Dad relocated our family to Salina, Kansas in 1976 to help Woodgrain Moulding expand their distribution throughout the Midwest. Woodgrain specialized in trim pieces for manufacturing housing, and this opportunity offered relief from a depressed job market in urban Texas. And in the spirit of dogfooding, Dad bought a noice double-wide on an acre in the Sundowner West mobile home park.
Now if living in a mobile home in a rural place named “downer” sounds depressing, well you’re wrong. If you’ve never dashed out of bed in your Underoos to sprint a midnight quarter mile through thunder and lightening and hail to the community cellar, then you haven’t really lived, have you? The real test comes when you emerge from fallen limbs to see whose tin house still stood tall. I’ll stack a tornado ripping up the Great Plains against any Red Bull experience.
Those were the BMX years when all the municipal pools had high dive boards. I got my first job delivering the Salina Journal on my bike. One spot in the living room where I rolled and banded the papers got dingy with ink. We rode our bikes everywhere, all day, until the porch light lit up to call us home. We pretended not to notice, and when it started blinking like a beacon. Everybody knew everyone, and with the hindsight of my own fatherhood, I can see that kept us in line.
I remember fondly the old man waking me up before dawn to haul lumber up and down the I-35 corridor. The best trips had an element of struggle. Radiator hoses popping. Being driven off the road by a farmer in a tractor. And losing our extended side mirrors slamming into steel trestle bridges because oncoming traffic misjudged our big truck across the narrow two-laners.
By age 10, I could drive a forklift, switch the truck’s reserve tanks, pull trailer brakes and interrupt Breaker-One-Niner to holler Smokey. I learned all the trucker lingo and secret light signals and still use them today.
Eventually the economy turned, and Dad followed paychecks south through Newton, and then back into DFW by 1987. We got back to Texas in time for rush hour and flyovers, big arena hair bands and Lollapalooza. I had more paper routes, but inspired by Quicksilver, I left the BMX behind for road bikes and mountain bikes, followed by fast cars and weight gain. I never lost the travel fever, though. Getting my kids up early to hit the road again, to discover that vista around the bend, offers the best kind of simple joy.