Tom Purcell: The lost freedom of bike hikes
Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2023
I dream of recreating some of the epic bike hikes I enjoyed as a kid back in the 1970s.
My used Murray five-speed spyder-bike with the high handlebars only cost 25 bucks but it was one of the coolest bikes of the age.
Man, I loved that bike.
During the long summer days, I rode with a group of kids.
We’d ride for two or three hours in the county park, then make our way to McDonald’s for an orange drink and apple pie, which I paid for by borrowing a handful of coins out of my dad’s penny jar.
It’s funny how I can still taste that hot apple pie some 50 years later, but such is the power of nostalgia.
Most older people — and I’m getting to be one of them — are nostalgic for their childhoods.
Most think their growing-up era was the very best time to be a kid.
But truthfully, the best time ever to be a kid should be right now.
Today’s kids have instant, on-demand access to any electronic entertainment they could possibly want.
They carry around $1,000 smartphones that allow them to instantly access any information or entertainment on any subject under the sun — or purchase any product or service they could possibly want.
But whereas kids today are overwhelmed by the entertainment choices they have — and in some ways are imprisoned by their smartphones — the kids of my era had very few choices and not much money.
We went on long bike hikes because there wasn’t much else to do.
We could play ball, and we did a lot of that.
And we could go swimming — but only if we knew a rich kid whose parents let us swim in their pool.
One thing we could never do was stay in the house all day and watch TV. Our mothers tossed us out of the house every summer morning and told us we’d better not be late for dinner!
Daytime TV in the 1970s wasn’t much of a temptation anyway. There were only three channels and nothing was on that appealed to us — especially the soap operas.
Today we live in a time of so many choices and modern conveniences that our kids are being robbed of passion, ambition and independence — robbed of their childhoods.
The great writer G.K. Chesterton once explained how our limitations are what bring us happiness.
Could you imagine being an artist, he said, who was trying to paint a canvas that was as large as the Moon? Where do you start painting?
You couldn’t, Chesterton explained, because if you are an artist you need to have a frame to work with.
By being boxed into a small rectangular area, you are given a point of reference and perspective. Paradoxically, it is the frame that sets the artist free.
Our kids today are not free.
The truth is, as Psychologist Peter Graves reports in Psychology Today, kids learn and flourish best when they are free to roam with other kids.
But today’s kids, monitored and guided by adults every waking hour, no longer know what it is like to roam freely with other kids.
So, yeah, I’m nostalgic for the bike hikes of my childhood. But it’s mostly because back then we were free to just be kids — which is a freedom today’s kids need most of all.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.