Friday, April 18, 2014

The Rolling Rider

I wrote this a while ago, and frankly, I have no way to tie it into the 200 Things List without bending the relation beyond the point of believability (i.e., I can't tie this into the 200 Things List without being completely full of it). The initial post was written before I hiked the AT, and was titled "Reasons I Shouldn't Hike the AT." Given the level of bodily harm that came to me and my hiking group, I probably should have heeded my own advice. I have no excuse for choosing this as a post, other than the fact that I was thinking about this recently, and I wanted to share it with you.

The red rolling rider was the miracle of toys, and it was the direct cause of some of* my adolescent facial scarring. I searched for an image of it, but couldn’t find it, so I’ve done my best to draw it for you with MS Paint, the most brilliant of image programs.

*The rest of the scars on my face are mostly from an alarming case of chicken pox I had, as well as accidentally running full tilt into a wooden shelf.

It was just a little baby’s wheeled scooter… and it was the most hardcore piece of equipment our family has ever owned. It had six wheels and could be directed via the little steering wheel on the top. It was probably about 2.5 feet long and 18 inches high. I think it was built for the gentle use of pudgy babies trying to learn how to walk. As we outgrew the toy in size, my sister and I (and also my father) would ride the Rolling Rider down every single hill we could find, smashing it into things and using it for jousting. It was unbelievably sturdy, had been bought when we were infants and survived for 15 years. The length of its life is truly remarkable, since the toy was never really used as intended.

They just don’t make things like that anymore.

On the military base I lived on in California when I was 10 years old, there was a gigantic hill that led away from our front door. This hill went down to an intersection the main road, and then continued down into a parking lot. One day I decided to ride down this hill as fast as I could on the rolling rider. We had done this before, but typically, we were able to stop ourselves before hitting the cross street.

It was a summer day, and I was bored. No one else was around, so I thought I would try and do something crazy. It’s still remarkable to me that I made it this far in life with all of my body parts relatively intact. I took off about a block away from the top of the hill, stomping my feet on the ground as fast as my little stick legs would go, my knees sticking up awkwardly by my ears because of how low to the ground the rolling rider sat. I must have looked like a bizarre grasshopper, face fixed and teeth grinding in an expression of dead determination.

As I crested the top of the hill, gravity reached up its greedy hands and pulled me violently into its cold embrace. I went rocketing down the decline, my skin peeling back from my face and my lips flapping in the wind. Tears were ripped mercilessly from the eyes I couldn’t keep open. My legs were sticking straight out from my sides like the oars of a rowboat, my shoelaces whipping around. I shot across the main road, completely out of control. I was on the verge of congratulating myself for successfully making it across the road without being squashed, when the front wheels of the rider smashed at full speed into a tiny bump in the pavement at the entrance to the parking lot.

The entrance to said parking lot was also a downhill, which meant that when I was launched bodily into the air, I had a long way to fall. I did a glorious, full flip, time and space moving in slow motion, my mind submerged into blissful vertigo. Nothing existed except for me and the air. I like to imagine that the closing verse of Don McLean's "American Pie" played softly in my head, as the world moved around me in three hundred and sixty degrees of slowed space time.

They caught the last train for the coast... The day... The music...

The flight ceased abruptly with me landing with all my weight on the top of my shoulders. I don’t know how many times I bounced, but I know that not a single part of my body was left unharmed, except, miraculously, my head. I somersaulted down the hill, letting out a series of none-too-flattering squeaks and grunts.

I landed flat on my back with a loud whump, all the air whooshing out of my lungs and leaving me breathless and gasping like a fish. When I was finally able to get a bearing on my physical location, I was laying spread eagle, staring up at the beautifully blue California sky. I lay there, motionless, my eyes trailing a cloud as it drifted lazily overhead. A lot of my stories tend to end this way.

There was a soft squeaking sound as the rolling rider descended calmly down the hill and bumped gently into my side like a guilty puppy.

Slowly, I sat up. My arms legs, and really everything, was red with road rash. I reached up and touched my face, and there was a swath of road burn along my cheek and chin. The rolling rider was completely unscathed. I sat there for a full minute, just staring at my red hands in shock. I’m not sure how long I remained like that, but I was startled out of my reverie by the merry tinkling of a little bell.

I looked up, and a few feet away there was a 5-year-old sitting on a tricycle up on the sidewalk. He’d taken his feet off the pedals and was stationary, his little chubby hands still gripping the handlebars. He was wearing a helmet, arm pads and knee pads. He looked me over, taking in my absolutely shameful devastation, and then we made eye contact.

We just stared at each other.

As I quietly bled all over the place, he sat astride his be-ribboned blue tricycle and observed me in silence. I thought at first maybe he was just confused, or perhaps shocked. Then he narrowed his eyes, and I understood. He wasn’t struggling to decide how to help me; he was judging me with every fiber of his tiny being. 

His otherwise adorable 5-year-old eyes bored into me like daggers, filling me with utter degradation. Trembling, I lifted my hands to him in a meek display of begging for help. He looked at my hands, and then let his piercing glare travel back up to my face and sent me plunging into the deepest depths of paralyzing self-disgust and humiliation.

Then, slowly, with the look of a father who has decided with a frigid finality not to let his disgraceful daughter back into the house, he stiffly shook his head at me, once and then twice. His lips were set in a tiny, firm frown, and he said not a word...

Then he put his light-up velcro spiderman shoes back onto the pedals of his tricycle, and rode away from me, leaving behind him a wake of frigid disgrace that washed over me like so many cold showers. The little beads on the spokes of his tricycle jingled softly as he crested the horizon and was gone.

I still have scars from this accident on my knees, and for a long time I had a small scar on the underside of my chin. I told everyone that I had crashed while riding my bike, because it was too embarrassing to admit that I had been beaten bloody by an infant’s toy. It's possible that this accident actually happened on a bike, and I am squishing these two incidents together as one. I'm not really sure. Mostly, I didn’t want them to take away the rolling rider. Which they didn’t. We rode that thing for several more years, before it finally gave up on everything and disintegrated into a pile of plastic.

Clever Girl


  1. Wow, You lived in Two Rock? When you mentioned huge hill, I at first thought of Texas Hill. I was stationed at the TRACEN from 89 to 92. I'm wondering if I ever met your father now. Cool how paths cross. Not so surprising in the CG, but still cool. I have ridden my mountain bike down that hill, but on that little scooter, Geeze. You crazy girl.


    1. Heyt EarthTone: we got to Petaluma in 94, so I'm afraid we missed you! That was a great base, and a wonderful place for the kids to spend four years. Cheers! John and Liz

  2. Great story, which we can validate! The rolling rider is deeply missed, and is now passing into the realm of the unicorns and no-iron shirts. The one we owned is the only one we've ever seen, despite searching for many years. If traveling downhill at 30 mph a mere 6 inches off the ground ain't fun, we don't know what is. Oh...and it had a horn. Love, Mom and Dad