I’ve never understood why people complain about the weather around here. I’ve traveled all over the United States and lived in Seattle and New York City, and I think the weather here is the best you can find. I sometimes wonder why anyone would live anywhere else.
Growing up, I don’t remember much rain. In the summer, it was sunny days and playing baseball with my friends. Sure, I remember playing baseball on soggy fields and being rained out when it was a downpour. That was in spring.
This is about summer 1965. I think it was the hottest day ever in Vancouver, at least up to that date — July 30 to be exact. My 12th birthday.
It was a good time to be a kid and to be playing Little League. During the previous season, our whole team would go to the Municipal Stadium and watch the Beavers play in the Pacific Coast League. The 1964 team had Luis Tiant and Sudden Sam McDowell; during the next few years, Ray Fosse, Tommy John, Lou Piniella and others played for the Beavers. The closest Major League teams were in San Francisco. I lived and died with the Giants, but it seemed that every year, the Dodgers would beat them out of the pennant by one game.
If playing Little League was good, playing pick-up ball with my friends was better. As soon as summer vacation started, I would ride my bicycle from our new Lakeshore house into the Lincoln neighborhood in town. My bike was a full-size Schwinn with chrome fenders, chrome wheels, a luggage rack, headlight and balloon tires. It weighed over 50 pounds. I didn’t weigh much more.
It did have a Bendix two-speed rear end. With a quick backpedal, there was a low gear for hills and a high gear for flats. I only used the low gear on the 39th Street hill, going up into town. It was a point of pride to pedal all the way up the steep rise and not walk the bike. That hill was one obstacle. The other was a mean dog.
After the obstacles was a day playing baseball. We played all afternoon at the field at Lincoln Elementary School. We never had enough players for real games, so we played double-or-nothing workup, which only needs five players. It was not a matter of keeping score. It was simply for the joy of the game. At the end of the day, I would get on my bike and ride home.
On July 30, I didn’t treat the day any differently than any other day, even though it was my birthday and even though it was darned hot. The ride down Lakeshore cooled me with the rushing breeze. I paused for water on the railroad overpass, and to summon my nerve.
At the bottom of the overpass was the house of the mean dog. The dog was a large black and white mongrel that was after my blood. He had never known a leash. He was lying in the shade of a willow tree, waiting for me to come by. With water gone and heat building, I sped down the hill. I summoned all the speed possible. Onto the flat I pedaled, furiously.
The dog tore out after me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the whiteness, the length, the sharpness of his teeth. He got so close I could feel the heat of his breath as he zeroed in on my bare pumping legs. I knew if I didn’t ride like the wind, I would be dead. I felt a sweet sense of elation when he dropped back. A surge of adrenaline kept me speeding along.
Going up the hill at 39th Street, I again noticed just how hot it was. I arrived at the playing field and found no one there. I waited for a while and then rode to Pete’s house. There I found them all. They did not even come to the door. Pete opened a window a couple of inches to talk to me.
“Hey, let’s go play ball,” I said.
“It’s too hot,” Pete said. I heard the others murmur in agreement. The house did not have air conditioning. I couldn’t believe they would stay inside like invalids.
“I just rode five miles to play ball,” I said.
“Yeah, you’re crazy. Come on inside,” Pete said.
I refused. I wanted nothing to do with them. I couldn’t believe they would let heat stop them from playing ball. I got on my bike and made the long, hot ride home. It was 107 degrees.
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