Norman Rapp's dad saved my life that day.
Maybe, I'd better explain.
An article on MSNBC.com discussed how kids raised in the 1950s, '60s and '70s are survivors. We survived chain-smoking adults, meat-and-potato diets and rough-and-tumble fearlessness of every kind.
It was the Evel Knievel era, after all. Knievel became famous doing wheelies and jumping his motorcycle over cars and buses. Every kid with a bicycle sought to emulate him.
We built ramps from warped plywood and set them on rickety blocks. We took our bikes to the top of Marilynn Drive -- a hill so steep it may as well have been a cliff -- and roared down it, made a left onto Janet Drive, then kept pedaling until liftoff.
It was a grand feeling to soar through the air -- it was grand to experience a tremendous surge of adrenalin -- though our landings weren't often pretty.
This was the early '70s, after all. We didn't wear helmets or pads. When our rear wheels hit the pavement, we wiped out plenty -- we got hurt plenty, too.
The average kid then was covered with scrapes and bruises. When a landing went really wrong -- when a kid went down especially hard -- a mom would arrive, the moaning kid would be loaded inside a wood-paneled station wagon, and off he'd go to St. Clair Hospital for stitches or a cast.
Which brings us to the day I could have died. I was riding a five-speed Murray Spyder bike that year. My fifth gear allowed me superior speed and, thus, superior distance off the ramp. I held the neighborhood record for the longest jump -- until some outsider broke it.
I wasted no time reclaiming my record. I rode to the tippy-top of Marilynn Drive. I started off in first and, pedaling like mad, pounded through the gears all the way through fifth.
I was moving faster than ever when I cut a hard left and continued on Janet. I pedaled faster and harder -- the wind whipping through my David Cassidy hair -- as I pointed my bike toward the center of the ramp.
A dozen kids stood on the left side of the road -- some cheering for me, some against -- while two others stood near the ramp to mark the spot where I would land.
Suddenly, as my front tire hit the ramp, everything went into slow motion. The jolt was spectacular. It caused my sweaty fingers to lose hold of the handlebars.
I remember floating through the air like a directionless missile -- my arms flailing as my body sought to regain its balance. I remember the tremendous impact that shot through my spine as the rear wheel hit the pavement -- how my bike began wobbling wildly.
I was heading for a big, wooden telephone pole. I leaned left, then right, and, miraculously, avoided the splintery pole. The worst was yet ahead. I was roaring toward a thicket of pine trees. Their trunks and branches would surely turn me into kid stew.
Then Providence intervened. His name was Norman Rapp's dad.
Mr. Rapp, a welder, had built a giant street-hockey net. Norman stored it in the pine trees where I was headed. The net caught me like a glove. I didn't suffer a scratch.
A doctor in the MSNBC.com article says that most kids of my era survived their childhood just fine. However, some were badly hurt or worse. A helmet could have saved them. I certainly wear a helmet now when I ride. But it's also true that whereas kids were once free to roam and explore -- free to experience "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" -- many of today's kids aren't free to do anything.
I regained my bike-jump record that day. I'm confident it will stand.
Even if a kid were daring enough to rig up a ramp and jump his bike now, he'd still be covered in more protective gear than a Transformer. There's no way a kid carrying that much weight will ever fly as far as I did the day I could have died.
Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.