Al Batt: This rite of passage involved a right, a left and another left

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It was rush hour in a small town.

Al Batt

I waited for the only other moving car to find a parking place and then I parked mine.

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I was hungry and there was but one eatery open — a bar. I walked in. Hamburgers were being made. There was enough grease in the air that I gained two pounds by inhaling deeply. I ordered a burger. The bartender told me that for an additional $1, I’d get a flyswatter.

The man seated next to me was welcoming. He had that old-man smell, which a man of any age can acquire unless he bathes regularly in AXE body spray.

He told me he’d stopped at the local hardware store, but both employees were on a cigarette break. He’d stop another day. There were 600 people in his town before the hardware store opened. Now the population was 600 and a hardware store.

He admitted he’d used the flashlight in his cellphone to look for his cellphone. “Welcome to my age,” he laughed uneasily. He talked of other rites of passage from his life.

On my way home, I thought about his stories and my mind dragged one of my rites of passage from the mists of time. It was the year my neighbor Crandall’s nose glowed. A firefly had flown up it. I’d witnessed history in the making.

The boys around my age in our farm neighborhood had all obtained bicycles. The bikes gave us the means to explore and spread our mischief. There was a rumor that the bicycles had kickstands, but we never used one. We either tipped a bicycle on its side or jumped off it, allowing the bike to go on by itself until it hit something and stopped.

We rode uphill and we rode downhill before we pulled alongside an old bridge and looked down at the river. We were performing primitive streaming.

It was then and there we’d decided to do a frightening, but we hoped fulfilling thing. How do males know when to do something stupid? It’s instinctual.

It was a state law that every farm driveway had to have a dog at the end of it — usually the size of an NFL linebacker that didn’t conceal its hatred of bicyclists. One place had what I called a hot dog because it was a wiener dog. He was underslung, but being built that way did nothing to curb his hostility.

The little demon could nip me on the ankle only when I hit the lowest point of my downstroke on a pedal.

A neighbor’s lifestyle had reached mythical proportions. I try not to judge others in a way that I’d never want to be judged. He had his ways. We all have our ways. One thing I could say was that no one ever called him canine-free. I knew he’d had 40 puppies on his farm at one time. I was told he had 75 dogs at minimum. There were stories of his dogs chewing tires flat and chasing bicyclists across three states.

We were going to ride past his driveway lined with boy-eating dogs, most of which were part alligator. It’d make men of us. We were eager to become men because it was hard work being boys.

As we climbed onto our bikes, I said, “Let’s saddle up and ride, pilgrims.”

I’d watched too many cowboy movies.

We rode like the wind. We’d been taught moderation in all things, but that didn’t apply when riding past snarling dogs with drool strings longer than we were tall.

The dogs saw us. We saw the dogs. We were mysterious knights riding trusty steeds. The mongrels were protecting their territory. It’d be a rumble on the gravel that future generations would speak of while gathered around campfires.

We rode toward the hounds, knowing they might be Sirens luring land sailors to their doom. In the blink of an eye, we had ridden to beat the devil past a dangerous driveway and suffered no casualties.

It was both a happy ending and a significant rite of passage. We emerged from that experience as mature and accomplished men.

Not really, but we had three of the boys place in the Tour de France while riding 3-speed Schwinns.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.