Lifelines: A bad influence, a good friend | New

terry wooten

My first form of motorized transportation was a 1956 Cushman scooter my dad bought me. Before that, I rode a black bike with chrome fenders and a chrome headlight that didn’t work.

We lived four miles from town, but I often drove back and forth two or three times a day. As soon as winter arrived, the bicycle was my choice of transportation to and from school. I remember riding my bike in the spring snow.

The scooter wasn’t as cool as my bike. It had old-fashioned cheesy lines and was robin’s egg blue. But it expanded my romantic realm by more than 20 miles in every direction.

I didn’t have a steady girlfriend. Any local girl I was interested in would be advised by her parents to look elsewhere. Dad had a bad reputation as a cheater. His van could often be seen parked in front of one of the two bars in town.

I guess the parents were afraid that I would follow his ways. They were just protecting their daughters.

I developed a chip on my heart and practiced a James Dean attitude. I rode my silly looking scooter around town like Marlon Brando in the movie “The Wild One”.

The truth is I was just alone. I found my upstate girlfriends when they were vacationing in the area. One day my scooter would be at Rose Lake, 19 miles west of my home. The following night I would head to Lake City 21 miles away.

The protagonist of this month’s poem was the real thing. He had already had a few run-ins with the law. He had a darker side and was reckless without much common sense. When he was 10, he derailed a freight train north of town for fun.

Buck was a bad influence on me. He taught me how to steal a Fudgesicle from the local drugstore and cheap model airplanes from the dime store.

I was not good at it. I nearly fainted sneaking my stolen loot through the doors. After two robberies, I left the criminal path.

Buck also had a scooter. In this month’s poem, I call it a motorcycle, but it was a much cooler scooter than mine. His was newer with modern curved lines and burgundy.

He had gears he could shift and squeal his tires. Mine had an automatic transmission. I could only pretend to change gears by accelerating the throttle.

I clearly remember the day that inspired me to write this poem. We were going back and forth on Main Street, impressing and disturbing the city in our imagination. Buck had painted the name of his favorite gang on the back of his leather jacket.

Mom ran a teen center on the east side of town called “The Eagles’ Nest.” We stopped in for a few cold ones with burgers and fries. While Buck was playing pinball, mom noticed the spelling mistakes on his back.

When she informed him, he was quite embarrassed. To compound the error, the paint was not coming off.

Buck dropped out of high school and joined the military. He trained as a member of the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne. Now he really was a member of a famous gang, and the military did the spelling for him.

Poet bard Terry Wooten has been performing and leading writing workshops in schools for over 30 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of rocks featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at