Thursday, September 17, 2009

Let Me Ride

To this point in the boy Judah's life, the only wheeled mode of transportation he's had control over has been a tricycle. Sturdy, not too fast, easy for him to maneuver and control. Recently, on the second leg of our vacation, he got a taste of riding a big boy bike. It had training wheels, but he was able to sit up higher, go faster, and get the sensation of being slightly out of control again. And he loved it.

So when we got back home, Lily and I discussed fast-tracking the whole plan of getting him a big boy bike when he turned four. We searched online and found some decent bikes for kids in the 3-6 year range, but they were all fairly spendy for something he'd be destroying and growing out of soon. On a gift-buying excursion to Toys R Us, we made a detour to the bike section and had Judah try out a few. He liked one with Go Diego Go on it and the price was right, but we still weren't quite ready to pull the trigger on the purchase.

The following weekend, after a playdate at the beach in Santa Monica, Judah and I were driving home when I spotted a kid's bike just the right size for him at a yard sale. I pulled over and asked how much.
"10 dollars" the woman said.
"10 dollars?" I asked.
"10 dollars" she said holding up 10 fingers.
I got out of our car, unbuckled Judah and had him sit on the bike. Slightly big for him, and it didn't have training wheels, but I knew he'd grow into it.

"Do you want this bike?" I asked Judah.
"No" he said trying to get back into the car.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
Judah was already buckling himself into his child seat.
"It doesn't have training wheels" he replied. So cute.
"Aw, well we'll get training wheels for it!" I told him. I was obviously more excited about the bike than he was.
"Okay, I like that bike." he said.

I pulled out my wallet and looked inside. On first glance I could see I didn't have enough cash, and I counted. Nine bucks.
"I only have nine dollars" I said to the woman, holding my wallet open for her to see. "Will you take nine dollars?"
"Sure" she said and she took the money.
As I put the bike into my car, the woman said something in super-fast Spanish that I couldn't understand. The people with her laughed.

When we got home, Judah took a nap and I searched online for the best training wheels. The ones at REI seemed like they'd be sturdy, so I called to see if they had them in stock at the store in Santa Monica.

"Hi. I'm calling to see if you have kid's bike training wheels in stock" I asked over the phone.
"Kid's training wheels? Let me check. Can you hold?" said the REI salesperson.
"Thanks" I replied.
A few minutes passed, then somebody different picked up the line.
"Hi, what were you holding for?"
"Kid's bike training wheels" I said.
"Kid's training wheels? Let me check. Please hold" said the 2nd REI salesperson.

A few minutes passed, then the first REI person picked up the line.
"Hi, you were looking for kid's training wheels?"
"Yes" I said.
"Okay, I checked the computer and it says we should have some in stock but I'd have to transfer you to the bike department if you want them to see if we have any in store. Would you like me to transfer you?"
"That would be great" I replied.
"Okay, hold please" said the 1st REI salesperson.

A few minutes passed, then another different REI person picked up the line.
"Bike department"
"I wanted to see if you have kid's bike training wheels in stock" I said.
"Training wheels? Let me check. Please hold" said this different REI salesperson.
By this time Judah had woken up, and we decided to play some basketball in the driveway while the phone was on speaker.

More minutes passed, then another different REI person picked up the line.
"Hi, were you asking for kid's training wheels?"
"Yes" I said.
"Okay, I'll check. Please hold" said this REI salesperson.

(This is not an exaggeration or a stretching of the truth. If anything, more people than I'm writing about picked up and put me on hold. I can't help but think these REI kids were bored and wanted to mess with me. Or maybe there were actually 5 or 6 REI employees bumping into each other searching for training wheels in the bike department.)

Even more minutes passed, then some REI person picked up the line.
"Hi, you were the one asking about kid's training wheels?"
"Yes" I said.
"I looked for some, but we don't actually have any in the store. We usually have some, but if you want to come by in a few days we might have some. Or you could always order online."
"Thanks so much for checking" I said, and we said our goodbyes and got off the phone. Good thing I called in advance.

Judah and I drove to Toys R Us to buy training wheels. I grabbed the cheapo brand that I've seen on just about every other kid's bike, and we were about to make the most efficient toy store shopping excursion getaway in the history of children, when I was distracted by all the cool helmets for kids. In the middle of trying every single helmet on Judah's head, I noticed that there was a package of training wheels for sale that looked like a revolution in training wheel technology. They had a spring coil design that would ensure that the wheels give a little when the boy leaned one way or the other, supposedly enabling him to learn how to balance faster than regular training wheels. Slightly more expensive, but... sold.

We arrived home, and I made a beeline for the toolbox. I was determined to see the boy on the bike that afternoon. Apparently with all the new training wheel technology, they didn't make it any easier to install the damn things, but I succeeded in getting them on and soon Judah was pedaling his way around our neighborhood. It was tough to get him to put the bike away, but the upside of a big boy bike is that it makes him big boy tired, so he was feeling winded enough to save it for tomorrow.

The next day we went for a ride again, and I quickly realized I couldn't keep up unless I was on my bike too. This time a we ventured a little further out onto a bike path down Culver Blvd that's completely separated with a median from the cars whizzing by. I had one of those amazing fatherhood moments where I realize I'm witnessing something new and amazing with my son for the first time. We rode for a while. Judah and I laughed at the sight of each other riding on a bike. He chuckled and said "That's silly. My wheel is making a funny noise." I rode my bike up next to him to hear what he was talking about. As if on cue, his training wheel fell off and his bike and his body came crashing down onto the ground, only to be momentarily interrupted by his face hitting my handlebars on the way down.

Luckily he wasn't badly hurt, but I was sure he was going to cry his eyes out from the shock of the fall. But he got up like nothing happened. I saw that his left training wheel had fallen off. It was on the ground a few feet away. I tried to put it back on and realized a part was missing - the part that held the wheel on - probably from back when his wheel started making the silly noise. We walked our bikes back and forth looking for the missing piece, but we couldn't find it. We walked the bikes all the way home. I got out the toolbox again and took off the wheels and put them back into the packaging for a return.

The next day after work I walked up to the returns counter at Toys R Us. I said "I'd like to return this" and handed over the training wheel package and the receipt. The lady didn't say one word. Just reached into the register and gave me my money back. I headed straight for the cheapo training wheels and got the hell out of there.