I'm sure we all had that one possession that personified our childhood. Rockem Sockem Robots, Mr. Microphone, Hot Wheels, the list is endless. For me, it was a blue, 3-speed, stick shift Stingray. From the moment I saw one flying down the street, I knew I had to own one.
That very first day, I ran down to Bryan's Bicycle Shop in downtown Midland, Michigan. There they were, in all of their splendor, lined up in the back of the shop, on the left side of the aisle; sparkling, metal-flaked speed. The only thing missing was the rainbow, ending at the pot of blue and silver, under the Schwinn label. I was hooked, but the $86.00 price tag seemed like a fortune, and in fact, in 1967, it was.
There was no way my parents were going to belly up to that bar, but I tried my hardest. My best Beaver Cleaver smile failed and my Eddie Haskell compliments fell on deaf ears.
It quickly became obvious the only way to get my hands on that baby was to save for it myself. However, my sources of income were somewhat limited in the fourth grade. Any talk of an allowance in my house was greeted by cold, cruel laughter. ("We never got paid for doing our chores when I was a kid.")
That's not to say I had zero income. A couple of years earlier, my older brother, in his infinite generosity, had agreed to pay me $2.00 a week to deliver half of his paper route. (A stingy fact that I continue to use to my advantage, forty years later.) Even if I managed to save all of my considerable income from the paper route, it would still take me an eternity to save $86.00. There had to be something else I could do.
I tried a lemonade stand, using the ancient packages of Kool-Aid in the kitchen cupboard, but apparently the only three cars that drove down our street did not contain very thirsty drivers. Granted, the sugar crusted metal pitcher, perched on a kitchen stool probably wasn't very appealing.
Then there were the ads in the popular literature of the day; Spider Man, Iron Man, The Silver Surfer and of course, Superman. They promised I could make a veritable fortune, selling greeting cards. However, a quick check with the worldly sixth-graders next door convinced me that selling cheesy greeting cards door to door was not the answer.
Eventually, through the paper route, raking leaves, shoveling driveways and the ever-popular Grandparents at Christmas, I anaged to scrounge up the cash. The day after Christmas, I finally had the cash in hand: eighty-six dollars.
Even though it was the dead of winter, I badgered my dad until he agreed to take me down to the bicycle shop. I must have been practically glowing as I walked in the door. I stood in front of the bike and proudly presented my life's savings, in rolled coins and one-dollar bills, punctuated by a few tens and twenties. When the sales clerk told me that I'd forgotten to take the sales tax into account, my face and my heart fell like a house of cards. I didn't have enough money.
To my eternal relief, my dad reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. To this day, I remember the pride in his voice as he looked at me, and told the sales clerk he'd pay the tax because, "He saved every penny of that eighty-six dollars himself". I don't think I've ever been as thankful to my dad, before or since that winter morning.
When I finally got the bike home, I couldn't ride it outside, because there was still at least a couple feet of snow on the ground. Not to be stopped by anything as trivial as that, I must have put a hundred miles on it, riding it on a circuitous route between the boxes and tables in the basement.
A few weeks later, there was a brief warm spell and the snow was reduced to a few dirty patches at street corners and along the curbs. I gingerly carried my pride and joy up the steps and out the back door. Even though it was still in the upper 30's, I rode it up and down the block until I was nearly frozen before carefully taking it back downstairs, to be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
For the next four years I rode that bike almost every day from March through November. I added a six foot sissy bar to the back end and went through several sets of brake pads, at least three banana seats and more than a few cheater-slick tires. I could finish my paper route in twenty minutes, I could pop a wheelie for more than 70 pedals and on one glorious afternoon, I even won a race against a mini-bike. (Okay, it was a Sears mini-bike, but it had a motor!)
I've had a lot of vehicles in the forty years since that cold December day, but I honestly think I've never been as happy with any of them, as I was with that blue, 3-speed, stick shift Stingray.