The Best Things to Own Are Those You Earn

I was fourteen years old when I decided to buy my own ten-speed bicycle.  Up until then, Mom, Dad, and Santa Claus has always supplied my wheels, from my Radio Flyer tricycle to that first two-wheeler and on up to the sparkly-blue Schwinn Sting-Ray, with the white fiber fill banana seat and the gooseneck handlebars, I’d been riding since I was eleven.

But now I had my own vision of what a bike should be.  Time to put aside the single-crank, wheelie-popping kids bike and graduate to the be-all, end-all of early-1970’s high-tech pedaling:  The Schwinn Continental.  Racing handlebars.  Dual-shifting derailleurs.  Hand-activated brakes for both front and rear wheels.  Now this was serious cycling.  In my Continental dreams, I imagined myself starting off with a short pedal trip of maybe, oh, 100 miles.  Later, I’d find a scenic back country route across the state to test my endurance.  Soon enough, I’d be charting a course across the USA, starting out from the West Coast and pedaling east, the better to take advantage of prevailing winds giving me a push from behind, just as the bicycling magazines promised they would.

But first I had to get the bike – and that meant I had to earn the money.  I didn’t need Mom and Dad to tell me; I knew the time had come to buy my own wheels.  If I was big enough to mount a 24-inch alloy frame with no kickstand, then I was big enough to save up the dough.

So I opened a savings account – my first.  At the bank, the teller gave me a small green passbook, each page clean and empty and ready for the handwritten entries of all the deposits I would make.  Then, for nearly a year, I worked to save up the cash.  I cut lawns in the spring and summer, raked leaves through the fall, and in between collected old soda bottles to return to the convenience store for the nickel deposit.  Five dollars here, five cents there:  the entries in the passbook slowly stacked up.  Soon the book grew tattered and slightly curved from sitting so long in the rear pocket of my jeans.

Finally, the day came when I’d reached the magic monetary goal.  I rode the old Sting-Ray up to the bank, and asked for the entire balance amount – a single $100 bill.  It was more money than I’d ever seen, ever held in my hand, and I folded it carefully in half, put it in the pocket where the passbook had been, and rode home ever so slowly worried that I might somehow lose it.

A few days later, I turned that bright green hundred into a yellow Schwinn Continental.  The price, with tax, actually exceeded my savings, but Santa was kind enough to kick in the few extra bucks.  The gears, the tires, the handlebars all belonged to me, and I recall now that while I rode the bike furiously for a time, its two wheels soon gave way to four, as I claimed the ultimate prize – my driver’s license – two years later.

I never did ride from coast to coast, never dipped my bike tire triumphantly in the Atlantic Ocean at trip’s end – though it remains a dream that still makes me smile.  But I kept the Schwinn for many years, unwilling to let it go.  After all, it was the first thing I’d ever bought that I’d truly earned.  And it was the best money I ever spent.

Tony Farrell

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