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Monday, February 16, 2015

“THOSE KIDS DON’T HAVE ANYTHING!” - a cranky re-run

This cranky re-run is from February 2013

My 40 yo son just had a 1957 Schwinn stolen; probably by a junkie scumbag! 
 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:
*The first time I published this, several commentors were clear that stealing is stealing and poverty is not an excuse.  While I understand that sentiment, if I lived all year long in a town and come summer a bunch of rich people came and would not allow me on their beach, or their boardwalk, or to take the many summer jobs that opened up just because of my race, I think I would certainly consider taking a rich white kid's bike if he was so stupid as to leave it on the only beach I was allowed to use.  By the way it was the crappiest beach in the town!


  1. Sorry your bike got stolen. I think I'll end this comment right here.

    Have a fabulous day Cranky. ☺

  2. all sorts of things to *sigh* about in this look back...

  3. The first four paragraphs could easily describe my life... except for moving east and the Schwinn.
    I had a Schwinn knock-off the on which Old Man got a deal.
    I couldn't find anyone to steal it.

  4. Sounds like you have read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables since that time. Substitute a bike for the loaf of bread, and there it is.

  5. I really like this post Joeh and am impressed by the understanding you had as a youngun. It is too easy to judge actions when we haven't felt the pain.

  6. Wasn't really stealing; just re-allocating to someone who might have needed it more at that point in their life.


  7. Joe--There is a picture book that chronicles a true story. A public pool was forced to become integrated. (There was no "colored pool.") Instead of integrating it, the powers-that-be bulldozed up the pool/filled it with cement.

    I'm sure your bike was enjoyed...even though stealing IS always wrong.

    You brought back wonderful memories about braking by pedaling backwards. Such power we had in our legs in those day---standing up or just pushing back with our feet, and we could come screeching to a halt.

    I think you'll really like "Freeman" by Leonard Pitts Jr. Get it from the library...but then you will want your own copy (I almost guarantee you).

  8. Sometimes a little education can be painful at an early age.

  9. I also rode my bike everywhere. When I went back for a visit as an adult, I was shocked at the places I went. Miles and miles. I still ride my bike everywhere, if it weren't...15 degrees.

  10. You learned a sobering lesson that day when your bike was stolen, definitely a loss of innocence on your part. When i was growing up we only had a few black kids in our school and the were all extremely popular, the school celebrities.

  11. I miss those old-fashioned bikes with no gears and hand brakes (I never trusted hand brakes...). Except mine had fat tires and a fat, cushy seat. Sorry yours got stolen.

  12. I remember back-pedal brakes and wish they were still an option. These days everything has gears and hand brakes, very hard to get used to, which is one reason I don't ride my bike as much as I'd like. The other reason being the sheer volume and speed of traffic these days. Like you, I went everywhere on my bike as a kid, I remember Saturday afternoons and Sundays the roads were almost completely empty of traffic.
    I wonder if your bike was just 'borrowed' and went the rounds of the entire neighbourhood so every kid could have a turn, then after a while it just sort of 'belonged' to that neighbourhood.

  13. Great post. Like River, I loved and still miss the old back pedal brakes, they were great. And like you I loved riding around on my bike. I like your comment at the end of this. Of COURSE theft is wrong, but yes, you can understand it happening in these circumstances. And it kind of sounds like the cops were somewhat sympathetic to those kids too. Or lazy :)
    Valuable lessons learned alright.

  14. Your simple essay is a powerful statement on injustice; injustice served to a vulnerable segment of society and injustice served to an innocent 9 year old boy. I've had this post on my mind since I read it for the first time yesterday. Again, powerful.

  15. Ah, my first bicycle was a red Huffy. Like you, I must have put a million miles on that bike. I actually don't recall what happened to the bike but it wasn't stolen.

    My folks were unlike yours. We were dirt poor. We didn't have indoor plumbing until the year I graduated from high school (1968).
    But in the rural south, almost everyone was in the same boat.