It feels like an appropriate time to put this one up. It’s from a 1992 issue of Bicycles Today. We find our thinly-disguised hero, Michael “Squid” Allen, dealing with an injury over the winter of 1986-1987 and learning a bit about himself in the process. It’s a sequel to Squid is Squirrelly. I don’t know whether it’s cheering or depressing that I’m still getting hurt on motocross tracks twenty-seven years later. As with other posts in the “BMX Basics” series, I’ve resisted the temptation to edit my nineteen-year-old self — jb
“Oh, man, my left leg hurts so bad I think I’m going to die. No way I’m gonna win this time. I’m just happy to make the main.” Behind Squid, two riders are engaged in conversation.
“Yeah, talk about taking it easy. In my second moto, I slipped my pedal and chewed my left shin.”
“I saw that.”
“You saw that?”
“Yeah! You were cranking along, and POW! you slipped a pedal and hit your shin. Yeah, you were behind me in that moto. I remember looking back and seeing you hit your shin and thinking ‘That must really bite, slamming your shin like that’.”
“I wasn’t in your moto.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. What, you think I don’t know which moto I was in? I was in 55, you were in 57.”
“Sorry. Must have been somebody else.”
“Must have been.” A grin comes to Squid’s face as he realizes what these two guys are doing. They’re playing “I’m Too Hurt
to Ride Hard,” a really fun game played during staging in which you try to convince everybody in your moto (or, in this case, main) that you’re too messed up to even be a factor in the race. Once you’ve got them nice and complacent, you blast outta the gate and kill everybody.
Only the most convincing liars can make it work, but the dudes behind him are trying pretty hard nonetheless. Squid turns his head and
makes an attempt at it.
“Yo man, you talk about feeling beat, I’m so tired I could hardly pick my bike up to get in line here.” The eyes facing Squid are a tad distrustful, and he can’t blame them; Squid has won all three of his 15 Beginner motos today at Buckeye BMX, the Midwest’s largest indoor track, and won them by big margins. He is a clear favorite to win the main, having done so the previous race weekend. In fact, if his damn brother hadn’t won seven weekends in a row, making Squid’s total of two victories during the same period seem paltry, Mom might even have let him turn Novice for this race.
But she didn’t, and now Squid has to slaughter these Beginner punks again before ascending to the heights of Novice competence. He returns his attention to the back of his number plate, and his competitors return to their tales of woe. It won’t help them a bit, Squid thinks. I’m the man here. Despite this, he reaches forward to tap the helmet of the guy in front of him. When he turns around, Squid says, “Man am I hurting. I wish we’d had more time to rest before the main.”
“Not getting a rest doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty strong out of the gate without having to rest up,” the kid replies. This sucker, having taken Squid’s bait, turns away to fiddle with his bike, one of the new Haro racers, called the “Group 1 RS2”. What a joke, Squid thinks, Haro making a race bike and hiring Pistol Pete to ride for them. Pete’ll never win another race. All Haro knows is freestyle. By the end of ’88, a year in the future, Pete and Mike King will be shopping for rides. Shoulda stuck with CW, Pete. That’s a company that’ll
Squid feels the sickness rise in his stomach as he climbs up the ramp to the starting hill. Once there, he draws a 7 of clubs, meaning he’ll be coming from the outside when the famous first straight triples take out half his main. His mouthguard pops off, and he replaces it as the starter calls, “Set ’em up.” Squid hates this guy; he’d much prefer the man said “Load ’em up,” like every other decent starter in the state. Shucking that complaint aside, he puts his left foot squarely on the ground, his right foot on his Shimano DX, and his butt behind the seat. “Riders ready… Watch the gate.” When the gate drops, Squid pushes out into third place, behind two dudes who have
mastered the two-pedal start.
Everybody rolls the first hill with no problem, and the triples approach fast in the tiny slit formed by visor and mouthguard. These triples, a source of much controversy over the years at Buckeye BMX, are placed immediately before the first turn, which is a sweeper to the right. Not a Beginner or Novice moto goes by without a spectacular multi-bike wreck, spilling bodies across the surface of the sweeper. In fact, Squid had once considered putting a Rotor freestyle brake detangler on his bike so he wouldn’t have to unwind his rear brake after bailing. That added convenience might mean picking up as many as three places in the race, since the first guy to get up and moving is usually first across the line.
After hitting a couple of races at Buckeye, Rotor or no, Squid has learned to handle the triples a little better than his peers, a fact borne out again as the first-,fifth-, and eighth-place riders all lose control over the jump and go sliding off face first towards the wooden fence bordering the track. Squid is unaffected and powers inside the new first-place rider to become the leader. Not looking back, he leans so far forwards over his bike that his mouthguard leads his front wheel, and pedals for dear life.
Four, five, and then eight feet separate him from the trailing second-place rider. As he rounds the sweeper and heads down the second straight, by the stands, he sees his mother’s mouth moving but hears no sound, his hearing seemingly disconnected by the pressure. Squid handles the next jump with ease and dives into the second turn, three bikes ahead of his nearest pursuer.
Something goes very wrong. A rut in the normally perfectly maintained track catches Squid’s front wheel, and he, in slow motion, pivots over the top of the bike and into the turn. His Patterson rolls over the top of the berm, and Squid is run over by three of his fellow racers. He recognizes one of them as the kid who “wasn’t bothered”. The poor guy probably loafed out of the gate, thinking everyone was dead tired and would slack off. And now he’s fighting for seventh. Well, he’s ahead of me, Squid thinks, feeling the tire go over his hand. Ow.
Once the pain retreats, Squid, usually quick to get up from a wreck, staggers up, finds his bike and heads for the finish line. No congratulations, no trophy. And he’s in a lot of pain; both elbows of his “Turbos BMX Team, Cols., Ohio” jersey are stained with blood, and his left glove is mostly torn off his hand. His brother, clutching a first-place piece of plastic and marble, meets him at the line. “Way to go, buddy. I’ve never seen somebody blow a lead like that! You were in first, man, about fifteen feet ahead of everybody, and you just up and…”
“Shut up and get me a Band-Aid,” Squid snarls, wheeling the injured Patterson back to the pits. As he contemplates the new forty-degree bend in his seatpost, Lee, a friend of his mom’s whose daughter hasn’t lost a race in two years, walks up and offers a piece of advice.
“Don’t ride so far forward on the bike.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Squid wails, rolling his sleeves back to reveal a pair of deep wounds on his elbows. All around him, people are packing up, wheeling their bikes outside to waiting trailers and vans, but Squid chooses to slump onto the bleachers and cradle his head in his hands. He is hurting so badly, and is so depressed, that life scarcely seems worth living. What to do now? An idea floats down from the building’s rafters and into his lap, and Squid tries it on for size. “Man, I’m quitting.”
Ten minutes ago, he would have dismissed the word “quit” as utterly beneath him, but this recent disappointment seems to have opened a door somewhere inside him that he had always managed to keep closed even against his father’s hate of BMX and his peers’ occasional ridicule. Quitting sounds pretty good right now. Squid is playing the ultimate game of “I’m Too Hurt to Ride Hard” with himself this time, and he’s buying it.
He has nothing else to say as he sets the bike rack up on the family Ford out in the parking lot. Buckeye BMX is a winter track, and it’s January, about twenty degrees outside, but Squid doesn’t care, ignores the stinging and cold on his elbows. Having set up the rack, he must now wait for his brother to bring his bike out so that he may rack it inside his own; the extra weight of Squid’s bike on the outside helps to keep the rack on the car.
With nothing to do at the moment, he examines his trusty Patterson critically. It seems, due to the downward slope of the Zeronine Moto-Control plate on it, to be a little depressed, a little upset, just like him. Squid draws his foot back and kicks his scoot hard right in the left crank arm, spreading the blame just a bit. “You’re a terrible bike.” Not surprisingly, the PRP does not respond, but sits mute. “I’m going to quit this lousy sport anyway. Then you and I will just cruise the neighborhood and pose, man. You’re a terrible bike.” You are a terrible rider, the Patterson seems to respond. “I don’t care. You’re a terrible bike.”
The next day, Squid huddles in the passenger seat of his buddy Joel’s Fiat convertible on the way to the school, feeling miserable as his elbows seem to fill with a gnawing sensation, the healing itch he is prevented from scratching by the sleeves of his jacket. Briefly, he outlines his plan for leaving BMX in a blaze of glory, touching on the various benefits one might receive by never setting foot on a track again.
“Don’t quit, dude,” is Joel’s advice.
“I’ve got to. All I ever do is wreck. Both my parents think its a good idea to quit. I’ll still ride, but I’ll just pose. I’ll get a freestyle bike.” Joel is momentarily distracted by the problem of steering the tiny convertible around a huge chunk of ice in the road, but responds with alacrity.
“You can’t quit. Racing is in your soul. What do you want to freestyle for, man? It takes a better man to race than to style. You think that Fiola could ever win a race? Aparijo? No way. Wouldn’t even get outta the gate. Racing… it just is. You shouldn’t quit.” Both Squid and Joel hate the term “BMX”; it reminds them uncomfortably of the evil words “Track Certified”, found on the flanks of every crappy eighty-seven-dollar bike ever made. As high school students, they are very conscious of the sport’s image, and want to shed it. They don’t race BMX, they just race. But now, Squid doesn’t want to race.
“Look at my arms, man. I’m hurt bad. This always happens. Pretty soon I’ll have so many scars no chick in her right mind will even look at me. So will you.” Too late, Squid realizes the magnitude of his sin. You never tell your buddy to quit, or even give him reasons. You give him reasons not to quit. The Fiat’s feeble heater, unable to keep the interior temperature above forty degrees, cannot cope with the new chill in the car.
“I’m not going to quit, Squid. You go ahead and quit if you want. I’m not gonna quit. No time soon.” Without a further word, they arrive at school and take different directions to class, Squid silently hating himself. Who knows what Joel’s feelings are? He is three years older than Squid, and a Novice. Being a Novice, Squid guesses, gives you a different slant on things. Nobody in your class ever runs with mags.
The prosperous suburban high school Joel and Squid attend is heated to the boiling point in winter. Most of their fellow students, affluent and fashion conscious, continue to wear winter fashions despite the heatstroke that such a dressing philosophy might entail, but the outsiders and misfits, free from any social convention, wear T-shirts and jeans under their coats, and are far more comfortable with the heat, if not with their Gucci-shod peers.
Squid pitches his black leather jacket into his locker, revealing to the world his “Iron Maiden World Slavery Tour” T-shirt. Below that, a pair of dirty and unfashionable boot-cut jeans flare out to reveal his blue Converse All-Stars. Squid has three pairs of them in different colors. He feels that his choice of footwear accurately reflects his status as a would-be BMX hero, despite the fact that he wears Nikes when he races since the All-Stars don’t protect your feet at all.
All of that is irrelevant now, and Squid will be able to wear All-Stars all the time, since he is absolutely, positively quitting racing. As Squid, four minutes late, wanders into his American History class, he turns his elbows inward and under his books to hide the pus-filled scabs lining his arms from wrist to bicep. The rest of the class, very used to seeing Squid bumble through high school in general and American History in particular, pays him no mind.
An empty seat in the back of the room beckons him, and he bumps into several people on the way to it, accidentally dropping last month’s copy of BMX Plus! into some preppy guy’s lap.”Here’s your… magazine,” the jerk says, twisting his mouth in disgust at the coverpage antics of Fiola and Wilkerson and shoving the mag neatly into Squid’s pile of books.
“Thanks.” Squid finally makes his way to his seat, having managed to disturb half of the class for a good three minutes, and sits down, dumping his books on the floor with a SLAM!
“Mr. Allen, would you mind not coming in late and dropping your books?” His teacher, Robert Graves, is not a bad guy, but seems to bug Squid at the wrong times.
“Yeah, well, I’ll try not to do it again, buddy.” The class titters.
“See that you don’t.” Class resumes, but Squid, having read and understood today’s lesson in the book several weeks ago, is at a loss for what to do. Ordinarily he would take a piece of notebook paper and painstakingly list the components of his, his brother’s, Joel’s, Rick’s, and all his homeboys’ bikes, part by part. Parts that, in Squid’s opinion, needed to be replaced, he underlines. His own bike’s list rarely shows any sign of underlining; his ride is dialed. In fact, if Squid had his way, the whole world would run the same setup on their bikes as he does, and he would win all the races since it would be, after all, his bike they were all copying.
But he doesn’t want to list components today. Sometimes in class Squid also draws pictures of himself getting unbelievably rad. Or he takes out a ruler and designs new racing frames. The teachers would bug him about it, but he is usually prepared and ahead of the class anyway, so he is left alone to dream. Having officially quit BMX, though, Squid has nothing to do or dream about. So, as Mr. Graves drones on, he thinks about quitting the sport and the advantages involved.
He’ll never have to wake up early on weekend mornings again, especially freezing winter ones. Never again will he feel sick to his stomach as he, Mom, and Mark pull into the track’s parking lot. He’ll never be hurt again, or be embarrassed, or be beaten out of his socks by some physical prodigy on a “Track Certified” bike. Squid has had a fine eight months as a Beginner. It’s enough to fill anyone’s memories. Enough that you never have to be ashamed for not going farther. He went ahead and raced and a lot of other guys never even tried, just rode around the neighborhood and acted cool. He is a racer. Well, he was a racer. Is that all there is?
Already, having decided to give BMX up, Squid misses things. The feel of the jet heaters they wheeled into the pits for every winter race, and the delicious tension you felt leaning up against them, knowing that it might melt your plastic racing pants without warning, but not caring since you were freezing out of your socks. The way the guys he raced with, even the ones he beat, were always happy to see him, unlike the people at school, and always cheered him up. Hanging out in the pits after a race. Putting on a little jumping contest at the track with your buddies when all any of you can pull is some lame dead sailor type of cross-up two feet up.
Playing “I’m Too Hurt to Ride Hard” with dudes who knew exactly what you were doing, and with dudes who didn’t. Everything, all of these things, rolled up into one big ball that comes giftwrapped on special weekend mornings and requires only a bit of faith, guts, and an entry fee. All of it. But he’s quit, hasn’t he? Told his mom, dad, everybody. It would take a miracle to get him back into it after he quit so dramatically.
Mr. Graves scribbles the words “American Revolution” on the board, but Squid pays him no mind. Squid doesn’t want a revolution. He wants a sign. His teacher’s voice penetrates the reverie. “Exactly who was Crispus Attucks, and what is he remembered for?” Squid knows this. Well, what the heck. Might as well answer. As he raises his hand, the whole of the class turns its attention upon him. He is dirty, ragged, and there is a long, undulating wound on his raised right arm. All around him, people draw in their breath, shrink back, at the sight of someone so brutally wounded and yet so stupidly nonchalant. Silence permeates the classroom. Squid’s hand, previously bold, now wilts like a flower under all the attention.
What are his classmates thinking? What kind of weird creature is this Squid? Although Graves calls on him, Squid can’t answer right away, struck by the sudden revelation that he simply may not quit now. There is no other home for him but the dirt and wood of the track; no atmosphere but that of the stirring and settling dust drawn through his mouthguard. Where could he go without it? Nowhere. Squid Allen has been branded, the sport of BMX has claimed him, forever, as its own.