3M Close Calls

August 5, 2007

Random Granddaughter, at three years of age, has learned to make sure her mommies help her put on her helmet when she rides her tricycle or her scooter.

When I was 11, I rode my unreliable bicycle in heavy traffic from home to Brea Junior High School and along the five miles of busy Orange County, California highway from Brea to Fullerton and back without a helmet protecting my empty head.

My best friends, Frankie and Scottie, were not much more athletic than I, but they were less timid. Near where we lived and rode our bicycles, one residential street descended a steep hill ending in a sharp curve at the bottom. When my friends released their bicycle brakes to race down the hill as fast as their bicycles would go and bank around the turn leaning close to the ground, I would keep my brakes on and descend more carefully. When I caught up with them, my friends would laugh at me for being chicken, though not too cruelly, as we were best friends after all.

One day, riding by myself, I decided to try “dead man’s curve” to see if I could take it like they did. Just as I sent into the turn, the chain guard came off my always unreliable bicycle, tangled itself in the spokes, and the *!#$ bike dragged me along the asphalt. I don’t know how much protection a helmet would have provided against the bumps and scrapes I received, but when I picked myself up from the ground and brought my hand to my to my very sore face, I found blood. I don’t remember if I broke my glasses.

Blubbering a bit more than I should have as an 11-year-old boy, I walked myself and my mangled bicycle home. When I staggered through the door with my blood-covered face, I half scared my mother to death.

After she mopped the blood off my face, she discovered the actual physical damage was not that bad. However, that incident convinced me to be a “chicken” for the rest of my days. Whether it is coincidence or not, I don’t know, but I have never suffered a broken bone in my 63-years of life.

For a while when we were in our twenties, my wife and I rode bicycles for recreation and exercise. Our three-year-old daughter rode in a little child’s seat on the back of my bicycle. Mostly we rode at parks, though sometimes in traffic to get to the park. I can’t remember if we provided our daughter with a helmet; I sure hope we did.

When she goes for a ride with her mommies in their station wagon, RG climbs into a child’s safety seat that is so sturdy and approved it might survive a moon landing.

When I was 9, around 1953, I rode with my uncle Don and his brother Dick in a car traveling from Los Angeles to the Nichols family ranch near Hemet. Don was driving, Dick was sitting in the middle of the front seat, and I was sitting next to the passenger’s-side door. In those primitive days, that car, like most American cars of the time, was not equipped with seat belts.

Somewhere along the way, the passenger’s side door fell off. Completely off, clattering onto the highway with a loud crash. Dick, with the fast reflexes of a cowboy, grabbed me, so I didn’t bounce along the side of the highway like the car door was doing.

Later, Uncle Donald became entranced with Citroens, an eccentric French car. (Aren’t the words French and eccentric redundant?) One of their features of the standard model of the time (called a DS) was an air-suspension system that could raise and lower the car. Imitating Uncle Donald, my father bought a Citroen station wagon as well.


Later, as a poor married couple, my wife and I bought a Citroen 2CV. This was the cheap model. It not only didn’t have an air suspension; we were lucky it had any kind of suspension at all. 2CVs were wildly popular in Europe, but never really caught on in the United States.

It ran on two-cylinders. It had a top-speed of 50 miles per hour, which made it very practical for driving on Los Angeles freeways. It got about 100 miles per gallon. The seats could be unbuckled from the floor and removed from the car. When we went to a hootenanny in a field, we provided our own seats instead of sitting on the ground. We had some sort of primitive baby car seat for our little daughter.

Riding in this car was about as safe as riding in a egg shell with wheels.

How I survived to grow up, and my daughter survived to grow up, I don’t know.



7 Responses to “3M Close Calls”

  1. Peter L Says:

    Yeah. It is amazing how we of earlier generations made it to adulthood alive. I put several thousand miles on bicycles growing up with many scrapes, but no broken bones or head injuries. Remember the car seats that hooked over the seat with a toy steering wheel and nothing actually holding it in place? Remember leaning out the back window of a moving station wagon, or out the side of a pick-up truck bed? How did we who were so brave turn into a nanny-state, requiring children to be kept safe from harm? It would be so nice to see more people actually carrying babies in their arms, instead of like a piece of luggage in a car seat!

  2. modestypress Says:

    When my brother and I would ride in my uncle’s car to his family’s ranch, once he got off the highway and on to several miles of dirt road to the ranch house, we begged to be allowed to ride on the wheel covers next to the hood. Uncle Donald would sometimes let us and would drive the car about ten miles an hour.

    When I was in high school, a classmate of mine was riding on an automobile’s car wheel cover in a similar fashion and the driver stopped suddenly, throwing him to the pavement where he landed on his head. He was in a coma for two days. However, he survived.

    Beats me how to assign the right combination of free daring and sensible precaution for a family or a society. We’re bound to lose a kid once in a while no matter how safe we try to be.

  3. Jenny Says:

    I almost pity kids nowadays, what bragging can they do…”Oh, I sprained my thumb on my PS2!”

    I remember at least two times I knocked myself out when I fell out of my treehouse… and having the wind knocked out of me when I crashed my speeding unreliable bike into an irrigation ditch. Don’t forget the tetanus shots; yep, those were the good ol’ days, eh? Oh, remember making a cardboard “sled” to race down the amber waves of grain on the California foothills? That was fun. No photos, too much fun for pictures. FTL, jen

  4. I’ve been a chicken all of my life, and neither have I broken any bones. I think it’s good to be cautious, as long as you don’t forget to have sometimes. At the same time . . . I don’t ever wear a helmet. I don’t own one, and don’t particularly want one. I guess it’s a kind of balance . . .

  5. I loved this — especially the part about the car door falling off. This is, I think, one of your best posts. Absolutely delightful.

  6. janie Says:

    One of my kids thought that’s what seat belts were for when they first came into use–so you wouldn’t fall out in case the car door fell off. My recollection is that, at first anyway, no one ever used them.

  7. mrachel Says:

    Great post VanityPress! Ahhh, I remember the good old days when we didn’t know any better. We lived across the street from a playground when I was growing up. A playground used to be cement and metal. Screams would emanate from the playground on a daily basis…You would find teeth beside the rocker horse and bits of hair stuck at the top of the mega slide…But it was fun jumping off the big kids swings onto the concrete! It was heaven standing on top of the monkey bars and trying to push each other off! I survived unscathed. I did break my baby toe once on a wicker basket in my hall…Vanity there is a picture dedicated to you on my site today. Enjoy.

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