Why Red is favorite: both hands on the wheel

‘Why red?’ My boss asked, as he climbed up, settling into the fresh leather seat of my brand new F350.

Simple enough question, I suppose.

‘Red is my favorite color,’ I said, the simple enough answer.

‘Why, is red your favorite color,’ he asked.

We were driving to Banff, engaging in casual ping pong conversation; putting meat on the skeleton our business relationship. The drive to Banff, was my request, a bit sneaky. I sent a Microsoft meeting request for an appointment entitled ‘Review-Tim’, starting at 4 pm. I sent it by company email. Likely his admin accepted the meeting request, made weeks prior to me standing in his door way, at our Calgary office. At precisely 4 pm I showed up with a question. It was a simple enough question.

‘Ready?’ I said.

He was born in India, and raised in Mumbai, or Bombay. Our ‘review’ was me freeing him for three or four hours to see my favorite place in the world by locking him up in the calendar.  I doubt he would have agreed to have dinner and a tour of Banff if I would have asked for just that.  Now he didn’t have much of a choice, the bright aluminum wheels were already rolling, as they say.

The question ‘Why red?’ transports me back 45 years to a hot July day. July 8th exactly. About four o’clock in the afternoon when my friends start to arrive.  My best friend from next door is the first one to join me in the back yard, he got the invite to my birthday party by morse code, a direct homemade connection wired between our night stands.  It allowed us to talk in code, keeping our conversations private and our best friend relationship status, best.  Another brush cut kid or two arrives, a couple of others and my brother and sisters.  A bit later Dad fires up the charcoal barbecue, rusty red and round, black tripod legs in sort of a three way twist. I can see the thick white smoke swirling a slow summer vortex, whirling away once the smoke clears the protection of the carigana hedge.  The smell charcoal lighter fluid burns off smelling like jet fuel, as the briquettes get underway. They were Kingsford briquettes, in the mostly-white crinkly bag with blue and red letters.  Still the same after nearly 50 years. The bag mouth still puffs black when you pour them in the barbecue bowl.

July 8, 1960. 

I turned six that day, and got a new red bike.

I have a picture of me, and the bike, in my library. It is in a special framed triple set. I have a grin on my face that nearly swallows my ears. A face who’s brown is double accented with my sun bleached brush-cut hair. I have both hands on that red bike and I am not letting go. That’s the big picture. The other two pictures are of my younger brother, and sister. She has long fairytale ringlets crashing around her shoulders, my brother has the same stubble cut, just a shade or two darker.  He sports the impish grin he always wore as a kid. They were four and three. My older sister was there, just not In the picture. She would have been organizing, facilitating and being a second mother.

I like my birthday smack dab in the calendar between two Christmases.  

My sweet wife excavated these photos from my parents basement archives with help from Mom and Dad.  Out of my view, she lovingly put these is a special frame, with custom green matting. I opened the package that Christmas. Shocked to see me there with my hands on my red bike, I cried, sobs of missing me. I think, a lovely and thoughtful gift.

My mind paints the rest of the picture high-speed, like a replayed time-lapse of a building being constructed, or a sculpture sculpted. For some reason the painting starts at top left and whistles through to bottom right, bright colors with sound and smells splashing and filling my view.

That was the birthday party where we found a family of 7 skunks about the size of playful kittens on the cedar picnic table, when we returned after cake.  The mother skunk was in the middle of the table, holding a hot dog, bun and all in her paws.  The kits were nibbling scattered plates of half eaten hot dogs.  Kids abandoned hot dogs the instant my Mom announced cake and ice cream ready, like ravens buggering off an elk carcass when the grizzly shows up.   They literally scattered, and collected in the house, lighting in the kitchen at the table, for a few minutes of sing song happy Birthday to me.  When we returned with seven minute frosting stuck on our chins and chests, the skunks were on the carrion of my birthday party.

I look closely at this picture. I still wear shirts like that; crisp cotton button downs in stripes and check.  I am still every bit the serious child I was, extreme introvert, both hands on the wheel.  I like a party, but love it when everybody goes home.   I still eat hot dogs; still have a red bike.   I wear my hair the same way I have for 40 years.  I still get exited about barbecue, and cake. 

It was a few seconds before I answered. I can nearly feel the radiating heat reflected from the west side of the stucco garage, me and my bike, on the warm concrete sidewalk.

It feels a lot like the low arc of the Alberta summer sun, through the windshield of my new FORD. Being freshly six again, feeling the white rubber handgrips of my new bike.

‘My first bike was red,’ I said.

We pass Canmore, the 6.7 liter diesel purring just under 1,800 rpm’s.

It was a simple enough answer, both hands on the wheel.


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