Charlie explores his childhood riding and those of his children
Where will the children of tomorrow ride?
For whatever reason I found myself riding on the path connecting Prospect Park West and the Prospect Park roadway and I happened to look out onto the amphitheater created adjacent to the playground there. Of course, this is not important here, what is, is that the area was fenced off and full of seats. This was a very large paved circular area when I was young. We called it the skating rink. It was where we went when we strapped on our metal skates and it was where we went when we wanted to learn to ride our bikes. I learned to ride there and all my friends learned there too. Now it was a locked up, fenced off area, used occasionally at night for concerts, and advertising Heineken beer.
I decided to visit the Holy Name schoolyard where I played endless basketball in the spring and summer, I also visited the other Holy Name schoolyard where touch football, stickball (fast pitch) and volleyball reigned supreme. A few blocks away at 13th street and 8th Avenue was the schoolyard where we dared each other to shimmy up a water pipe to a roof and played other groups (gangs?) in various activities. Around the corner was a small yard where we played different wall games. All were gated and locked against intruders.
My after school activities were mostly outdoors, lacking adult supervision and for the most part not organized by anyone except the kids. My children seem to spend plenty of time watching TV, playing video or computer games, on play dates at friends houses, or in organized after school activities. I find myself valuing my experiences over theirs. I take them on bike rides, and push them to roller blade in an effort to experience some of the freedom I experienced. They seem to respond positively or maybe it's charitably. I've seen my older boy (16 in August) blossom into a competent street rider. He maneuvers from Flatbush to Manhattan on his bike and all points in between. We mountain bike and get hurt together. Yet, I wonder about the meaning of riding to him. I know it will never mean the same to him as it does to me and I mourn this.
A recent federal initiative has come to my attention; it is called Safe Routes to School. Presumably, it would provide kids a safe zone to travel to and from school and maybe a safe place to play in their communities. This would have many interpretations, for some it may mean a drug/drug dealer free zone, for others a place to walk, roller blade or bike to and from school. Maybe, just maybe, a little of my past might be in my childrens, childrens' future. I hope my boys will teach their children to ride and I hope some of them will love it as much as I.. I hope they will ride in the woods and on the city streets and I hope they will ride to school and work. I hope they will enjoy it. Of course, when gas hits $50.00 a gallon they may have no choice.
As I was writing this my older boy, Matt, started complaining about the fact that his high school does not allow the students to ride their bikes to school. He talked I listened, and I started thinking maybe, just maybe, there are things as important to this generation as the things I value are to me.