Monday, June 3, 2013

Mrs. Blau and the Sting-Ray

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Sting-Ray bicycle by Schwinn. I'm sure some of you had one in the 70's. I did.

Often featuring a smaller front wheel, bright metallic colors, a “banana” seat and signature "butterfly" handlebars, my bike lacked only the tall chrome bar in back called a "sissy bar.”  

How I loved that bike. 

I wish I’d never spent my hard-earned after school dollars to replace it with the fad of the razor thin English racer in my later teens. I may have felt cool  wobbling around, hunched over the handlebars (Who needs racing handlebars tooling about on the Belt Parkway bike path, anyway?) but I missed the sturdy and, yet, snappy ride of my very first two-wheeler.

Mine was similar but lacked
the adornments. I would have loved that flowered seat.
We got it used for 11 dollars and it just happened to be pink. With a few tired plastic streamers on the handlebars, it rode great and its sleek form was undiminished by the span of years between when it gleamed in a showroom and the day my smiling mother wheeled it home for me. And, since it was low to the ground, it was perfect for learning to ride a two-wheeler.

No offense, kid but training wheels
are stupid.

Soon after its arrival, I rose on a steamy summer-vacation morning determined to learn to ride it. 

Training wheels (for babies!) were out of the question and I had no one to hold the back and run along behind like on the Brady Bunch so my plan of action consisted of simply getting up every time I fell over, propelling myself along until it "took."

The only acceptable
training wheels I've seen yet.

I did this for hours, scattering pedestrians on the busy street and nearly running down Mrs. Blau who lived three doors over.  

An older woman, she was much younger than I thought at the time, probably in her late 50's. Often spotted leaning on the stone wall by her front gate, she always had a smile for me and enjoyed chatting with my mother.  As had so many in my neighborhood, Mrs. Blau had survived Auschwitz but was nearly flattened by a determined ten year old trying to ride a bike.

Learn I did, later that same day and will never, ever forget the sensation when I realized I was no longer toppling over, battering my shins on the pedals as I fell but that I’d finally caught the wind and was flying down the street. My two long braids airborne in the breeze of victory, it remains a benchmark moment and was one of my first experiences with perseverance actually turning to triumph.

A few weeks later, when it felt like the bike was part of my anatomy and I could barely remember not being able to ride, Mrs. Blau approached me shyly and asked if she might try out my new bike. 

I was stunned. Did grown-ups do such things? But I followed her to the paved driveway between her house and my row of brownstones and handed the pink Sting-Ray over. I watched as she arranged her house dress over her knees and climbed aboard. Before either of us was quite ready, she was off—riding up and down the alley, bumping over the uneven asphalt and, at one glorious moment, lifting both feet off the pedals and, making glee-ful eye-contact with me, shouting "Wheeeeeeeeeee!"  

I knew where Mrs. Blau had been. Growing up in my neighborhood, home to as many Holocaust survivors as Tel Aviv, even young kids knew what the blue numbers on the arms of shop keepers and friends' parents meant. Neither her past nor today's moments of joy joy were lost on my young heart.The irony of Mrs. Blau’s simple pleasure was interpreted childishly but sincerely by my ten year old sensibilities.

Now, remembering Mrs. Blau on the Sting-Ray -- the late afternoon sun tilting down on both of us that summer day in a Brooklyn that exists only in memory, I wish I'd kept that bike forever.

Once upon a time.


  1. Well, this made me cry. I loved it.

  2. What a wonderful memory. I had a Schwinn as well - not a Sting Ray, but I loved my blue bike and the adventures we had together!

  3. I am a Schwinn kid.. My Dad worked with Schwinn for all the years I remember as a kid. He was instrumental in the design of the Stingray!. We had an all chrome model that was made special for my Mom and sent to here by Brownie Schwinn.. The families came to our home many times over years when they visited So. California. I remember the parties on our patio so well. They would bring their kids too and we would show them around. When I drove I took a company car and drove us all round the beaches, disney. etc.. Great memories we all have!@.