The cereal bowl is in the sink, and I'm outta here!
I look down our street -- Woodchuck Way -- and all I see are possibilities. The games and the adventures, and the pure American kid freedom to waste the day doing nothing at all. Accomplishing absolutely nothing may be the best way of all to spend a summer day. But not today -- today we have a plan. Today we're building the jump. THE JUMP.
Screen doors are slamming all over the neighborhood, and wheels are rolling -- skate boards and bikes and roller skates, that's how we roll.
Up and down the streets, jumping the curbs, you can smell the summer. (Summer smells like dirt and lemonade and Russian Olive trees, in case you were wondering. And hot, summer smells hot). Kids and their plans...do you want to know a secret? It's almost more fun to plan the adventures than it is to carry them out. When you're a kid, your imagination is vastly bigger than your resources.
But like I said, we had a plan.
Today, my best friend Aaron and I were going to build the jump.
This was in the hey day of Evil Knievel, and there was no doubt that only one of us was going to make this jump. And it wasn't me. I was generally opposed to the idea of seeing my own blood any place but where it belonged. No, Aaron was making history today. But first we had to build it. And when your resources are limited, you become resourceful...
You need two basic items to make a bike jump -- a ramp, and something to elevate the ramp. The higher the elevation, the greater the acclaim -- and the greater the possibility of death, a plus in any situation involving ten year old boys. We opted for an old, red, wooden toy box lid, and a stack of bricks. (This was a new subdivision, and it seemed every house had a left over stack of bricks in the garage or the unfinished basement).
The sight of the event would be in front of Aaron's house. The sidewalk had a nice upward slope to the West -- it was just long and steep enough to reach optimal speed, the speed of no return. The speed where bailing on the idea of the jump is as dangerous as the jump itself. Boys like to keep their alternatives simple -- in this case potential death, OR potential death with a healthy sprinkling of legend!
The ramp was up, and we decided to give it a couple of short test runs. I say "we" because Aaron always insisted that I at least try whatever hair brained idea we hatched. So I tried. But, the thing is, when you're talking about bike jumps -- especially jumps held up by a stack of bricks -- you have to be committed. If you hesitate at all, the bricks, that really don't want to be there in the first place, will just fall over. I timidly hit the bottom of the ramp, and the whole thing fell apart.
The funny thing is, this didn't seem like an omen at all.
Aaron decided -- he instinctively KNEW -- that you had to be going fast enough to fool the bricks. You had to be airborne before the bricks new what was happening. That requires speed. But, with Aaron there was always a twist. This time it was a "T" made of two spare bricks, placed about four feet from the ramp.
Aaron got on his bike. The Lone Ranger had Silver, Zorro had Tornado, Roy Rogers had Trigger -- Aaron had Gold Fever.
It was a disco bike.
I don't even know what that means, but that's what he said.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is THE JUMP, as faithfully and clear as it plays back in my memory, thirty years later:
Aaron is about thirty feet up the sidewalk. The angle of the slope is about thirty five degrees. The temperature is in the low 80's. My palms are sweaty. Why are MY palms sweaty?
This was 1982 -- no helmets, no pads. No hovering mothers. No worries.
I can see his face, nothing but determination. This jump matters. This jump is immortalizing.
And now he's moving. The distance is closing. Fast. The wind is blowing his red hair -- in 1982 Aaron still had hair. He must be doing ninety! This is for all the marbles. This is for GLORY!
And then he's there. The bricks are clueless. The ramp holds, and the next five seconds are in slow motion:
Gold Fever leaves the end of the jump...
Higher...farther...one foot...two feet...
The front tire is six feet in the air, but the rear tire is so close to the "T"...
It's inches away.....and...(I can hear my heart beating in my ears)....he...CLEARED IT! HE MADE THE JUMP LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!!!!!
A jump -- the verb version, not the noun -- requires two things, a take off AND a landing.
It never occurred to me that he might not stick the landing.
I look up from the "T" to see that Aaron is still airborne. He actually seems to be rising, like gravity no longer has a hold on him. And then Aaron and the bike separate. They just split apart. Gold Fever shoots out from under him, bounces on the back tire, and comes to a rest three houses away.
And Aaron goes horizontal.
As God is my witness, he was flying. HE WAS FLYING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
Knievel never flew!
Did he plan this? He would.
Well, everything that goes up, must come down, and down he came, at about the same thirty five degree angle that he started at -- he came down like an F-14 on an aircraft carrier. With no landing gear.
He landed on his stomach, in the full Superman position, and slid across the sidewalk, to the end of his yard, and I went for his mom, and the band aids. Not for the first time -- or the last. But, before I reached the front door, I turned back at the sound of screaming. It wasn't screaming in pain, it was screaming for joy! There was Aaron, sitting up, basically bleeding from the entire front of his body, but looking triumphantly back at the "T" -- wobbly from the wind of the passing bike, and the impact of the F-14 crashing into the ground -- but still standing.
That's how we spent one summer day.