Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Messenger

I had worked as labor and clean-up crew for my carpenter stepfather since I was about seven or eight years old, sometimes for pay but most often for other kinds of rewards, such as permission to go camping with the guys or the privilege of taking the family car instead of my jalopy for an important event. Mother tried to get me a paper route when I became 16, old enough to be legally employed, but there was none to be had. Throwing papers was a very popular job for boys back then. So, she began to ask her friends around town about a good after school, summer and weekend job for her boy.

As it turned out, her friend at Western Union, a straight-talking, rather gruff middle-aged man, was the message router and he needed a kid with a good bicycle to deliver telegrams and run other errands as called upon. I got the job and showed up with my “English” bike which I had purchased from a neighbor. It was a three-speed, stuck eternally in third. That vehicle was very hard to pedal, especially on the hills, but once you got it going, it was faster than its American fat-tired counterpart, even though it squealed like a laryngitic banshee. When Mr. Freeland, the message router, looked at that bicycle, he said with thinly disguised disdain, “Boy, you are fixing to have to get you a better bicycle for this job.”

Well, that was prophetic, because I started having flats just about every other day and I couldn’t find tubes for the unusual tires, and patching was often difficult and time-consuming. It didn’t take Mr. Freeland long to get tired of these problems, so one Friday afternoon he said, “Come on here, boy, we are going to get you a normal bicycle.”

We walked a couple of blocks up to B. F. Goodrich and he signed a note with me for a new standard bicycle. I seem to recall that my payments were $3.00 a week, which was a pretty significant hit on my meager salary. Anyway, I couldn’t believe a bicycle would go with so little pressure to the pedals. After that “English” bike, it was as if I didn’t have to expend any effort at all to make that B. F. Goodrich bicycle go. Going up a hill was nothing. And I didn’t complain that I couldn’t go as fast downhill as I could on the old bike. I mean, coasting is coasting and silence is bliss.

I delivered many a telegram on that bicycle as I worked there from ages 16 to 18. Mr. Freeland never softened his demeanor, but I could tell he was pleased with my mount and with his part in acquiring it. He was also pleased, I’m sure, that I never once defaulted on the loan. After the last day of work though, when I was off to the Air Force, I unceremoniously retired the well-worn B. F. Goodrich and never got on it again.

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