During a hot summer month before Fonzie jumped a shark, all the neighborhood boys gathered in Tommy Swenson's backyard to subject their Evel Knievel Stunt Cycles to the most "Wicked Pissa" jumps they could think of. There were no toys like those cycles. We could rev them up and launch them into the air in the most punishing, yet entertaining circumstances. Our Evel Knievels withstood them all. Years later we would graduate to riding our banana seat bikes over our own jumps, but nothing compared with the sweet thrill of that summer.
One particular day stands out in my mind above the endless others because it embodied in our young minds what Evel Knievel was all about. We had set up a particularly abusive jump for our Evel to survive at the base of Tommy's driveway. The driveway led up to the street right at the foot of Maint Street in Reading, which was actually Route 128. It is a very busy street that leads from North Reading to the heart of Reading with two lanes of traffic going each way. Getting out of our driveway to go anywhere in particular was always an exercise in patience. In this setting we placed our rugged surrogate.
Whoever's turn it was to send Evel Knievel to his fate cranked the gyro to a whining pitch until his arm began to ache. Then Evel launched out of the pad, up the ramp, into the air, and over whatever "deadly" obstacles we had placed in his path before re-entering Earth's orbit. Usually, the stunt cycle would "biff" in the driveway after a particularly high jump, but not this time.
Evel Knievel scooted right up the driveway, across the sidewalk, and to our horror, out into Main Street. As we ran up the driveway after our intrepid toy, screaming for it to stop, we came to a stop instead. All of us stood on the sidewalk and gaped in wonder as our tiny white stunt cycle, with Evel Knievel figurine astride, deftly rode under cars and trucks across all four lanes to come to a gentle stop at the curb on the other side, completely unscathed. To this day I can still remember the soaring exaltation and bliss of that moment. It was better than TV. Our toy had defied death and won!
No moment more aptly defines my young boyhood in Reading than that Summer day with Evel Knievel. The real Evel Knievel never knew of the his doppelganger's adventures, or how we tried to recreate that moment over and over again. Once my mother found out what we were up to, however, she put an end to our Evel Knievel adventures. After all, somebody had to cross that four lane street to get his Evel Knievel back. My Mum didn't take kindly to her own son's taste for derring-do.
Upon reflection, I am thankful for Evel Knievel's contribution to our culture and his cherished place in my memory. As a young "hyperkinetic" boy I was thrilled to relive his daredevil exploits. He gave me many intense, hyperfocused Summer days that I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.
Coping Strategy: Go out and play. Life's too short. Here are two excellent sites about this fabulous toy. Firebox.com and William Thompson's fantastic Evel Knievel toy page
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