In junior high school in the 1960s, we were all looking for ways to distinguish ourselves from the crowd without being thrown out of that same crowd. Late in my Junior High years, a friend inspired me with a way to do just this. Watching the fun he had with his unicycle (and the girls he attracted) convinced me that I had to acquire one and learn to ride it.
It was perfect. It was cool and my parents even agreed to split the cost of buying a brand new one from the bike shop on North Petaluma Blvd.
While picking up my brand new unicycle, I “discovered” that I had to “buy” an extended seat post to give these long legs room to work and I was warned about how about two weeks later I would have to buy a new seat because (I was told) everyone destroys their first seat “learning” to ride. So my unicycle taught me some valuable life knowledge; almost anything I want to do cost money and “discoveries “along the way normally cost more money. Thus I was not just having fun and attracting girls, but I was preparing myself for “forecasting” and “contingency budgeting”. It was a good thing I did not know this at the time because I would have been tempted to blow the whole thing off and go watch TV .
I hated being so predictable, but despite my best effort at protecting that seat, I still managed to shred it. There I was, using my dad’s old camper shell in the driveway to get the feel of the thing but every time I tried to test my hands-free balance, I lost said balance and slammed the seat into the ground – so it wore out really fast.
My knees, butt and wrists, all healed on their own, but that starter-seat just kept looking worse and worse until I developed the balance needed to stay upright. So, I learned that anytime you see a guy with a duct tape covered unicycle seat, you know he’s new to the sport or very cheap. . .
Eventually, I was ready for the road with a new seat and thus began a whole new era of adventure, popularity and embarrassment. Not many of us could ride a unicycle so whenever I came wheeling by, it always attracted positive notice. I was at peace with the world.
I did make another disappointing discovery. You can’t coast on a unicycle. So uphill or down, you work each turn of the wheel while those smart enough to use two wheels, effortlessly coast past you. Okay, this thing better really attract some great girls…
One of my favorite destinations was the original Petaluma Public Library which many of you will recall have 4 giant pillars gracing the front of the building.
I was frequently between the two pillars on the left, about 15 feet up having “chimney-ed” high enough to attract lots of attention from passing parents who I could hear warning their child as they passed beneath, “don’t even think about it.”
Chimney-ing is a mountaineering term for placing your back against one wall and feet against a nearby facing wall then pressing and moving your feet and back to safely ascend or descend between the walls.
I didn’t have a rope but I loved it up there, right at the same level as those round windows; my unicycle parked conspicuously between the pillars, maybe my bota bag filled with juice and, a book in hand, that I sort read in-between winking at all those kids being threatened by their parents.
The kids wanted to be me. I could see it in their eyes. Their parents had that look that makes it clear they wanted me out of the gene pool.
One day, a friend who was not normally trying to kill me, was talking up how I was so good at riding my unicycle that I could easily go up or down the most feared hill in Petaluma; Fairview Terrace.
For those of you not nearby, Fairview Terrace is so steep that it really was not safe for cars, trucks, bikes, pedestrians, pets or most fixed-wing aircraft. Trying to pull into a level driveway from the steep street angle could easily high-center a car and leave you stranded. But – my friend was sure I could conquer the slope. “Humm,” I thought. “If I just take it very slowly . . .”
Starting from the top, so I at least had gravity in my favor, I mounted my unicycle with some friends around to vouch for my rising to the challenge; I approached the edge, and carefully – ever so slowly tried to go over and, “Whoa!” Gravity pulled the unicycle sideways from beneath me, leaving me to fall onto the pavement and roll a good 9 feet with my unicycle sliding somewhere behind me, chewing up yet another seat. Great- just great!
Gravity was clearly not my friend in this case. By the time my friends caught up with me, laughing and begging me to try again, I was back on my feet and inspecting my latest addition to the collection of shredded jeans my mom was always griping about and picking loose asphalt out of my bleeding knees.
“Maybe going uphill would work better…” I was already pretty banged up, so why not? I should have called it a day, but instead, I mounted again and turned to face the cliff, this time from the bottom looking up.
Any kid who ever ridden a bike up steep hills knows how to flatten them out by hitting them at an angle – which really should have worked in this case, but when I reached the curb and tried to turn for the next leg of my attempt, the unicycle trying to gain altitude faster than I could – slamming the seat up into my abdomen and knocking the wind out me and laying me out on the asphalt again.
It was here that I learned how sarcastic a girl could be with questions like, “what’s the matter Gary? Something hurt…?” I really need to stay away from Fairview Terrace.
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My next big adventure was in show-biz. My family was part of The Petaluma Danish Brotherhood who love to get together to drink and teach kids the maypole dance. They were holding a huge convention and leadership asked me to be in the talent show – not as talent of course, but as the guy who rode out with the sign boards to announce the next act. How hard could that be? Sign me up.
Well, the first difficulty was my costume. Do you recall those awful late 60s white bell bottoms, muted-color crape shirts and glow-in-the-dark colored neckerchiefs? Well, I do – with disdain! So we are all clear on an important point, unicycles do not like white bell bottoms. Even without a chain, there was too much fabric down around the peddles – unless you liked the grease rag look around your pants cuffs.
The night of the show, there was a really cute gal from catering who was quite taken with the unicycle boy and devoted herself to keeping my wine glass full and flirting with me at every opportunity. I chose to investigate this potential relationship and made sure she always had a reason to top off my glass. Who knew where this might lead.
It was working really well until I glanced at the clock and realized that I was on in 10 minutes. Oops, sorry. Gotta run.
I turned to make my way to the stage doors and noted that my legs resisted following my head. Nuts! I’m drunk. How long does it take for wine to wear off? Well, it didn’t wear off in 10 or even 60 minutes but I discovered new depths of enjoyment with my unicycle and the audience seemed to enjoy my extra spinning and whooping from the stage. I was eventually forgiven for carrying one sign across upside down but not for getting snarled in the curtain ropes. Hey, it’s not like they were paying me for this and surely that little gal from catering bears some responsibility! Where is she anyway?
Oddly – that was the last time I was asked to “perform”. My mom wasn’t pleased, but my dad, laughed at my hangover the next day. Turns out, he was observing from across the room as I earned that hangover.
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I found the best part of riding a unicycle was the rich collection of cute girls who wanted a ride on my shoulders. They would beg for a turn so I would queue them up and ride them all over the neighborhood. As long as I avoided nasty-old Fairview Terrace, I was the man with the mob of cheering girls. Any guys in the group were left to sulk.
This was going really good until one day when I was tired from a long ride and had no business giving rides but this one gal who I had hoped to meet finally asked me for a ride. “Of course! Absolutely!” And just to increase the foreshadowing of imminent disaster, we were at the bottom of Fairview Terrace. That alone should have given me pause – but guys, she was REALLY cute; so, “yes, let’s do this”.
I positioned her facing away from me. I had one foot on the unicycle pedal and placed my hand beneath her armpits and had her squat and then jump straight up which helped me to lift her over my head and onto my shoulders. She wrapped her tan bare legs back behind my back then I stepped into the unicycle, swerved a bit to establish balance and the ride had started.
This was going to be great. Her friends will be impressed. I’ll be the hero who showed her a great time and life will be good.
Well, something had to go sideways and it did. Recall that I had started tired. Not a wise thing on a unicycle because your reactions slow down and in short, I lost control with an innocent passenger aboard.
The unicycle unexpectedly spun us into the curb, stopped dead and launched her — over my head. . . NOOOOO!
I panicked and could not to allow her to face-plant from 6 feet high so I stepped out of the crashing unicycle, sacrificing yet another seat to the street asphalt but leaving me free to scramble around her passing legs to try and catch her.
She was arcing parallel to the ground but falling fast. I literally had less than a second to figure this out.
I reached out with both arms and caught her with my elbows around her waist – and both hands squarely on her chest for a sound catch but quickly realized just how badly I had messed up.
If you have the mental picture correct, you too realize that I had caught her by her well-endowed boobs, just as if I’d aimed for them. . . Ugh.
Embarrassed beyond the ability to talk, I set her on her feet, grumbled something about having to get home and pedaled off as fast as I could. I never heard whether she was angry, hurt, embarrassed, ready to charge me with sexual assault or (given how fast it all happened) even noticed. Surely she must have noticed – how could she miss something like that – right?
For the rest of my life, I avoiding her part of the neighborhood. My parents refused to move our family somewhere east of Colorado, so I was stuck in Petaluma potentially coming face to face with this gal I could never face again. What if she wanted to – you know – talk about it?
Boys are not issued the correct vocabulary for such a discussion until around age 40 and even then we refuse to read the directions.
Two years later, I got my first car and rarely touched that unicycle again. That thing was just too dangerous.