Author's Note: Your humble Throwback Machine operator has this week off. Until he returns to his post, enjoy this (updated) end-of-summer Throwback from 2018!
If you notice a sadder than usual look on the faces of the young these days, then cut them some slack please. For you're watching it slowly dawn on them that their long, endless Coronavirus summer vacation may finally be coming to an end one way or the other. And what a time they had, right?
And because my thoughts this time of year always dwell on how summers can die hard, I bring you, from the June 23, 1981, Journal Gazette, staff writer Robert Flider’s local piece on the lack of places for BMX enthusiasts to ride their bikes in the summertime. It’s a story that demands getting the straight scoop from the ground level, and Robert must have felt like he hit pure, uncut, community paydirt when he discovered teens Bill Williams and Brian Lankow, out on the streets, BMX bikes grubby in the hot sun.
For a snapshot about what life is like in a small town as a boy at the age of 13, technically a teenager but still kind of stuck in that 12-year-old headspace, this article sums it up. And I think Robert must have realized he was on to something as soon as he got his little notebook out because I can’t imagine any other instance where you’d let these two dudes get as many choice quotes in as they do here, any number of which I feel like I should have engraved on a plaque and hung above my desk.
Let’s have a refresher on the subject matter first. For those who don’t know, and this includes me if I’m being honest, “BMX” is an abbreviation of “Bicycle Moto Cross.” You gotta love any hobby where you can swap out an entire word with an “X”, right? By the early ‘80s, the idea of dirt trackin’ on a bike in your own hometown became so marketable that they just had to start selling BMX bikes at places like K-Mart and thus, guys (or…guys-to-be) like Bill and Brian suddenly had a nice set of wheels to pedal around town in. But, as you can tell from reading the article, you need someplace to actually, you know…Moto Cross. Err. Maybe Moto “X”, I guess.
Which brings us to the meat of this particular article; seems that Mattoon had no such place for Mountain Dew drinkin’ slack jawed malcontents with fluffy leftover Luke Skywalker hair to get their “vert” on at, which is exactly what Bill and Brian were trying to tell you if only you weren't such a geezer that the complaints of any 13-year-old whining at you about their hobbies just sounded like a low buzzing drone. Otherwise you’d be able to get to the truth of the matter that’s lurking in between the lines of this article: being a teenager in a small town can really be a drag sometimes.
And for insight as to exactly much of a drag it can be, we once again must turn to the wise words of our interview subjects. “Where are we supposed to ride? The air?”, Lankow said; for they both paint a visual of Mattoon in the early ‘80s as a Mad-Max-ian heck-scape where you pedaled your way through side-streets while trying to avoid literally slamming into cars that have brake-checked in front of you, having your bikes run over because you dared to venture even an inch onto the street, being chased by older punks in their hot rods, and yes, maybe even having to avoid being cursed at by a woman having an (ahem) “Spazz Attack”…a phrase which I’m not entirely sure is on the level in today’s common parlance.
I bring this up with total and complete approval of their worldview. Because folks, trust me, I was one of these kids; kind of. All right, you got me. In 1981 I was too young to be BMX-ing anywhere, unless you count my pudgy little toddler legs rapidly pumping away on the pedals of my plastic “CHiPs” motorcycle (yes, there was a picture of both “Jon” and “Ponch” on it) but I got up to speed right quick; all my bicycles after that were BMX bikes, from my sweet Masters of the Universe-job (with sci-fi control panel decals on it), then a really nice silver, black and gold BMX bike which I could swear was from a company called “Zebra” although it may have been a “Zebco”; and then finally a BMX 10-speed combo with hand guards (unnecessary since it was rare I ever managed to build up enough speed to risk dumping out) and that was, of course, neon green. Hey, it was the ‘90s.
And then we moved from Cooks Mills to Mattoon and up the bike went on hooks in the garage and that’s where it stayed until...well, present day. It’s still nice and green though. Sad thing, really. You’d think that moving into “town” (as we called it) would only expand my biking territory but, c’mon, I was about six months from getting my driver’s license. Even the coolest, most neon green of all neon green BMX bikes couldn’t compete with the freedom of your very own beat-up 1987 Dodge Omni.
But even if I had of kept riding my bike after the big move, I would have needed somewhere to ride without getting “honked off” as mentioned in the article, and I suppose, it’s for that I could thank our two BMX trailblazers, speaking truth to power, and trying not to get run over by someone in a Buick Skylark on their way to Wilb Walkers. Wherever you are out there today, I dedicate my next rad “Bar-Spin” and “Bunny Hop” to you. I hope those terms are correct…I had to look them up.
Although it must be said, in regard to the somewhat uncouth comments you made regarding the girls your age, trust me, I’m guessing the feeling was mutual. But you knew that, right? They were crushing on the guys with driver’s licenses, no doubt. Hey, like I said, it’s a drag sometimes.
My Town: Clint Walker's memories of Coles County as pulled from the archives
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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