Little bikes and the Big Easy!

Tommy-Brackens

                 The image that set the synapses a blaze!

I first encountered the idea of BMX as something larger then just a type of bike I saw a few kids riding, when I wandered into a small weatherworn, open fronted magazine store on of all places, the beautifully antiquated magazine street in downtown New Orleans, LA. Something in the picture’s in that magazine I was immediately drawn to screamed at me in a way no inanimate object ever had. The combination of vibrantly bleeding colors, official looking uniforms and conspicuously aggressive physicality just caught me unawares. While clearly representing an activity existing at the outer margins of traditional popularity, the power of the image arrested my attention in a way that no other still picture would ever be able to remotely replicate.  That picture of Tommy Brackens blasting his way through a straight away, just burned itself into my brain so intensely that its salience could not be matched by any photograph I’d seen before or since. By the time of this encounter, I had participated in and even excelled at more traditional team sports. The physical parts of playing football, soccer and baseball had been things I had demonstrated considerable skill at. But, as far as the social demands of operating with-in a team and navigating their social hierarchies were concerned, I was an utter failure . I was a poor kid, in a city with significant economic and racial divisions, whose friends most often were black and, as a result, I was pretty quickly designated a poor boy  “pit” and “nigger lover” by those with the preponderance of social capital. This pairing of attributes did little positive for my rep, as far as the “preppy” popular kids I found my self floundering in the midst of at school were concerned. Once introduced to it, BMX quickly became my respite and the place where all of the external degradation was periodically held out of my immediate thoughts. With its simultaneous significant level of official sanctioning, but still nascent public appeal that served to keep the socially secure kids from bothering to attempt a take over, the world of BMX was a hiding place when one was desperately needed. In the coverage I began to seek out with a militant vigor, you could see all the signs of local riders expressing their individualistic bent, while still reading about sizable events that were organized and formally recognized by a governing group with a fully functioning media arm documenting its growth and goings on. While I would never participate in a single BMX race or even set foot on an actual BMX track for the next 25 years, BMX racing and the pictures and footage I see of it still get my heart pumping and force a smile to my face. Something in the action photos of BMX, skateboarding  and racing activate the parts of my brain that bring me right back to a similar “neuro-state” which at least approximates  what I felt in those moments I had challenged my self to try something that involved a risk I wasn’t sure was within my capabilities. BMX photos, and even the site of the bikes, enliven in me a happiness that has never seemed to dissipate, even during the different times in my life I wasn’t still participating.

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