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< Echoes of Memory

Bicycle Memories

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By Peter Gorog

Today I took the metro to the Museum. As I walked from the parking lot to the station, I passed by the bicycle storage area where shiny, expensive bicycles were chained to the rack. First I was amazed at how many people trust that their bicycle will be there when they return from work. My first crime experience in the United States taught me otherwise. 

I had been in the United States for only six weeks, and it happened only a few days after I “missed” my return flight to Hungary. In other words, this was my first week in the United States as a political asylum seeker. In order to escape the 100-degree summer heat in my uncle's Baltimore house, which had no air conditioning, I decided to go to the library. Unfortunately, I was still about a month away from getting my first job and with it an opportunity to buy my first car. Public transportation was nonexistent in northwest Baltimore in the early 1980s, so I asked my uncle if I could use my cousin’s bike. She had already moved out of the house many years before and had left the bike in the garage. My uncle gladly agreed and I was on my way to the library. 

There was no bicycle rack at the library to secure my bike, but there was a rail in front of the building ostensibly to hold back young people from running down the steps right into the traffic. It seemed like a good place to leave my bike with a very sturdy bicycle lock. After a few hours in the pleasantly cooled library, I was ready to leave for the pool. The only problem was that my cousin’s bike was not where I left it. Actually it was not found anywhere; it had been  stolen. 

In my heavily accented and very rudimentary English, I tried to explain to the librarian what happened and asked her help in calling the police. I do not remember if she laughed or just smiled when she said, “Forget about it,” telling me “the police are too busy catching murderers and drug dealers” and would have no time for me. Even if they would take my report, the chances of finding it were nil. When I naively asked her how they could take my bike when I had a heavy-duty lock on it, she definitely laughed. She tried to explain to me about a common tool that was used. When she realized that I was hopeless in understanding her English she took a picture encyclopedia of tools from the shelf and showed me the tool. I then understood that the thief’s tool was an industrial strength heavy-duty bolt cutter with long handles. 

It took me a good half an hour to walk home in the still stifling heat. Lesson learned, although even my bad luck did not make me reevaluate my defection from Hungary.

Unless you know the date and place of my birth and the country I grew up in, you would not believe that I was 21 years old when I learned to ride a bike and more than 40 when I owned  my very first bike. During the Holocaust in Hungary, survival was a more important skill than riding a bicycle. After the war was over, my mom had to sell her remaining jewelry, except for her wedding ring, to buy food, so bicycle shopping was postponed. It was postponed for a very long time because even if you had the money, no bicycle was available for sale as they were the primary means of transportation for everyone.

I was in my second semester in college when my friends decided that we should go for a bicycle tour to a lake resort 30 miles from Budapest. There were two small problems: I neither had a bike nor did I know how to ride one. A friend loaned me her brother’s bike from the prewar era, one speed and beat up, but at least it had working tires that were hard to come by in the early 1960s in Hungary. I had an expedited riding lesson and off we went. I am glad to report that I survived my first bike trip.

It was almost 20 years later when I bought my first bike when my colleagues at my first job in the United States invited me for a bike trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. What a wonderful bonding experience it was as we rode from Easton to St. Michaels and back in a loop that even included my very first ferry trip.

One of my most cherished biking memories is when my daughter Laura, the silly one, called me on a beautiful sunny January day and wanted to go for a bike ride along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. We went and had a great time. Here is what she posted afterwards on Facebook:

Here is another posting that makes up for my missing childhood bicycle memories. This one is from my daughter Shari, the soulful one.

Tags:   peter gorogechoes of memory, volume 13

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