The early morning couldn't have been any colder. The stars hid behind clouds that hammered me with icy bullets and I peddled as fast as I could. My shiny BMX bike was my partner, my chrome stallion, carrying me through storm, sun and snow. I shivered. I dripped. But the rain in my eyes and the water on my lips was beautiful, a fresh taste of innocence.
I had wrapped sixty-seven copies of The Cleveland Plain Dealer with care. I bound them with Kmart-issued rubber bands, slipped plastic covers over each one and then tossed them with squinted-eye accuracy.
No one knew how hard I worked except me.
On Fridays I'd come to collect. I'd walk through the front doors of pleasant grandmothers, carrying my ring of collection cards, dreaming of how I'd spend my profits. Mrs. Willis and a few of my favorite clients tipped me with cookies and a smile and watched as I rode off into the sunset. Some of my customers, however, were scary and smelled bad, likely pedophiles hoping I'd stay for candy and a movie.
I never stayed. I had plans. I was hungry for an Orange Crush and Doritos and I wasn't about to let a round-belly pervert, or rainy day, or snowdrift stop me from getting what I wanted.
I was a paperboy dagnabit!
The year was 1980 and I was ten-years old in a world that seemed to be glowing, bursting with dreams and thick with possibilities. The music was awesome and if you had a boombox on your shoulder and a bandanna wrapped around your ankle you were well on your way to stardom.
Looking back on those days I wonder how I made it unscathed and unmolested! Just two weeks ago a nine year-old girl was abducted from her bicycle not ten miles away from my home in broad daylight. They found her but she's traumatized as you can imagine. Unfortunately, her story is all too common today. Yet in 1980 I could go anywhere on my bike, wild, free and unafraid. All I needed was 50¢ for a pop and candy bar to satisfy my sugar addiction.
A lot has changed since then, don't you think? We grew up. We graduated from paperboy, to husband, to parent and landed in a world filled with busyness, stress, iPhones, iPads and everything except simplicity.
Have you noticed that people smile less and neighbors act like strangers?
We've shut ourselves in, less impressed with the wild world around us and more dazzled by larger than life personalities like Charlie Sheen and the winners on America Idol.
If we could only see life with the same eyes that witnessed 1980 from our BMX bikes, maybe we'd smile a little more and regain some of that innocence. My kids have it. I see it in their eyes. They spy a planet full of fun and freedom and summer dreams. And all I can do is worry that someone will invite them in for candy and a movie?
You know, I think its time I go for a bike ride through town with nothing more than a couple bucks to get a coke and a snickers and sit on the curb with a few buddies. The end of our innocence has come with a price, but I think we can recoup it for less than we think.
Life's too short to forget how sweet the taste of rain is on our lips.
Author of Reunion