I’m told I have some funny stories in me, and so begins a blog series of funny/poignant/ridiculous/illuminating stories from the archives of my brainpan. I’ll start with this one – in which my sister and I defy authority, meet the town whore (maybe), experience the cyclist’s bonk and rescue ourselves with a commonly available coffee condiment.
It was the summer of 1981. My older sister was between her junior and senior years of high school, and I had just finished freshman year. We were both obsessed with bikes. I had a heavy but serviceable Ross 10-speed, purchased at the local toy, bike, and hobby shop with my corn detassling savings. My sister had a much fancier nickel-alloy Puch, also a 10-speed. While the Ross was hefty and a bit cumbersome, it was a step up from the 24” straight-bar Sears one-speed that I had been riding up until the summer before. Overall we thought ourselves to be quite fancily outfitted with our 10-speeds.
I think the obsession with bikes was born in large part from the strictness of our household. My father was ridiculously strict. We were expected to stay within a 3 block radius of home any time we weren’t at school, or under some sort of adult supervision at home or at a friend’s house. We weren’t allowed to wear shorts, although after a protracted battle we got that rule amended to allow us to wear shorts of a prescribed length – I think the requirement was 6”.
I had been champing at the bit to get out and live life since at least late elementary school. This factor combined with the general unhappiness of our home life made both of us believe that the rules were made to be broken. Our bikes represented freedom – a way to get out of the house, and out of town, without having to rely on our parents, or have them know where we were going.
As a sidenote – my parents prided themselves on their progressiveness on almost all fronts. They leaned far to the left politically, they had campaigned for civil rights, they ate quiche and drove Swedish cars. My father was a devout atheist. But, in his treatment of my sister and me I can now see the not-quite tamped down vestiges of his missionary heritage. His paternal grandparents had been missionaries, and I think that informed his attitudes about the proper behavior of young ladies.
But this was the 80s and we wanted to live like modern teenagers. We didn’t want to do anything too crazy. Our childhoods had been miserable largely due to our father’s alcoholism, so neither of us was interested in drinking or doing drugs. I was fascinated by sex, but knew I wasn’t ready to try it out for at least a few more years. So, really, all we wanted to do was be free to go to movies, hang out at friends’ houses, go on dates, and wear goddamn shorts in the infernal and humid Indiana summers.
We were also obsessed with amusement parks. Earlier in childhood, we had worked out a deal with my father that enabled us to trade railroad hikes for fun activities. As in, we would go with him to walk along the railroad tracks for distances ranging from a few miles to extra-long 18-milers in the spring and fall, and in exchange we would get taken to Pizza Hut and the movies (for short hikes), and amusement parks (for the 18-milers). If this sounds crazy, it probably was. It was borne of our collective refusal to go on the hikes (*cough* deathmarches *cough*) with him and a subsequent negotiation that resulted in the railroad-hikes-for-fun exchange program.
So, back to the story. By 1981 we had 10-speed bikes and had started exploring our part of the state in ever widening excursions from our town of Logansport.
Earlier that summer we had successfully ridden out to France Park, which was a water-filled quarry about 7 miles west of town, and also the closest thing we had to a beach. It was extremely popular with teenagers, and, if memory serves, a new water slide had opened that year. We had also ridden to Peru, about 16 miles away, to eat at what seemed like a very exotic Mexican restaurant.
By late summer we felt ready to tackle the holy grail of unauthorized out-of-town bicycle excursions. We were ready to ride our bikes to Indiana Beach, which was near the neighboring town of Monticello, Indiana, and about 25 miles from our house.
Now, this was north-central Indiana, so keep in mind that “beach” was a broad term. In fact, it was a boardwalk-style amusement park on the shores of Lake Shafer, itself a fake lake creating by the damming of the Tippecanoe River. But we didn’t care about maritime authenticity, we just wanted to go on roller coasters. So, we concocted some story to explain our absence to our mother, and, vowing to be back before our father returned from work, headed west towards our glorious day of amusements.
Another sidenote: our mother mostly turned a blind eye to our shenanigans, because, while she was unwilling to campaign for different rules, she was sympathetic to our desire to have as normal an adolescence as possible. So, as long as we got home before our father did, and gave her enough cover for plausible deniability, we could spend our summer days as we wished.
I don’t have any clear memories of the time we spent at the actual park. I assume we went on various rides and ate fried foods. What I remember best is the ride back home.
The other thing I don’t remember is where we got the money to go on the rides. I have to assume it was a combination of saved allowance and corn-detassling money. It wasn’t much and by the time we headed back towards home we had only 1 quarter between us.
The trip home started out OK. We made it south from the lake to Highway 24. From there it was a direct route east along 24 to Logansport, passing through a couple of very, very small towns.
About halfway through the ride we came to Idaville, population, approx. 500. We had meant to leave Indiana Beach early enough to beat our father home, but we pushed it a bit too far and gotten a late start home. By the time we reached Idaville, it was late enough that our absence would be noted if we didn’t stop to make a call to explain ourselves. So, we burned our one quarter calling … my friend Kim. Doh! My fingers weren’t used to dialing our home number and automatically dialed my friend’s instead, but she (somewhat grudgingly) agreed to call our mother and say we had been with her all day and would be home in about an hour.
Trouble was, we could barely keep going. We had felt great on the ride out, and felt pretty good for about half of the ride home, but suddenly Logansport seemed 100 miles away, instead of 10. I realize now that we must have bonked. It had been a while since we had eaten, and between the ride and running around the park, we had used up our stores.
And, we were broke. It’s hard for me to remember what it was like back then, but credit cards were rare, and certainly not something a kid would carry around. ATM cards were still a few years out. We had what money we had and when it was gone, it was gone.
So, we couldn’t buy any food, but thinking that water might help, we stopped in the town’s only store … a combination gas and convenience store. It was staffed by a very confusing woman in skintight black satin pants, stiletto sandals and very heavy makeup. I honestly could not figure out what she was doing there. Why was she so dressed up? Was she the town prostitute? Did she just like to dress up to sit around the gas station? Do all small towns have a town prostitute or a fancy-dressed woman running the gas station? I don’t know. I never did figure it out. Most people in small-town Indiana wore jeans and t-shirts.
But, whatever her profession, the lady was very nice to us. She gave us lots of water, admired our spunk in riding our bikes from Logansport to Indiana Beach, and then looked the other way as we each helped ourselves to a handful of the sugar cubes that were kept with the creamer next to the coffee pot.
It turned out that sugar was just what we needed. We hopped back on our bikes, refreshed, and pedaled like mad the rest of the way home. Our mother did corner us later that night and demand to know where we had been, but she didn’t rat us out to our father. Sometime the following year my brother borrowed my bike to go to the library and it was stolen and never recovered. But I’ll always have my memories of that crazy ride on Highway 24.