While bicycle shopping with my sister the other week, we recalled that we actually hadn’t learned to ride bicycles until a relatively late age. In fact, growing up on a Bay Area ranch, I was a late bloomer on a lot of things. The loose dirt and sharp rocks prevented the training wheels on my bicycle from working properly. The terrain also meant never learning to roller skate or do cartwheels.
Yet for everything my friends were able to do in their suburban backyards, I was able to do something different. Maybe my friends were able to do cartwheels on plush blankets of backyard lawns, but I got to ride horses through the native golden grasses, and climb massive heritage oak trees.
It wasn’t always a fun trade-off. Once when local law enforcement came to my elementary school with their bicycle safety program, I embarrassingly had to stand on the sidelines as all the other third graders completed the safety obstacle course. The police officer disapprovingly told my teacher that I needed to learn how to ride a bicycle.
The disapproval didn’t make sense to me. I mean, it’s not like swimming where it’s a safety issue; I’ve never known anyone to accidentally fall onto a bike and not know how to get off of it. Besides, I knew a lot of other stuff that the other kids didn’t. Aside from catching tadpoles in the creek or touching the sky on the giant rope swing, I was using the ranch as a giant TV studio, picking up skills I still use in my career today. That’s because I’d finally wrangled my mom’s video camera from her (well, actually from the neighbor—she’d let him tape with it, and it was from him that I was finally able to get my hands on it).
By the time I was around 11, I had already learned to use the camcorder to lay down voice over. I wasn’t tracking packages, obviously (although at an even younger age I did use my toy tape recorders to create audio interviews), but it was a start. I hooked the camera up to the TV and my microphone up to the camera, hit the right buttons, and put my voice on the VHS tapes where the original sound had been. I remember specifically on one video I had recorded an infomercial broadcast in Spanish, and re-tracked it in English, giving the host a deep, throaty voice. Another was an ice skating couple that I turned into an argument on ice. Mom thought the videos were hilarious.
Years later, I still don’t know how to do a cartwheel, or how to roller skate. You wouldn’t exactly think I’d need those skills in my career… but when I was working at Tri-Valley Community Television’s TV30 News, I happened to be assigned a package on a “Street Smarts” safety program very similar to that bicycle safety program I’d endured while I was in elementary school. And the story just so happened to take place at a roller-skating rink. And how else are you supposed to do a standup at a roller-skating rink other than on roller skates?
No problem: my photographer Wendy devised an innovative solution. We decided to tie the cold weather scarf I was wearing around my waist, and Wendy would pull me towards the camera while I delivered the standup. And it worked! The package aired, ending with me rolling towards the camera. (In retrospect, that was probably one of my only breeches of journalistic ethics…? It gave the audience the impression I knew how to skate! That didn’t even occur to me until now.)
I eventually did learn how to ride a bicycle, shortly after the obstacle course debacle– without the help of training wheels. In fact, the ranch is one of my favorite places to bicycle now. Hopefully I’ll never be called on do to a cartwheel.