One Virus Benefit: Kids on Bikes
John Pappas has no new bikes in his shop. None. He sold out weeks ago, and the manufacturers keep promising: soon.
But Pappas and his colleague, Mike Black, Master Fixer, have a shop full of bicycles waiting to be fixed, waiting for parts, waiting to be picked up.
“You see that bike over there?” Pappas asked me on Saturday, giving me the feeling it was a bit of a relic. “It’s a Peugeot, costs over $300 to fix, I asked the lady, ‘Do you really want it done?’ and she said yes.”
Everything that can roll is now rolling, in a renaissance for bicycles that Pappas and Black could not imagine a few years ago. They worked in a store that was a tradition in my town – we bought our Schwinns there in 1969 – like a clubhouse on Port Blvd., just drop in and chat about the Tour de France, or anything.
But at holiday time in 2016 nothing was moving in the relocated shop, and the owner at the time, plus Pappas and Black, were bemoaning that kids today do not ride bikes, they go where their helicopter parents approve, or they hunch over their computers, indoors.
It was a dystopian view of the next generation; the owner got out of the business, and Pappas and Black relocated to a modest storefront in adjacent Manorhaven, calling it Bicycle Playground of Port Washington.
Then along came Covid-19, rampaging across the country, courtesy of our “leaders” and their willful stupidity. Schools are closed. Adults, if lucky, are working from home, and people are getting in shape -- running or jogging or trudging around town, or dusting off the two-wheelers and three-wheelers and scooters. (The other day I saw four or five boys lugging baseball bats and gloves to the nearby playground. I swear: I saw boys going to play baseball, on their own.)
This is, admittedly, a privileged view from a comfortable sliver of the country, while others are suffering, but the renaissance of bicycles….kids on bikes….is one sweet result of this horror.
From our house, I can hear the voices of children – squeaky, earnest, engaged, away from adults, away from regimen – riding by themselves, like we used to do when we were kids.
We live at the top of a hill. Kids stop and check out the modest little drop, and then, whee, off they go.
Sometimes it is a family expedition, a parent or two, a kid or three, trading safety precautions or just letting out little yelps of enjoyment, throwbacks to a time before all the gibberish on the Web.
Sometimes I walk these back streets, a bandana ready to pull up if I get close to anybody. I am privy to snatches of conversation between, let’s say, a mom on her bike, and a son, on his bike. These seem like sweet moments: I remember my mother teaching me to ride a two-wheeler.
A lot of these adventures would not be happening if Pappas and Black had let the dream go. I associate them with good times – my current Trek old-guy bike, plus how they installed a stationary bike and a treadmill in our house, before both gave out after a few decades.
Now they are waiting for new bikes while scrambling for parts.
The other day my rear tire went flat and I walked the bike home, leaving a message for them, and figuring I was back to walking for the duration.
But Pappas called me back in a day or so and said he could take a look if I got the bike to him. My bike fit into the back of my son’s car: I used to ride him on the back of my Schwinn, along the Ohio River in Louisville, or into Brooklyn or Queens, on quiet Sunday mornings; now he lugs my wounded bike for me.
The guys at the shop found the right tube and got me on my way a day later, but the general backup is so severe that Pappas and Black are planning something they never could have imagined:
“If you had told me I would be taking a week off at the Fourth of July, I would have said you were crazy,” Pappas said.
Then again, if I had predicted children and adults would be cruising the streets of our town, having exercise and conversations, I would have sounded crazy.
Bicycles live. It is something.
And not just kids. Frequent correspondent Randolph Fiery is a serious biker, who enclosed photos from a recent two-day "ride" through the Greenbrier River Mountain Trail, a former railroad track, in his native West Virginia.
6/28/2020 12:31:59 pm
Thanks for this George. I grew up in Massapequa in the 60's and 70's, and my friends from that time and I have commented on how much independence our bikes gave us, and always with our baseball glove hanging on the handlebars to be ready for a catch.
6/28/2020 07:55:17 pm
Dear Patrick O'Neill: thanks for the nice note about your younger years. Growing up in central Queens, we had Cunningham Park about a mile up the hill.....There was a girl who lived a block from the opening to the playground. And sometimes on weekends we'd continue eastward onto the Old Motor Parkway, Vanderbilt Parkway....in pretty rough shape then, but refurbished later, out to Alley Pond Park. I agree with you about LI beaches; just having Jones Beach and the waves half an hour from us justifies the brutal bridges needed to get off the Island. Nothing's perfect...GV
6/28/2020 06:08:49 pm
George. My cycling days ended when I had a hip replaced ten years ago as I no longer felt secure. It was a sad decision as I had had some wonderful biking experiences.
6/28/2020 07:57:20 pm
Alan: I did not know your affinity for cycling. Soccer, yes. Uniforms, jerseys, are so important in cycling racing. People wear a full team kit on the roads of Europe. Nice story about Luca...been there, unique place. Best, GV
6/28/2020 08:30:19 pm
7/2/2020 09:38:44 am
Thanks, George, for yet another occasion of ear-to-ear grinning about how you connect the global with the familiar local.
7/4/2020 03:15:54 pm
Congratulations, George, for scooping The Times, which has a story in tomorrow's (Sunday, July 5) Metropolitan section on the same subject of bicycles: who sells them, repairs them and rides them, both then and now. It features Bellitte Bicycle Shop on Jamaica Avenue, familiar to both of us growing up in the same Jamaica neighborhood, because--hard as it is to believe--it's been operating for over 100 years! I'm sure my first Schwinn bike was bought at Bellitte's, and that bike got me my first two jobs while still in 8th grade: as a paper boy delivering the Long Island Press, and then (legitimately) delivering drugs for Harry Ditkoff's Surrey Pike Pharmacy. Valuable and valid work experiences and memories all because of that big red Schwinn with a large front basket.
7/5/2020 08:25:02 am
Chief, thanks for the comment. (I will tell the vast public readership that you are my high school newspaper editor, my lawyer, and our dear friend.) I do not know that bike shop in Jamaica -- the Hub of our youth, where you recently arranged a visit to the old Valencia Movie Theater, via the Sister from the gospel temple. Well done. Our bike shop was Ed Earl 's at 191 St. and Jamaica Ave, opposite the Hollis Movie Theater, now gone, and Tiedemann's ice-cream parlour, I am sure also gone. I can still smell the oil of the bikes and other things with moving parts, the games and toys and sports equipment Ed Earl sold. I did not know you had a job on Union Tpke, but I do remember the pharmacy (and our classmate, his daughter.) Great memories. G
7/5/2020 08:18:23 am
Andy: I know exactly where you lived. We lived three blocks downhill, the first Cuomo home in the area was halfway down toward ours. We would bike up Santiago, less traffic, and come out on McLaughlin, where the temple-now-mosque is, and cross the parkway bridge into Cunningham Park. (There was a girl who lived across from the playground.....we've been in touch over the years) I read there are plans for a walk/bike bridge over the East River...I plan to be mobile -- and this plague under control -- when it opens. Be well. GV
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.