Sunday, May 22, 2016

"The Jump!"

This might not be how it happened, but this is how I remember it.  I believe it was the summer of 1982, when we all decided to head to the nearby park to take on “the Jump.”  I was twelve at the time.  When I say “we” I refer to the group of friends that I use to hang out with in the old neighborhood I grew up in: Mike the tallest, the strongest and silent leader of the group; his friend Steve, the typical nerd with glasses, skinny and annoyingly smart; my best buddy, Steve (Mike’s younger brother) and the taller and more athletic of the two of us; and Bobby, frequently with us, somehow awkwardly filling in the gaps; and me, average height, average build, average intelligence, and average looks, just plain average.

The summer in question would be memorable for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was that this summer, my best buddy Steve, would tame “the jump.”  The "Jump" was a hardened pile of dirt that came up to about waist height on an average adult.  But, to us kids… it was huge!  Every now, and again, when we would muster enough courage (or needed to settle a bragging score) we would head to the jump.  On this particular day, we headed down to see if someone could beat the current distance record.  We kept it marked in the dirt, until the winter snow would melt and erase the previous summer’s record.

We took turns backing up in the park in order to get a good run.  We would peddle as fast as we could to get some decent air, and land our efforts with smug smiles and taunts for the next candidate to have a go at it.  To this day, I don’t know what possessed him, but my best friend Steve backed up farther than anyone ever had.  In fact, he backed all the way up to the backstop on the baseball diamond! He backed up so far, there was no more space to back up to!  We all stared at him in disbelief.  What was he doing?  Was he crazy?  He got a determined look in his eye, and started to peddle.  He peddled, faster and faster.  He peddled so fast, his feet were a blur!  By the time he hit the jump, he had so much velocity and momentum, that time slowed down.  It was as if everything slipped into slow motion!

Steve rode a bright yellow-orange bike, with a dark orange seat and hand grips.  Tassels danced in the wind when he rode it, and there was a glorious phoenix emblazoned on the banana seat.  That day we watched, as everything seemingly stood still, Steve's bike had so much moment that it left him!  It actually left him in the air!  The bike took on a life of it’s own, climbing higher and higher in the sky.  Steve reached out in desperation, and at the last moment, he grabbed onto the rail behind the seat.  We watched the whole seen; Steve's bike, wheels and pedals spinning, orange phoenix seat ablaze in the sun, with Steve flying behind his bike like Superman.  He flew, and flew and flew.  We all watched mystified, knowing that we were about to witness a new, all-time-and-forever, best jump record!

When Steve’s bike finally landed (with Steve in tow), it crashed erupting into a pile of dust; bicycle tires, handlebars, tassels, orange, sneakers, arms and legs all jumbled together.  We watched in stunned silence.  When the dust finally settled, we felt like we had just witnessed Neil Armstrong landing on the moon!  It was magnificent!  Steve, had not only beaten the record… he had shattered it!  We all ran over, to congratulate him.  When we got to him (inspecting him to make sure he hadn’t broken anything) we noticed a few minor scrapes and a trickle of blood coming down his nose, but he was intact.  A sheepish grin creased his face as we all slapped him on the back with cheers of, “Man, that was awesome!” and “That was incredible!” and “Way to go, Steve!” and I blurted out “Holy smokes, wait ‘til everyone hears about this!”

Steve, walked a little taller that day.  His funky, orange, phoenix bicycle seemed to be more mystical now than it had previously been.  That was the day that I learned from my friend Steve, not to be so afraid to take on challenges that seemed bigger than I could handle.  That was the day that I learned how important it is to face our fears head-on.  That was the day that Steve, and the rest of us (though it was vicariously), conquered "the Jump!"