When I was a kid, Ballard was an industrial neighborhood. It had shipyards, machine ships and a railyard along the borders of the town, and most kids I knew had a dad who was a fisherman, machinist, dock worker or the like. These families were by no means rich, but a longshoreman in those days made a living wage, and these families had a house in the city. But the kids were pretty rough around the edges, coming from blue collar homes and all. Plus, it was the 1970s and divorce was a fad, which meant a lot of kids had divorced parents. So although it was not a ghetto or tough blue collar areas like I’d imagine there to be in Philadelphia or Queens, it was a rough around the edges place.
When I was in grade school, after school and summers we were at J’s house. J was a lady who ran a daycare out of her house, and there were often a dozen or more kids of all ages roaming the two story house and expansive backyard. One of those kids was her own kid W, who was two years older than I, but we’d hang out together. W had a friend who would come over once in awhile. One summer day when I was 7, we decided to ride our bikes down into the far side of Ballard to visit a small candy shop that W liked. We’d be passing busy sreets and a few rail lines, so J wanted me to ask my parents, and that night my parents said it would be fine. So, the next day we were off…
This was 1975. Elvis was still alive and in the news, Richard Nixon had only resigned just a year earlier, America was departing Viet Nam, and no one had heard the name Michael Jordan or Luke Skywalker. But I knew nothing about any of these things. I was only in the moment of being in Ballard with my two friends.
I wore shorts, old sneakers without socks and rode a bike so old that one of the pedals had come off so only the thin metal bar remained for my foot. It took most of the day to ride down there and back, and I remember laughing and talking much of the way like kids do. Ballard was not crowded then, and most people were working, so we saw primarily old ladies and a few old cars. But more than anything else, what I remember is the freedom of that day, and the thrill of going on a long distance bike ride without adults.