!