The problem was, every neighborhood had a gang of boys that kinda ruled the turf (except mine -- I hated my own boring neighborhood) and the boys who lived around Pinoak Lane started to notice me and wonder what I was up to.

[map of their neighborhood and mine]

There were three boys in particular, Paul Weinhofer and Ken Gregorio and Rich Lorenz, who started trying to corner me so they could ask what I was doing there. I'd see them on their bikes riding towards me a block away, and I'd pedal as fast as I could to reach the nearest escape route. This worked for a few weeks. Then one day I saw Paul and Ken suddenly bearing down on me from up the block, tried to execute a quick turn, and found Rich already waiting there on his yellow ten-speed blocking my way. I was trapped. They circled their bikes around me, pinning me back against the Gerwood's garbage cans. "Why are you always here?" Paul Weinhofer demanded, glaring menacingly at me over his chrome-plated handlebars.

I had no answer ready. "The asphalt is good," I whispered timidly.

"The WHAT?"

"Don't you know?" I said. "This street has the best asphalt for skidding. Everybody knows that." The 'everybody knows that' part helped, I think. Paul and Ken and Rich frowned at each other, each one suspicious that the other two did indeed know this. I went on. "They use cheap asphalt where I live. Can't get any friction going. And over on Walnut it's too bumpy, and Orchard has too many cars, and Devonshire would be perfect except for that stupid manhole right in the middle." I was on a roll, feeling good, just making the shit up. "Here, I'll show you," I said.

I turned my front wheel and pointed it at an imaginary spot on the other side of the block. I took off, leaning heavily on my pedals to build up a good speed. When I reached my imaginary point I jammed on the brake, not too hard or too soft but just enough to lock the wheels without halting my forward motion.

This is one of those moments when you need the grace of God. As I jammed on the brake I curved the front wheel in and kicked the rear wheel out and away from the turn. I'd been vertical; now I was suddenly hanging in the air in three dimensions, my front wheel slithering dangerously into the turn while my rear wheel made contact with the ground at a 45-degree angle, slicing into it like the edge of a blade, making a luxurious, wonderful grinding noise. Pebbles flew; I stopped myself from landing face-first by slamming my left foot onto the street (it ached for the next three days). I looked at the ground and there was a gorgeous thick arc-shaped black-rubber mark trailing my rear tire by ten feet. I looked back at the Pinoak Lane boys and they were gaping at me. Then they lined up, Paul first, then Ken, then Rich, to try it themselves.

We spent the whole day practicing skids, and did it again the next day and the following weekend. Other boys joined in and they all asked my advice on the best moment to cut the wheels, how hard to hit the brake, how fast to go. I always gave them long, ponderous bullshit answers, like "Well, Keds sneakers are the best because the bottoms are evenly weighted and you need just the right pressure on the left pedal or else you can fall." I amazed myself with the stuff I came up with. It wasn't long before I was seen as some kind of amazingly tuned-in bicycle genius, a Guru of the 4th grade, and Pinoak Lane was my personal holy ground, the Jerusalem of Skidding.

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