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Mack Williams: Just around the corner

I recently saw some bikers on the road. Perhaps I should say “bike riders” instead of “bikers,” because when an old, gray-haired man, born in 1951 says “biker,” “Easy Rider” (1969) comes to mind.

An East Rowan classmate, Chris Stiller made the transition from “bike rider” to “biker,” but not me; for when it came to that kind of “biking,” I was yellow ( not jaundice).

Present-day bike riders, young and old, wear the most up-to-date helmets, pads and gloves. In my youth, I was equipped basically with what came with my bike: frame, wheels, pedals, chain and handlebars.

I had no sleek, bullet-shaped, “space-looking” helmet, nor pads. (Most of my bicycle seat’s padding was not contained within it, but instead “rested” upon it.)

Seeing that recent group heading down the road to where I knew a curve awaited them, I hoped that no danger lurked just around the corner.

Speaking of warnings of what’s “just around the corner,” I’m reminded of ads predicting impending economic doom. These most always feature Warren Buffet and “that guy” who is an analyst for the CIA.

Let me take you back to around 1961, when at the age of 10 and while bike-riding, I discovered that just around the corner was: “The ground,” literally!

Most of my biking was done in the confines (self-confinement) of my boyhood yard, except for the time I got very brave and biked north on the Old Concord Road past Vernon Bernhardt’s house, stopping further to turn around at John Canup’s.
On the day that danger waited “just around the corner” for me, I was repeatedly circling my house on my bike. Either I was especially enamored of this route or had fallen into “fugue” (not  J.S. Bach). Even back in those “halcyon” Old Concord Road days, there was, at times, a battle to be waged against boredom.

Just now, I remember a particular serval at the North Carolina Zoo, whom whenever I saw it years ago, was always “circling” (and, depending upon the length of a serval’s lifespan, may still be doing so).

At this time, I should inform you that I always ride the tires of my automobile “down to the wires.” I even remarked to my mechanic one time that the wires of the steel-belted-radial were protruding to such an extent that if I were to kneel beside them, I might be able to give my teeth a good flossing.

When I now tell you of having let the rubber handlebar covers of my bike wear away back then to such an extent that the metal ends of the bars were exposed and rusted, you will understand my life-long consistency concerning such things.

Appearing as a circling (instead of whirling) Dervish on that long-ago day, I circumnavigated our little brick house faster and faster. Not having had many physics courses, I’m guessing that circling a larger house would have subtracted some of my momentum. (I’ll have to ask Norman Ribelin about this.)

Barreling down my home’s southern side (the side facing neighbor, Frank Norris), I could see W.A. Cline’s gravel piles way ahead in the west, across the Old Concord Road. When I rounded that particular brick corner, something happened!

I think it was the loss of my center of gravity (I’ll have to ask Norman about the “physics” of this too) which sent both me and my bike to the ground!

The exposed, rusted end of my bicycle’s right handlebar pressed fast against my neck, making a red, circular abrasion, a fraction of an inch from my jugular vein. If the end of that handlebar had been “pointedly-sharp” instead of “roundly-rough,” my parents would not have had their Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery plot “to themselves” these years.

They took me to Dr. Frank B. Marsh’s office on Barker Street. (I almost said “Baker,” and Dr. Marsh could have probably been a great diagnostician of “who-done-its,” as well.)

My wound was cleaned, dressed, and I was given a tetanus shot (treatment by Dr. Marsh, reassuring in itself).

Those still-sounding warnings by Warren Buffet and others speak of catastrophe “just around the corner,” or “just around the bend?” In spite of realizing these men are speaking metaphorically, I just can’t help sometimes imagining those “bends” and “corners” to be made of mortared brick.

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