I would lie in bed at night and think about it. I would envision the steps it would take to reach the front door. I would imagine the latest version, usually comprised of wood, wheels, and nails, bent and unbent. It was theoretically possible to walk out our front door get into, onto, or on top of some vehicle I had made, coast down our driveway and continue either north or south down the hill, depending on what kind of ride you were up for.
In reality however the top part of the hill was somewhat flat so that there was a lull once you hit the street. If you could keep the momentum going or push off once or twice with your foot, you would gradually pick up speed.
Soon you would be inches above the pavement, its heat radiating up, encompassing you, the air would rush by until you could think it was the wind, the world on either side would turn into a blur and life would hum in an excited adrenaline twang.
I can’t say how many different "vehicles"I put together to make all or part of that journey, nor how many bicycles, roller skates, wagons, or other expensive utilitarian objects were sacrificed to my endeavors. But whole days would be spent conquering that hill, again and again.
In the summer when I was growing up, to be barefoot was a mandatory requirement for all children….. at least the ones I knew. Shoes, never considered a very good idea, were in the summer months akin to chigger bites on the softer areas of skin….you didn’t want them no matter what.
This presented certain problems for me, as brakes on the vehicles I created were also considered a bad idea.
I’m not sure where my sense of industrial design originated but the concept that one might want to stop moving forward never fully occurred to me.
Perhaps it was related to the difficulty I had attaching wheels to anything.
After one expends so much energy insuring that the wheels would not come off, and after incessantly experimenting with the steering mechanism and getting the thing to more or less go in the desired direction, brakes just seemed silly …like a horn, or a light or any thing to do with safety.
That, added to the formidable complexity of building even a simple braking system, and I often said to myself, “ the hell with the brakes…. if I need to slow down or stop I will just drag my feet.”
And anyway the first test run for anything I made was on the easy side of the hill. There you always coasted to a stop long before you were in danger of being run over by a passing car.
So there I was, with bare feet, trying to use friction on a hot asphalt road to oppose the gravitational pull. It should have given me pause, but only now do I wince when I think of the pain that awaits.
Adults of course were exempt from the rules of summer and rarely did I see a barefoot person over the age of 20. Once I did see my father barefoot on the rocky ledge at a lake. He was adjusting a boat or something. Given that clear opportunity, it was inevitable that I would drop a 10 lb rock on his big toe. He quickly retreated to wearing shoes again.
Had I actually studied the situation I might have realized that adults were even more opposed to pain than I was and that their extra years on earth has convinced them that shoes could at times be useful. But I was young and in a hurry and the study of philosophy was still a ways away.
A lack of brakes does free the soul, however.
It causes one to really focus one’s attention and thus experience a more full existence.
You can witness the same phenomenon in many institutions that are inhabited by inmates, mental patients, or politicians. Nothing is more superfluous to the full rich life than the ability to stop what one is doing at the moment.
It all comes down to a question of commitment.
An act, no matter how stupid and self-destructive requires an unswerving belief in its efficacy. That belief need not last long but it must be deep, at least deep enough to initiate the activity.
Once I had tackled the easy side of the hill with no obvious wheels having fallen off I was faced with the first of several major decisions. Do I go down the steep side of the hill and risk life, limb, and feet? Or do I continue with the safe but mundane side?
These were the days that my commitment ran deep, and rarely did I have to consider my options for long.
And my life since those barefoot summers has been a testament to the lessons learned on the steep side of that hill….it has careened in various and unexpected directions all because I had that commitment…..and no brakes to speak of.