December 2007 Column Winner

Grieve for a generation missing the daredevil gene
By Andy Rieger, The Norman Transcript

     When family members buried their beloved Evel Knievel this month, the dreams and antics of an entire generation were placed in the cold ground with him.

Evel's stunt jumps in the late '60s inspired us to take risks first with toy trucks and boats, then wearing towel capes riding Sting-ray bicycles, skateboards, horses, motorcycles and finally off-road vehicles. We built jump ramps out of plywood and bricks nationalized from building sites.

When it rained, we'd pull out those model PT boats, put them in the creek and follow them for miles downstream, never worrying about being sucked into the current.
A flat-track motorcycle course beside our home was a neighborhood nuisance but it taught us the physics of speed and the mechanics of engines. Dad put governors on our go-carts and motorcycles and we learned to remove them when he left every morning and replace them at night.
Those risks were minimal but in our minds, we were all junior Evels. My brother Larry could ride a wheelie a country mile, turn around and come back, never touching the front tire to the asphalt.
In the red mud of Rucker's Pond, he once sunk the old blue 50 cc scooter Dad found at a garage sale, pulled the engine apart, dried and cleaned the parts and reassembled it before the day was over. This was at age 12, thank you. He later did the same with a pickup truck sunk on a Lake Thunderbird boat ramp. Now, he spends his work days rebuilding business jet engines in Tulsa.
Larry and a friend, Brett Mason, rode their bicycles to Mexico and back one summer month. They had to take the 10-speeds because they were too young to drive and I wouldn't take them.
My stunts were more for show. Mike McAuliffe dared me to ride an oil well pumpjack like a bronc. Who could top a bleach burnout on a summer night at the original Sonic on Lindsey in mom's 1964 Rambler station wagon? Surely, that'll impress the co-eds playing miniature golf and drinking root beer there.
The trick ended when I drove through a pasture and tore open the transmission housing. Moms and Dads are forgiving but salt blocks don't budge.
My sisters got in the act, too. Beth's big trick was to take her horse swimming on hot summer days. She'd jump creeks and fences, too. She broke both arms twice. Four casts in two or three years. She quit being so careless when Dr. Shead told her if she broke one again, he'd have to amputate. It was her call.
Kids don't seem to take such risks anymore. Evel Knievel's 1974 Snake River canyon jump attempt on a skycycle will be reduced to an obscure trivia question and a Wikipedia footnote.
Our offspring are all tethered by cell phones with helicopter parents tracking their every move on Webcams and GPS devices. We make them Mapquest every short trip, fearing they'd get lost and have to ask a stranger directions or eat at a local cafe that doesn't have 5,000 franchises. Hardship is a day without MySpace.
As a parent, I can appreciate some level of safety. But deep down, I grieve for the loss of the daredevil gene among our species. Godspeed, Mr. Knievel. We'll see you on the other side.