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Thursday, February 28, 2013



As a young lad, my family was affluent.  Well looking back, my father who was a chemical engineer, did very well.  My ex-wife would tell you we were filthy rich.  In truth we were comfortable and my dad worked his ass off to create that comfort.  As a kid, of course, all you see is people with more stuff than you have, and you never feel the least bit privileged.

When I was seven years old, I got a bike for Christmas.  It was a green, one-speed Schwinn with skinny “Racing wheels.”  The bike did not have hand brakes; it stopped when you slammed backwards on the pedal.  I preferred this method of braking because it allowed you to slam and lean at the same time and come to a really cool sliding stop, much like a skier.  (We called the sliding stop a “Brody.”  I have no idea why we called it that.)  It was my first bike.  I loved that bike.  I went everywhere on that bike (in those days, seven year olds got a lot of leeway.)

In 1955 when I was nine, our family moved from the West Coast to the East Coast.  Relocation was part of the life of a Chemical Engineer.  The summer of my ninth year was spent at my grandparent’s house in Ocean City, New Jersey; summer at the Shore; me and my bike.

I went everywhere on that bike.  I would ride to the store and shop for candy and comics.  I would ride to my friends.  I would ride to the beach.  I never locked the bike.  People did not steal bikes in the fifties.

One day I rode my bike to the Ocean City Boardwalk to meet a friend.  I left my bike by the boardwalk at the “Colored Beach.”  That’s right, in those days, even in New Jersey, the beaches were segregated.  “Coloreds” had their own beach and were not allowed on a “White” beach. 

For you young folks, “Colored” people became “Blacks,” and then became “African Americans.”  Today, one person who would have been called “Colored” is now called “Mister President!”

Anyway, I thought nothing of leaving my unlocked bike on the “Colored Beach.” 

When I returned from the boardwalk I could not believe that my bike was gone.  I looked all over.  I was sure I left it right by the entrance.  What could have happened?  Then it hit me.  My bike was stolen.  I never heard of anyone having anything stolen before.  It just did not happen in my neighborhood.

I walked home in tears.  I loved that bike.

The next day my dad took me to the police station to report the theft.  I was sure the police would find and return my bike.  Whoever stole it would be going to jail and deservedly so.

An officer took the report.

“Describe the bike.”

I described the bike.

“Where did you last see it?”

“I left it on Sixth Street by the entrance to the boardwalk.  It was at noon.”

“Sixth Street!  That’s the ‘Colored Beach!’  Those kids don’t have anything!  You can’t leave a bike there; it will be gone before the kickstand sinks in the sand!”

“But that’s stealing!”

“Kid…they don’t care, it is the only way those people will ever have a bike.”

“Will you be able to get it back?”

“Ah…sure kid…we’ll be on the lookout for it.”

I don’t think they tried very hard.  We checked every day for a week, but their all-points-bulletin did not turn up my precious Schwinn.

I got around the rest of the summer on an old beat up bike my cousin Dex lent me.  For a while I was really upset and in disbelief that someone would just take someone else’s property, but in my head I kept hearing something the policeman said:

“Those kids don’t have anything!”

Anyway; I learned a lesson, and it was nice that at least one of “Those Kids” had a Schwinn.

For a little history that many want to forget:


  1. Wow, what a story Joe (and I love your telling of it).

    I don't know, it's a tough call. Stealing is stealing and you must have been devastated at the time not only to lose the bike but also your innocence - at the same time, it's hard to begrudge a child who has nothing having something even though it's still not right ...

    Ok, Im just talking myself into a corner.

    My first bike was second hand and Grandad painted it orange - I loved that bike, it represented freedom for me and I'd have been lost without it.

  2. Great story Joe. I remember well my first bike. I can imagine your shock and astonishment that someone would steal your bike.

    As to "those kids don't have anything", while I understand the sentiment, I don't buy into it. Not having doesn't give one a license to steal. Oh well.

  3. Yes, nice balance about the haves and have nots. Life hasn't changed much over the decades.

  4. Interesting story on many levels. There were no beaches in my home town but I do remember "colored" and "white" drinking fountains.
    Most interesting is that the phrase "Those kids don't have anything" has stuck with you for so long.

  5. i was a poor white kid that grew up with almost nothing. i can understand the temptation. the only way those kids would ever have a bike... sad.

  6. Great lesson to learn and I'm glad you took away the positive :)

    PS... I *loved* those bikes with the "back wheel brakes" I used to pop a tire at least once a month!!

  7. I wonder if kids today care as much about their bicycles as those of us growing up in the '50s did. I got my one and only bicycle the Christmas after I turned six. It was a standard 24" blue el cheapo, and my father had to put blocks of wood on the pedals so I could reach them. I rode that thing everywhere, and washed and waxed it like some guys would do with their cars. Kept it in the basement, too, so it wouldn't get any rust on it, which meant hauling it up and down some mighty steep steps every day. Didn't matter... it was My Bike. When I went away to college, that bike still looked as sparkly new as the day I got her. When I came home for my first break, lo and behold, the bicycle was gone. My father gave it away to the boy next store... who immediately removed the fenders, and spray painted the body black. Already, the handlebars showed signs of rust. Broke my heart. But... he needed the bike more than I did.

  8. Loved this post--sad & funny at the same time!!

  9. Sad, but very true. "Those kids" still exist today, and they're in every color.


  10. It's very interesting how you worked your way through the pain and loss of your bike to come full circle to understand and acknowledge the poverty that must have motivated this theft.

  11. A child of the 70's, growing up in the country, my bike was the same to me. I was five when I learnt to ride, five and a half when I learnt that "I'm just going around the block" said to a very busy mother, could mean, "I'm riding all over our town and visiting friends".

    A hard way to learnt the lesson, but I applaud your empathy in your reaction.

  12. Beautiful story beautifully told. You just gave me more reasons to love you.

  13. No. I don't it's nice a poor black kid learned stealing works, and a rich white kid lost something that he loved. No matter how rich and white you were, you weren't evil, and that was YOUR bike. And no matter how poor and black the other kid was, he wasn't a downtrodden saint, it was still YOUR bike.

    What lesson did YOU learn?

  14. I think of my lower middle class neighborhood that actually had two black families--in the fifties. Stealing a bicycle would have been universally denounced. Having nothing surely does not include lack of honor.

  15. My first bike was stollen by white kids.

  16. That's an awesome story and definitely one with major perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

  17. Dex's bike had 24" wheels and yours were 20" so it was a step up and it was even faster!

  18. Gosh, what an interesting memory. It must have been a really formative experience to stay with you so vividly for so long. Thanks for sharing it. #FYBF :)

  19. I send belated condolences on the loss of your bike.

  20. What a great (and well-told) story! My first bike came from the county dump, and I don't remember what brand it was, but I loved it. My grandfather drove a bulldozer at the dump, and when he came across items that were still usable, he'd bring them home and fix them up. Thus, my bike. I rode it to school every day, but I didn't own a lock for it, and it was stolen eventually. I walked all over looking for it but never did. Now thanks to you, I can imagine that it was taken by some kid who didn't have anything, not even a refurbished bike from the dump.