Superman Learns How to Ride
It was the summer of 1967 and the moment was nearing when I would unlatch my training wheels and learn to ride a bike.
I lived with my family in the tranquil, picturesque town of Flat Rock, N.C., home to tall pines, shady country roads, winding mountain streams, and a humble roadside motel called the Bonaire. There, for $6 a night, you could rent a deluxe room complete with television, twin beds, and view of the pool.
We lived in the basement below the Bonaire's lobby, where I shared a room with my older sister. My parents prayed for those nights when our neon "vacancy" sign would no longer cast its orange glow across the empty country highway.
For an adventurous little boy, it was a time to stray beyond the safe confines of my own front yard and put my overactive imagination to good use. I shuffled along as the bookish Clark Kent, with an old straw hat, pipe-cleaner glasses, and ragged gray overcoat. Then, at the first hint of something amiss, I would disappear into the motel phone booth and emerge moments later - transformation complete - a red towel hanging from the collar of my dirty blue T-shirt and an ironed-on "S" boldly emblazoned across my boy-sized chest.
"This is a job for Superman!" I would cry out as I flew to meet imaginary dangers.
"Hey, Superman, when are you going to learn to ride a bike?" the neighborhood kids would taunt as they rolled past. "The Man of Steel uses training wheels," they teased me.
As I watched them ride away, I realized that they were leaving me behind. To claim my place among their ranks, I needed to cast off my training wheels and learn to ride with the big kids. I enlisted my father's help.
"OK, I'm going to let go and you just remember to balance," Dad counseled as he rolled me across the lawn. We were on Take No. 10 and I had already made nine falls onto the grassy field behind the motel. After each mishap, my father would take hold of my bicycle seat and we'd begin again. He was the engine and I was the pilot. He'd propel me across the grassy runway and then let go. I would fly solo - careening through the meadow, holding my breath in nervous anticipation as the grass rolled beneath my wheels.
Suddenly, I was riding! This time I had it! I dared to grin as my father's shouts of encouragement faded into the background. My smile widened. Victory was mine.
"You are going to fall." The thought was at first a whisper and then grew louder and more convincing until I believed it must be true. After all, I had always fallen before. Who was I to think this time would be any different? My elation whooshed out of me like air out of a pricked balloon. Dread gripped me, and my confidence faltered. I tumbled to the grass.
"You almost had it," Dad said, catching his breath. "You listened to fear and you fell."
"I quit," I snapped, trying to stave off the tears of frustration. "I don't wanna learn to ride."
SO I went back to my safe world of Clark Kent and Superman, but somehow it didn't feel the same. The intrepid reporter had left a story unfinished. The Caped Crusader had given up. And, each time I swooped through the backyard en route to foil another bank robbery, I would see my bicycle leaning against the garage door reminding me that there was work left undone.
Then, one afternoon, as I was passing through the yard, I thought I heard my name. I glanced over at my bike as if, perhaps, it had been the culprit. Then a peculiar notion came to mind: I could do it. I was going to ride my bike this very day.
When I boldly grasped the handlebars, fear came again - closing its fingers around my insides. I quickly let go - maybe tomorrow. But then, all of a sudden, I heard the shouts and laughter of the other children as they rode their bikes through the neighborhood.
If they could do it, so could I.
I pulled the bike to me and swung my leg over. I sat down on the seat and gripped the handlebars with renewed determination. I pushed off, wobbling as I struggled for balance. I took a deep breath and began to pedal. I gathered momentum as I started up the driveway and, with my Superman cape flapping in the breeze, I rounded the front of the motel at full speed just as my father stepped out the lobby door.
"Look, Dad! I'm riding!" I exclaimed.
He smiled and waved as I took a turn up the dirt road to join my friends at play.
The next morning I found my training wheels in the garbage can where my father had tossed them that afternoon. The same afternoon that Superman had beaten an enemy called "fear" and learned that it was just like riding a bike.