Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, we got around on two wheels. I clearly remember the day that my training wheels came off. Gripping the butterfly handlebars of my Schwinn Sting-ray, I felt like I was flying. Over the remainder of my glorious childhood, I would ride past the stores, production homes, and wooded hills of my neighborhood of Terra Linda, California.
Little did I realize that, from the banana seat of my bike, I was also learning how to speak a little Spanish. Some of the streets I rode included Del Ganado (livestock), Las Gallinas (the chickens), Las Colindas (the cliffs), and Las Ovejas (the sheep). The name of my street was Las Pavadas, which is some sort of very bad word in Spanish! My favorite place to ride around was my elementary school named Don Timoteo (Sir Timothy).
When I began middle school at Vallecito (Little Vally), I was required to take a foreign language for the first time. I signed up for Spanish. Like a different set of training wheels, my teacher helped me keep my balance as I tried to learn Spanish. I took Spanish throughout high school and into college, but never had the confidence to take those training wheels off.
After traveling to Spain for the first time in 1984, I felt like I could timidly and tentatively speak wobbly Spanish without help. But, just as I was starting to get the hang of it, I regrettably put my Spanish into a mental storage shed in the backyard of my brain. Now, a third of a century later, my neglected Spanish is covered in cobwebs, has two flat tires, and a rusty chain.
With a little free time in Guanajuato, I have dusted off my old Spanish, and enrolled in two weeks of morning classes at La Hacienda, an excellent local language school. Like drops of restorative lubricating oil, my new teachers and fellow students have helped me get the wheels of my Spanish slowly spinning again.
Although the training wheels are securely back on, I have regained some of my old confidence, and can actually understand a lot more Spanish than I expected. Last Saturday night, I ventured by myself into a couple of local cantinas, just so I could try to converse with the locals. At the bar, I learned that cerveza, tequila, and mezcal are also excellent lubricating agents.
I realize that as I try to speak Spanish, I look like a silly grown man riding a tiny children’s bike. Although it feels good to be back in the saddle again, I don’t think I will be laying down any rubber or riding with no-hands for a long time. I don’t know if I will ever be able to take those training wheels back off, but the wind is in my receding gray hair, and it is all downhill from here.
Feature Image: Boy in the 1960s popping a wheelie. This is not me, but it could have been. Photo credit: Pinterest