Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella
You see them racing the thunder clouds down Worcester’s beat-up inner-city streets …
No yellow lines, median strips, or threats from our City Manager can hold them back! So why paint their roads full of rules? They’ll only break them!
With the sweetest smiles – they are shy when you stop them to talk – they pose for photos, even if their bikes don’t have license plates and they are infact “illegal” on our streets. I promise them: no names in my story, no mention of missing plates. I admire their bikes – the spirit it takes to get from point A to B when you’re young and poor. They know I’m on their side – even the guy with this crazy little motorized number!
With something bigger you can get around the entire city …
The Worcester police and the Worcester City Council treat this urban phenom like the bubonic plague. It’s not! It’s the trend…it’s poor kids trying to make it in the city during summer time. I was once who they are: in my Lafayette Street bedroom hot, restless, feeling hemmed in by my mother, our religion, our poverty, the close, opressive violence of my world, smothering me when I wanted to BE FREE, RUN FREE, SEE THE WORLD, CLIMB ALL MOUNTAINS . But I couldn’t do much, even take a summer vacation, like some of my school chums from Burncoat Senior High School. One classmate, the daughter of a lawyer, would be in Nantucket with her family. Another friend in D.C. touring the White House, where the President of the United States lived! She told me about the cherry blossoms in Washington in springtime…
If someone had given me a cute little motor bike on which to tool around the neighborhood, on which to ride for fun! or to zip to places for fun – up to the Girls Club on Providence Street in the neighborhood next to mine – Vernon Hill – or down to a gal pal’s house on Siegel Street, I would have turned somersaults in glee!
The attractions are obvious, as stated by this older rider! He has two cool bikes:
I like Bike #1 pic better! The Al Pacino tee shirt! The I love my dog decal! The NY Yankees sticker! … all so colorful … and autobiographical! You can learn alot about this guy by looking at his bike!
So, What’s the attraction for you (old man!), I ask him, smiling.
Well, Mama, he says, smiling back, It doesn’t need a lot of gas. It’s cheap to run. I can get around the city. Plus, a lot of beautiful girls come up to you, wanting to talk about your bike. Like you! Like this!
Playful as a tree house in the backyard in summer time!
And yet Worcester’s kid bikers can cause havoc in our city: zip though Vernon Hill, Green Island, Piedmont and Main South on their gerryrigged motor bikes at night, no headlights attached to alert oncoming vehicles. In the daytime, big fat wheels, small skinny wheels grind against city traffic and city drivers’ nerves. Some follow the rules of the road …
Others don’t. They’re kids!. They want to be as free as they can be … on Endicott or Suffield streets.
They want to look cool, sexy, independent … The Latina girls with their dark wavy hair whipping around under their helmets are something to see! Their tattoos are about love … and death.
See the electrical tape wrapped around the seat of this guy’s bike? It’s to mend a tear or gash because a new bike seat costs too much $$$. I was once a poor city kid – my 10 dollar bill feeling like $100. My first car (15 years old!) feeling like a yacht, and I didn’t buy my first car until I was 25!
The bikers don’t have cars either, and they need wheels! They improvise, ingeniously creating their own transportation – with the frame from this place, the wheels from that shop. They work on their bikes or motorized scooters in church parking lots. …Wire, spray paint, motor, decals, black electrical tape – the pieces of the puzzle float together in some mystical city cloud. Some bikes are beautiful, many are otherworldly, perfect for science fiction dystopias – and Chandler Street!
But the new city ordinances have been passed! The Worcester City Council has voted to ban the riding of these gerryrigged, outside-the-law bikes. City officials say many are stolen. They label some of them All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) because of their huge wheels – tricycle style. The ATVs chew up and spit out the mowed grass when driven through our city parks! This pisses many people off. The Worcester police are serious and have made arrests. Some city leaders are apoplectic! Some are sympathetic: they’re calling for the setting aside of city parkland for the city bikers – creating a special space for them to roam free.
But can you roam free in a bike park?
To take a kid whose world is circumscribed by poverty, a kid who is facing a city summer, a kid who is just waking up to adulthood and maybe understanding the hard truth for the first time: the game’s been rigged for people with money. So … on his own terms, through his and his friends’ creativity and sweat, he creates his own chariot of fire, his own inner-city Pegasus on which to ride … to his friend’s house, to his sister’s place three neighborhoods away….To be able to travel with friends on their bikes, to suck up serious city space with the group: a calvalcade of city kids on souped up, wild eyed motorized bikes. Today’s mods and rockers, today’s drag racers. American Graffiti … Worcester style.
… It’s all been done before. In hot rods. On motorcycles. The racing. The glamour of youth! Kids have always had cool wheels and taken them and themselves to the cusp.
High above Worcester …
… over its buildings and mewling skyline …
.. into the sunset …
… Worcester’s inner-city youth ride! Don’t hate them! Work to understand them!