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My Great Good Place (Part One)

5 Oct

At the age of eight I threw my leg over the banana seat of my brand new bicycle, and with my brother David, five years old and only recently off his training wheels, set off across the street and down the sidewalk, following the quiet curves with their wistful British names: Trafalgar, Smethwick, Tottenham and finally Willesdon Square, to the very edge of our known world.  There, breaking our mother’s most fervent commandment, we blithely turned left, and, paralleling the four lanes of traffic she so feared, made our way past the Ethan Allen Furniture Store, the A&W, and the barbershop before turning into the small parking lot of our ultimate destination, the Qwik-Pik.

If you were a kid in my neighborhood in the early seventies, and you had a pocketful of change burning a hole in your pocket, Qwik-Pik was the place to be.  Marathon bars, Pixie Sticks, Hubba-Bubba, and just about any flavor of Faygo you could imagine.  (It wasn’t the only place to be.  A slightly longer trip north lead to the Farmer Jack’s shopping center, where, hidden away down a wide, dark alley carpeted in red AstroTurf, you would find The Pit Stop.  Leaning more to the Wacky Pack-bicycle repair-cherry bomb crowd, it was never my place, drawing a slightly older and more dangerous element.  But I sensed its allure, and had I gone wrong, It could very well have been my fate.)

Having successfully negotiated what my mom claimed to be the almost certain death of Van Dyke Avenue, we bought our treats and, carrying our little brown sacks with one hand while steering with the other, began our journey home. Turning back onto Willesdon Square, I felt a stubborn pride in having proven her wrong.  “See!” I’d tell her, as I calmly took another bite of my foot long  stick of apple-flavored bubble gum,  “It’s just like I told you.  ITS NO BIG DEAL !” 

That’s when my brother went down. 

A pebble, a twig; something ridiculously small was the cause.  But there was blood, there were tears (mostly over a scratched watch), and there was a call to my mom.  Upon her panicked arrival I found her less than receptive to my argument that it was really David’s own fault.  He didn’t know how to ride a bike very well.  I don’t know.  Maybe I played it wrong.  But I don’t remember seeing much of the Qwik-Pik after that.

It was a seminal moment.  Adrift in the auto battered suburban waste’s of Detroit, even as a child, I needed a local; a convenient destination for camaraderie and refreshment.  For an eight year old, that means dragging your kid brother to the nearest candy store, which I honed in on like a pointer to a quail, and then risked both our lives and my mother’s not inconsiderable wrath to attain. 

In the end, I failed.  But I find the instinct remarkable, for I realize now that it has shaped my entire life.

To be continued…