Probably everybody remembers their first new bicycle.
I had been pestering my parents for a new bike for months. Christmas was just around the corner. It was 1963.
The pain and fear the nation felt following the Kennedy assassination was just starting to subside. Our national sadness was being slightly soothed by the coming of Christmas.
My Mom and Dad were trying to be sneaky by stashing some of our Christmas presents in our neighbor’s basement. One day, I saw Mr. Woods open his basement door and Dad carried several big boxes down their basement steps. One of the boxes was the size of a bicycle.
Instead of coming right back up the steps, I realized that Dad stayed in the basement with our neighbor. Being barely 13 years old, my curiosity raged, and my restraint evaporated. I knelt and peeked into their basement window.
There I saw two grown men, grinning from ear-to-ear, laughing over a half-assembled red, boys Huffy Galaxy with a carrier resting above the back fender. It was going to be perfect for my early morning Dayton Journal Herald paper route.
On Christmas morning, there it sat, bright and shiny red, right in the middle of our living room. Pee-wee Herman would have been jealous. You better believe I acted surprised. I think I put on an Academy Award winning performance.
I might have even mustered up a tear. It was beautiful. My newspaper saddlebag fit perfectly over the rear-carrier. I was a happy boy.
The Journal Herald delivery truck dropped off my big bundle of papers every morning in the pre-dawn hours. I divided up the stack of papers into both sides of the big, canvas saddlebag. I had 63 customers. It took about two hours to make all my deliveries. I loved working those dark, early morning hours.
That next summer, a few of my friends had their bikes stolen. Dad’s advice was to keep my bike in the garage and to mark it so I could positively identify it. I had some permanent decals that I stuck up near the headlights (yes, I had headlights) and I stuck a few just under the carrier where they were out of view. Those decals could not be peeled off, and if anyone tried a quick paint job, they might be missed.
I did everything right — except one night I forgot to put my bike in the garage. The next morning it was gone. I had to throw those old saddlebags over my shoulder and take off on foot. I may have been young, but I cussed those bike thieves the entire time I was gone.
When I got home, I called the Germantown Police Department to report the theft. They admitted there had been a rash of bicycle thefts in the past few days. They didn’t seem to be interested in performing an in-depth investigation of my stolen Huffy.
Later that day, I dug out my old bike. It was the little one that could be used with or without training wheels. Not knowing where my new bike might have been taken, I started cruising past the hangouts of the tough kids.
As I peddled over the Twin Creek bridge at the end of Cherry Street, I heard noise and laughter coming from under the bridge. Several tough kids were playing in the creek, but they had left their bikes parked just off the road. I crept in for a better look.
Sure enough! There were decals hidden in the same specific locations. It was repainted, but it was my Huffy Galaxy. I hopped on and rode directly to the police station. They made a note of it and told me the case was closed. That was it. Case closed. I found that to be very dissatisfying.
Besides the poorly done paint job, they had switched out my new Huffy handlebars for an old set of ape-hangers. Actually, I thought they looked pretty cool. Rather than fixing it back to like-new condition, I decided to keep it the way the tough kids had changed it.
I knew that sooner or later those guys would see me riding around town on my repainted Huffy with the ape hanger handlebars. They would know that I knew who had stolen my bike. They would know that I was the guy who stole it back from them.
I was OK with that. I wanted them to know.
Since then, I have had other things stolen. I have been cheated and lied to. Rarely have charges been filed. Usually, I get satisfaction just knowing that they know that I know.
Do they feel guilty? Probably not, but I feel better by letting the anger go and forgiving them.
Also, I feel better if I just cuss for an hour before letting it go.
Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.