• James Eichenlaub

The Ride To Chic's Store

He awoke that morning with nowhere to go and had no idea how he would get there. Yesterday his grandfather, Pop, bought for him his very first car. It was a beautiful one-seater with a small windshield and a totally open top. After his first spin around the lot, he completely fell in love with seeing the pavement slip past him as he sped along. He watched with fascination the hard rubber wheels as they followed the motion of the steering wheel. Today, he thought, 'I am driving to California'

His name is Jimbo, or so folks called him then, and his bed was a small mattress tucked tightly into the corner of, as his mother referred to it, the sewing room. The sewing room was a small space just behind the second-floor bath that led to the attic door. He began sleeping there when his age would no longer permit him to sleep with his parents, where he had already learned more than enough to plague him the rest of his life.

He leapt from the mattress, still wearing the same clothes he'd worn yesterday and possibly the day before. Disheveled and hungry, he searched for and donned his shoes, and then toddled carefully down the steep staircase to the kitchen where his mother sat, drinking her morning coffee.

"Hey sleepyhead," she said, as she kissed the top of his head and then combed through his hair with her fingers. "You need a bath," she said as she kissed him again. She puffed again on her unfiltered cigarette and took another sip of coffee as he turned away..


Going to the cupboard, he removed the extra-large bag of cereal a charity gave to his mother. They called them 'commodities' back then. The year was 1957, and many of the more impoverished families like his depended on the surplus cheese and other foods left over after the wars ended. He poured his Puffed Wheat into a bowl and covered it with a rather large mound of sugar. The milk she poured was a powder mixed with water that saturated the wheat-puffs and whitened the cup of coffee she sat next to the bowl. A couple of bowls of cereal later, he'd finished his coffee and slid off the kitchen chair to begin his adventure.


His big brother parked his car beneath the rickety porch in the back of the house, safe from wandering eyes. It took considerable effort for him, on his own, to lift and tug the car from where his brother pushed it in, up near the coal bin. Once freed, however, he hopped into the driver's seat and peddled it around the house and onto the front sidewalk.


Now, it was decision time. Although told not to leave the front of the house, if he did not, what was the use in having a car? He'd made up his mind. He was going to Ciccarelli's, which was on the corner, just across the street from California. Planting his feet firmly on the pedals, he glanced at the front door of the house; nobody there! He looked up and down the sidewalk, which also appeared deserted. Peddling back and forth a few minutes while mustering courage and hoping nobody was watching, off he sped in the direction of California, all the way down the brick sidewalk, past the bakery truck parking lot and beyond. He was boldly going where no one in a nifty red sports car had ever gone before - at age five.


California! Really?


Okay, not really! One day a year or so before, he and his nephew, who is six months his junior, wandered away from home. They ended up here, at the end of the block in front of Ciccarelli's store. Ninth Avenue stretched into the endless distance toward "the long bridge" at twelfth street, which to them, appeared to be the rest of the world laying out before them. Being the oldest of the two, he said, "We can't go over there. That's California." He knew all about California because his uncle Joe lived there, and the first time he saw his uncle Joe, he was walking toward their house from 'over there.' Logically then, California be over there somewhere. .

So, now, with the full peddle motion of 1/10,000th horsepower, he was free to fly. Peddling as fast as he could, his teeth clacked together as the hard rubber wheels sped across the uneven bricks. Occasionally finding a large bump or pothole of missing bricks, he had to climb out, lift the car over, and then jump back in and bring the engine back up to speed again. Flying past the neighbors' houses, he felt like smoke on the wind, a mere blur.

Reaching his destination in a third of the time it took to walk here, he dragged his feet beneath the sporty car and screeched to a drifting halt in front of Ciccarelli's corner store. He sat and peered again down 9th Avenue where he knew the long bridge crossed the railroad tracks and led into town. He surveyed California for changes. Feeling entitled by his bravery to go inside Chic's store for something sweet.


Chic was no fool, "Let me see your money," he would say. Too many times was he bamboozled by children with big eyes and no cash.

Jimbo pulled a shiny Indian Head Nickle from his pocket and held it up toward the counter. "Ice cream costs a dime," Chic glared at him. "Do you have another nickel?" He did not. Pop gave him only one nickel, but there were those big eyes, looking up at Chic again as Jimbo held the nickel steadily aloft. Chick then made a cone with a somewhat smaller scoop of chocolate and handed it over while holding up two fingers and saying, "Next time, bring two nickels."

Standing for several minutes on the stoop of the store licking up the lava-like flow of the quickly melting ice-cream, it suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea how long he'd been away! Worried now that his mother might be trying to find him, he stood next to the sports car, wondering, could he hold the ice-cream and drive at the same time? There was naught to do but try, so in he jumped and placed both ignition feet on the peddles.

Starting the engine with a hard push of a peddle, he made a wide, circling turn at the corner, he one-handedly tugged the wheel and pointed the tiny car toward home. Hastily leaving California in eat his dust. Left-right, left-right, left-right, the engine roared as he once again bumped and jostled across the sidewalk's uneven bricks. Ice-cream cone held high in his left hand, his teeth once more clacking together, ice-cream drops flying about as the hard rubber wheels negotiated each leap and drop across the tilted bricks.


By the time Jimbo (right) arrived home, there was ice-cream in his hair, on his face, and dripping down his shirt and pants. He should not have made so many attempts to eat while driving. Trying to do so also made the engine stall from time to time. Letting go of the sticky steering wheel, he sat quietly and chewed the final and most satisfying remnants of the yellow cone, that part with that gooey, yummy chocolate melted into the bottom.


He happily returned to peddling back and forth in front of the house until he was bored. Then, finding a safe parking spot in his back yard, he decided to build a garage from rotting, discarded lumber by leaning it against the porch, after which he pushed the sports car beneath, safely tucking it away from car thieves, vandals, as well as certain relatives that he did not want driving it.

Unbeknownst to him, the chocolate drippings and other spots on him slowly but surely became camouflaged by the dirt that stuck fast to them while pulling and piling the old boards against the house. As he played in the grassless yard, his adventures left neither mom nor anyone else any the wiser to the adventure they'd missed, and there was not qualm of conscience for him to reveal it. His secret was secure!


Well, until a few days later when his mom went to purchase something and Chic smilingly commented on the fancy new car and told her about the five-cent-sized chocolate cone. It appeared that a reckoning was afoot!




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