Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella
… now that our yellow bikes are gonzo!
We say SO LONG! to your chunky frames and your color: creamy whipped BUTTER. Your black utilitarian baskets in front, sometimes with a big headlight attached. God, the light shone bright at night on our city streets! You were the apple of every poor Worcester boy’s eye!
This past Friday was the last day to ride the Ofo bikes. The company and City Manager Ed Augustus’s lackeys were all over our inner-city neighborhoods picking them up. Laughable! Why didn’t they just let our inner-city kids keep them? Ofo’s a global, Chinese company for Christ’s sake! China = the world’s largest, state-run economy.
I guess the millennials and yuppy types Tim Murray and his chamber of commerce poobas were hoping to attract never materialized in big numbers. I never saw one of Worcester’s young up-and-comers with his or her iPad swinging on the shoulder rounding the shoulder of a Worcester hill on a yellow Ofo bike. Off to a meeting with some one who’s wildly instagram-ing his startup’s customers while sipping a latte in some pleasant cafe.
Instead, the bikes were popular where the junkies shot up, the pits were walked and the chicken poppers were poppin’ in their vats of oil. They were most used where they were most needed in a Gateway City like Worcester where one in four kids is “food insecure” (read: HUNGRY) – poor neighborhoods. Lots of them. Poor adults in these neighborhoods, neighborhoods like mine. Adults who were sick of one of the country’s worst public transportation systems … and our BIKE KIDS. City kids whose families don’t have the money to buy them a shiny new bike but still, like all kids, they wanted to have FUN … they wanted to ride!
As a kid growing up in Green Island, my only two bikes were rusty hand-me-downs from my cousins because my wonderful mother was too busy killing herself 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street to pay for the vital things: rent, the gas and electric bill, food for my two sisters and me and her old Mama from Poland. New bikes were not part of our universe. They were something I dreamed over when I stared at them, locked together, at Zayres. Upper-middle-class and even middle-class folks just don’t get this – how hard it is for the impoverished to own cars, washing machines and clothes dryers, new bikes for all the kids … You never see scads of poor kids on new bikes, do you?
Instead, the well off don’t think about the reasons, they just shit on the poor kid or his/her parents or his/her neighborhood …
Losers in Losersville.
Like my “Ma” was a loser! She was the opposite! She gave me everything! She’s been my life’s inspiration! Lots of adults who’ve endured hardscrabble childhoods will tell you the same: their moms, dads, grandparents were HEROES to them. Up against it all and still working the shit job, getting up early to take the two buses to work, making that Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cake for birthday parties. A recent poll found that half of the American population doesn’t have $400 in the bank to cover an emergency – they’d have to borrow the money or sell something of theirs to pay the bill. So it only follows: HALF THE KIDS IN AMERICA NEED AN OFO BIKE!
By the way: I saw about three Woo girls on the Ofo bikes during the company’s stint here. It was definitely a boy thing! Which means next time around, we gotta get the gals ridin’ bikes! Exercising in the summer sun! Whooping and hollerin’ just like the boys!
Did I find the bike-herds menacing? The groups of boys on Ofos and their own bikes who rode through the city together in a clump, wicked fast. The bike-herds that folks said elicited calls of panic to the Worcester Police Department. Oh, my heavens! Youth! Brown and Black youth! A gang! Call 911!!
Only one out of my scores of encounters with the bike kids flustered me…
Most of the time I felt like the moments our paths crossed were an inner-city gift🎈. After all, I was the one behind the wheel of a 2,000-lbs jalopy! Sometimes I worried about bottles being thrown, especially at Jett and Lilac, but I just drove through, pushed ahead – with resolution. Slowly, but the boys got the message …
And I took pics for CECELIA and my website – the picture-taking threw them off a bit…
To be safe is to live in the countryside or the suburbs surrounded by white people with money in nice, tight homes with nice white teeth. People just like YOU! I prefer my wayward kids and their wayward bottles …
I never saw anyone in Worcester abuse the Ofo bikes, like the T and G trolls claim. Racist lies mostly, I suspect. Yeah, I stumbled upon a few beaten up yellow bikes on our city streets, but our city streets (and sidewalks) were often more beaten up than the Ofo bikes were! What did I usually see? Worcester’s inner-city kids – and poor adults – pedaling their Ofos with pride! Sometimes I’d even see them smiling to themselves. Riding a shiny, new, yellow bike down Millbury Street can do that to you!
Sometimes a gaggle of kids on bikes (yellow and their own) would see me looking at them in cock-eyed wonder, and they’d put on a little show just for me: pop wheelies, ride their bikes for the stretch of the street on only one wheel like a unicycle! I’d drive by slowly to take in the parade! One kid, about 8, brown-skinned with his beautiful brown curly hair cut in a wild, insanely tall pompadour with a kind of tail in back stopped, looked at me, and making direct eye contact, smiled impishly and said, THANK YOU! (I had stopped for the group so they could “cross” the street). Looking straight at him, and with a nod of my head, a tip of the hat, I said, YOU’RE WELCOME. Very genteel. Then we both laughed out loud! Ten kids, 10 brown- and black-skinned kids, friends, just having the best time. Worcester needs more of that in her inner-city neighborhoods!
To me, the Ofo bikes were our ghettos’ JOYFUL TOYS! An affordable gift any inner-city kid could give himself for an afternoon. It cost only $1 an hour to “rent” the bikes. And so the boys rented them and rode them all over downtown and Main South and the South and East sides of the city, all spring and summer long. Sometimes they’d wear funny, colorful, rubber masks on their faces, and they’d take them off for you, grinning puckishly. City Super Heroes! Or they’d tie red cotton bandanas over their noses and mouths, like the cowboys did when they rode through their dusty and dirty America two centuries ago.
Our urban cowboys! TODAY’S mavericks!
I am thinking of these free spirits this afternoon …
Hoping to see them sitting astride on the NEW dockless bikes our COMPASSIONATE city officials are promising to order! Sooner rather than later. I hear autumn in Vernon Hill is divine …
Nothing to do with Ofo bikes, everything to do with boys. I’ve loved this crazy tune since I was 16!