I learned a few things about entrepreneurship from my buddy Dave Buckenheimer and my RollFast Wing bike — but bear with me first: this is a hell of a wipeout story. Let’s start with our Moms. Both were from the laissez faire school of child rearing, as in… break your arm falling on the swing? Get bit by the bunny in the pet center out back? Burn yourself making a funeral pyre for some unlucky ants? All fine, just be home for dinner. It’s amazing how much we learned by simply breaking, bleeding, and wailing our way through our play-filled youth. Bike wrecks were the highest form of this adolescent art form and Gailey Boulevard, a steep switchback that ran from our house down into town, was our particular proving ground. It was also where Dave lived. One afternoon, I called and let Bucky know I was headed his way; he said he’d meet me at the bottom. I hopped on my trusty Wing Ding Rollfast and hit Gailey full steam.
The Wing Ding was my go-to bike. I liked its simplicity. It had only one speed: fast. And it could brake really well, allowing me to execute perfect fishtail skids. Gailey had no traffic whatsoever, making it a relatively safe ride. The only wildcard in the equation was pig iron, a waste byproduct of the steel mills downriver in Pittsburgh. Sometime, somewhere, someone saw fit to cover Gailey with this metallic stuff, vaguely reminiscent of blown glass beads, Generally smooth to the touch, some of it was sharp as a blade if cracked. This would become meaningful very shortly.
I was halfway down Gailey by now, although the Wing Ding was nowhere near top speed, mainly because the loose pig iron made me plenty careful in the hairpin turns. Trees zipped by, I passed the last of the four homes and picked up speed after the last of the hairpins. I was running flat out when I saw Bucky near the base of the Boulevard. He had a weird look on his face: a dropping jaw and the beginnings of a slow motion scream worthy of a Bruce Lee death sequence. He was pointing at something. My feet locked into the pedals of the Wing Ding, my hands on the padded handlebars my brother had been working on lately. Garage Note: when a gooseneck handlebar is loosened to do custom work, you still have handlebars that can make a variety of turns no problem. But if you lift the bars straight up, they slip right out. Not an issue when you are working in the garage; definitely an issue when you are flying down Gailey Boulevard.
I actually thought I had a shot at pulling out of it. The handlebars were now high in my hands, separated from the steering column by at least a foot. But the wheel hadn’t turned at all and I was coasting below top speed. If the wheel stayed straight, another 20 feet and I could bail with minimal damage. Bucky was rooting for me to pull off one of the great saves in Beaver, PA Biking History.
That fleeting hope was done in by a loose piece of pig iron redirecting my tire. That was all she wrote. The wheel lurched to a 90* angle that I was powerless to correct. I was ass-over-tea cups, still holding the handlebars, still clueless as how I got that way. My brother knew, however — he’d been working a chopper conversion for an upcoming Evil Knievel jump off the Spencer swimming pool, and neglected to mention the job was only half done.
Gailey Boulevard met me with all the hospitality one would expect of loose asphalt and scrap pig iron greeting an 8 year-old in shorts, a t-shirt and packing a lot of velocity.
According to Bucky, it was the most spectacular wipeout ever. I missed it: my head hit next and I was out. Bucky picked me up and helped me to his house. When I came to, his sister Amy was using a tongue depressor to remove a piece of pig iron the size of a quarter from my knee. I passed out again. We still practiced baseball that afternoon and when it got near dark, Mrs. B gave me and the mangled Wing Ding a ride home.
Here’s what a mangled –but exhilarated — 8 year old can teach entrepreneurs:
- Go full out on something you love.
- Fail once in a while. It won’t kill you.
- Get the h*ll back up and do something else, and let the scars remind you a bit.
Unlike a lot of kids today who are practically wrapped in bubble-wrap, we grew up active participants in life, with an amazing sense of adventure. That carries on today, informing my entrepreneur experience. I only wish more kids- and entrepreneurs — would behave with the same abandon. Most of what I observe in today’s kids is an awful lot of video consumption and precious little actual contact with anything else. If that continues unchecked, Video Thumb will become will be our main body part in 10,000 years. If anyone reading this is still around then, remember, you read it here first.