Friday, December 1, 2017

Road Trip

It was going well -- too well. So three vicious dogs ruined it by charging my 11-year-old son from behind a fence and practically eating him and his bicycle whole. I knew there’d be trouble along the way.

“I want you to be able to take care of yourself. I just wanna help,” I told my son before the trip.

This is my boy’s last year as an elementary school student. Next year he’s off to junior high. And while he rides his bike to and from the elementary school, the junior high campus is a lot farther from home and the route seems a bit sketchy.

“I think we’re gonna have to drive you next year,” I told the kid when the discussion came up. “I’ve driven to the junior high before, and some portions of the way don’t even have sidewalks.”

Daaaaad,” my son said in that tone of voice that let me know he was almost a teen. “I already know there’s a bike trail to the junior high. My friends told me it was back near the wash.”

Great! I thought. A bike trail! Near the wash, though? Great.

I was about to call off any consideration for riding when my wife, coincidently, broke in with a story about some friends who wouldn’t let their 20-something-year-old kids fly alone for the holidays.

“I flew by myself when I was 13,” I said.

Come to think of it, when I was my son’s age, I rode my bike longer distances and in worse areas than this alleged bike trail near the wash to the junior high.

So it was set -- my son and I would ride this trail beforehand and check it out. Over the weekend, we got the bikes in tip-top shape, packed some sandwiches and a couple bottles of electrolyte-enhanced water, cued up the GPS on my smart phone, and set out on our odyssey.

Right away my son wanted me to know he was old enough to lead the mission.

“I’m steering this ship,” I said.

“But, Daaaaad,” he said in that tone of voice again. “I already know how to get there. My friends told me. We have to go this way.”

“It’s good you’ve got confidence,” I said, “but I’ve got GPS. We go this way.”

At one point, he insisted I was taking the wrong path.

“Fine, you want the reigns?” I said. “Lead away. But when you get lost, don’t come crying to me.”

It wasn’t long before he knew he’d made a mistake. He simply turned around.

Why isn’t he freaking out? I wondered. When you’re lost, it’s natural to flip your lid.

“Do you want me to retake the lead?” I asked.

“No, we’re almost there,” he said with even more confidence than before. That’s when the three vicious dogs attacked from behind that fence. Maybe they were only pugs, but they were snarling.

My son got a whiff of death as he hit his brakes, swerved into some trashcans and smacked a tree.

He stripped off his helmet and searched for blood. “I hope I don’t have a concussion.”

“You barely even tapped your head,” I said. “And you were wearing a helmet. Where do you come up with these gross exaggerations?” I asked, trying to shoo off the “hounds from Hell.”

Clearly I needed to lead our exploration again. Cleary I’d be driving him to school next year.

“I knew there’d be trouble along the way,” I said, constantly checking on my boy behind me as we rode on. “You don’t just have to know where you’re going. You also have to look where you’re going. You never know when dogs will jump out like that or a car will come flying out of a driveway--”

“Dad, watch out for that light post!”

The crash reminded me of the Light Post Incident of ’88. I was my son’s age, constantly checking on my younger brother riding his bike behind me on our way home from school one day, when I clipped a light post, spraining my right wrist. I rode home left-handed. I survived. But I remember hiding the sprain from my parents for fear they wouldn’t let me ride to school anymore. I could handle it. My son could, too.

“OK,” I told my boy. “Lead us home.”

He took the role seriously and led with great ability.

The wash wasn’t so bad either. It looked like an enchanted lagoon next to the washes I remember as a kid, but my boy was on alert for any danger that might’ve been lurking within. I couldn’t help but miss the baby my boy used to be, always in need of my help.

As we turned down our street, we passed a lady with a stroller, struggling to calm her really loud, bawling kid. I couldn’t help but be glad my kid was growing up.

-December 2014

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