The bike was new and silvery blue, with streamers fluttering from the handlebars. I had graduated from my learning bike to a real almost-grown-up-size two-wheeler, and I had permission to cross Victory Boulevard at the light. Our street, Victory Place, was only three houses long, so I was eager to exercise my ten-year-old privilege and explore new territory.
Under a smoggy but sunny blue sky (it rarely rained in Los Angeles), I walked my spiffy bike across the four lanes, mounted up and pushed off into a new neighborhood. The warm wind lifted my hair, the wheels ticked along propelled by my thin, strong legs. The houses here looked much like those in my cousin’s neighborhood: wide, dry lawns of stiff Bermuda grass, driveways capped by a garage, a sprinkler whisking water, the smell of wet pavement.
Up one street and over and down the next I rode, proud to be out but also wishing I had somebody to ride with, a girl with a bike, a friend that didn’t live a car’s ride away. The street came to a T and I turned right.
Red light flashing behind me. Black and white car on my left. Window rolls down. “Pull over,” the officer calls. “Stop your bike.”
The day and my eyesight go momentarily dark. I brake with my pedals. I can hardly hear for the terrified roaring in my ears. What have I done?
He gets out of his car, carrying a clipboard of papers. Writing. “Well, young lady, do you know why I stopped you?”
I shake my head.
“Did you see the stop sign back there?” he asks, writing on yellow lines with a ball point pen.
I shake my head again.
“Stop signs mean stop, for bikes and cars,” he says.
I get it now. I didn’t know that car rules and bike rules were the same.
“Where do you live?”
I tell him.
“Well, take this to your parents. We’ll see you at the station on Saturday,” he says. He hands me a folded yellow form and swaggers away.
I wait for the police car to drive off before I make my trembling way back home, walking all the tear-blurred streets.
My parents’ reaction to my ticket has not remained in my memory. I was too mortified, sobbing too hard, to recall anything they said.
The following Saturday, my mother forces me into a dress, with white socks and my good patent leather shoes. She has persuaded my cousin Patty, who is my age, to come with my father and me. Patty is also dressed up. At the police station, we are shown into a large meeting room with a linoleum floor and rows of folding chairs. Several teenage boys are already seated, slumped in practiced attitudes of defiance.
I sit between Patty and my father. My feet don’t touch the floor. An officer gives a short introductory talk about following traffic rules. Then he starts the projector at the back of the room.
Here is Jiminy Cricket, singing, “I’m no fool, no Sirree, I’m gonna live to be a hundred and three,” and telling us how not to be a fool on a bicycle. He uses chalk to draw the fool, a goofy looking boy with buck teeth. Then Jiminy animates the boy, who messes up on his bicycle in several ways. He rides with no hands. He doesn’t look where he’s going. He gets smashed flat by a car.
I swing my legs, impatient to get out of there, to get home, to change into my pedal pushers and t-shirt and play with my cousin. The film ends. My father ushers us from the police station and takes us out to lunch at the Hot Dog Show. I order my favorite hot dog, the Boston Bull, with baked beans.
I never cross Victory Boulevard to ride my bike in that neighborhood again. Instead, I ride on the quiet roads in Pierce Brothers Mortuary, across the street from my house. I can go as fast as I want, and there are no stop signs.
The Karakesh Chronicles