I’m starting to channel my inner Wright Brothers

I’m starting to channel my inner Wright Brothers

Like the Wright Brothers, I am a native Ohioan.

Also like them, I moved to North Carolina.

Unlike Wilbur and Orville, however, I’m not smart enough to turn a simple bicycle into the guts of the world’s first flying machine.

In fact I’m completely intimidated by anything more complicated than using clothes pins to attach baseball cards to my bike spokes, searching for a way to make it sound like the opening riff of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”

Speaking of motorcycle music trivia, I learned something recently that shook the foundations of my admittedly narrow frame of reference, but it’s a factoid I feel obliged to pass on.

Faithful readers may recall I am an unashamed admirer of “Bat Out of Hell,” Meatloaf’s debut album released in 1977, a record that tested the outer limits of my stereo system, especially those JBL speakers that defined my listening life for decades.

I mean I cranked that mother.

Reminds me of that old gag: I may not listen to Meatloaf often, but when I do, the neighbors enjoy it too.

Anyway, I went down a rabbit hole the other day, doing some research for this column, when I stumbled upon an interview with Todd Rundgren, a wizard, a true star, to quote his reputation.

He was talking about producing “Bat Out of Hell,” the title track and how he made the motorcycle sound effect that provides the crescendo, the song’s epic climax. I had always thought he pulled some tape loop from his bag of sonic tricks, but it turns out he created the whole thing in one take … on his guitar!

Nearly 40 years after the fact, this absolutely floored me.

It sounds just like some biker dude gunning a Harley, revving that hog, pegging the tach to the max and roaring off down the highway.

In fact it’s Todd Rundgren riffing, ad libbing, fingering his frets, adding just the right metal mayhem to seal the song’s perfection.

But “Bat Out of Hell” may not be your cup of meat, and that’s OK.

What I really wanted to write about this week was riding bikes.

And by “bikes,” I mean bicycles, not the mean machines Marlon Brando and his Black River Motorcycle Club rode into infamy in 1953’s “The Wild Ones.”

“What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” asks the winsome naïf.

“Whaddaya got?” replies Brando, insouciantly, birthing the ‘60s.

My first bike had training wheels on it, and I don’t even know if they make them like that anymore, kids growing up so fast and lost in their virtual realities, those hand-held devices deflecting their attention from the world itself.

I was 7 years old when Dad taught me to ride, and by the time I was 8, I was doing that thing with baseball cards I described earlier, using only duplicates, of course, or scrubs like Lou Klimchock, never a star like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax.

Of course that all became a moot point when I came home for the summer after my freshman year at Notre Dame to discover that my mother had thrown away every single one of my baseball cards, which I’d collected faithfully for more than a decade.

“Whaddaya mean they’re all gone?” I asked, defiantly.

“You’re in college now,” Mom said. “Those are for children.”

Conservatively speaking, I’d estimate her decision cost me close to 10 grand, maybe more, but what could I do? She birthed me, she gave me life, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

“You didn’t even save one box?” I asked, knowing it was futile.

Mom shook her head with mock sadness.

“Your father is expecting you to paint the backyard fence this summer and to mow the lawn twice a week,” she said, giving me one of her best hugs. “Welcome home.”

By the time senior year rolled around, I had pretty much outgrown dormitory life with its strictures on everything from having a girl in your room past midnight — and that was on weekends — to the numerous other noxious restrictions that cramped my style.

So I agreed to move into a house 5 miles off campus, joining four other guys who were just as eager to start a new way of life.

Telling Mom about my decision that bicentennial summer wasn’t the easiest thing I’d ever done, but after a few tears she reverted to her practical self.

“What about your classes?” she asked. “You’ve made the dean’s list — what is it? — four straight semesters.”

“Five, actually,” I said, earning another one of those great hugs.

“And don’t worry. I’m going to buy a bike.”

It was a lime green Schwinn Varsity 10-speed, a real piece of engineering excellence, and all that fall I hardly missed any classes at all, making the dean’s list one last time.

But that winter was brutal, even by South Bend’s standards, and unless you’ve ever tried to ride a bike in a blinding snowstorm, wind chills near minus-10 with a solid sheet of ice glazing every hill as twilight faded fast into sudden darkness and traffic closed in on every side, well, you can’t know what I experienced.

Did I take a few days off?

I had to.

For the first time in its storied history, Notre Dame closed.


And the furnace in that creaky old house we were renting died.

By the time spring arrived, I’d basically forgotten about school, though I did ride into campus for concerts and to see my girlfriend.

I still have that bike, though, and it’s in perfect working order, I’m happy to report. I’ve been riding it to work all week, since my wife is back home in Ohio, spending time with the grandchildren.

So I’m channeling my inner Wright Brothers, using my 10-speed to cover the distances, though a lovely North Carolina full moon has helped light the way, even on the darkest nights.

I can just hear my mother’s voice.

“Whaddaya going to do if it rains?” she asks, and I have to laugh.

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