Physics for Dummies by James Rogers

My bike. A Schwinn Paperboy Special. Solid steel construction. Designed to carry a hundred pounds of newspapers besides a rider, it takes abuse like a German tank.

My friend Mike and I are peddling in the construction zone for a new street behind our subdivision. We’re in rough grading with surveyor’s flags and stakes laid for the final elevations and grades.

The blazing yellow summer sun is still high on the horizon, but starting to mix with the red and brown haze of dust that hangs above the distant hills. The neighborhood is still with everyone lingering at their dinner tables or in front of their TVs.

Without any plan or words, Mike and I peddle madly and attack the surveyor flags with our bikes. A burst of speed. Aim for the marker. Just before a strike, pull up hard on the handlebars to slam the front tire on the wooden stick and break it off cleanly at ground level.

A quick victory lap with whooping and then we line up the markers on the other side of the street.

Suddenly Mike yells, “Cops! Run for it!” He pumps his 3-speed Schwinn Stingray over a construction berm and disappears into an alley overgrown with oleanders.

Easy for Mike, because his Stingray is light and geared for quick acceleration. Whereas my Paperboy Special is an iron pig. I stand on the pedals as the cop car’s single red bubblegum machine on the roof starts to strobe. The siren howls. The black and white car spins its tires in the dirt and accelerates towards me.

I pump furiously. Tilting the bike exaggeratedly from side to side, I decide to outrun the cop on my Paperboy Special.

Many years later, I can see how this was not a genius moment.

Physics is life’s commander. No matter how strong or clever you are, an oversized, heavy, human-powered bike cannot compete with an already-in-motion cop car powered by a 426 cubic inch Dodge hemi V-8 motor with twin 4-barrel Carter carbs backed up with a Muncie 4-speed, rock-crusher transmission. It was a race between a cheetah and a garden slug.

My boy-self strains at the pedals, like a runner doing a fifty yard dash. Something I’m good at. What I don’t take into account is the physics.

No matter how much force I put on its pedals, my Special’s wheels turn as if in slow motion. Perfect for cruising down the still-dark streets early on a Sunday morning, turning into a customer’s driveway, and tossing a rolled Arizona Republic newspaper neatly on the doorstep.

I sweat. My leg muscles revolt. I risk looking over my left shoulder to check on my pursuer.

The car has already covered over half the distance to me. I hear the mechanical howl of the wide-opened hemi motor over the siren.

The race is on! I return my attention to the roadway ahead and see a crater-sized pothole. Before I can get out, “Oh shit!” the front tire of my tank crosses into the depression and slams into the opposite wall.

Now, smaller beings like, say, a ladybug, can take advantage of the laws of physics using a combination of capillary forces, friction, and a thin coating of water to stick themselves to the undersides of leaves. Their mass is small enough to overcome gravity. For larger creatures like me, gravity always wins.

My tire hits the far wall of the crater and my bike instantly stops. I continue my forward momentum, as physics requires. My right foot comes off the pedal and one flip-flop flies off.

One of physics’ lesser laws: “Pressure is equal to force, divided by area.” To their detriment, my tender toes slam into the rock-hard dirt. Bright red blood streams.

The next law of physics, discovered by Sir Isaac Newton: “For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” The mass of my body continues its forward movement equal to the energy used to stop my bike instantly. During the microsecond my bike and I separate, I somersault in bouncing puffs of dust until all energy expends itself by jarring bones and sloughing off skin.

I shake off the pain and force myself to a sitting position to see if everything is still attached and where it should be.

A piece of my right big toe is missing, as well as the nail. A couple of teeth are loose and my lip is split. My right eye is swelling shut. I am bleeding in several spots on my arms and legs. I have severe road rash on my stomach and chest.

Through trickling blood, I see the cop car slide to a stop in a large cloud of dust. The window rolls down. A large, blue-uniformed gorilla with a crew-cut and mirrored aviator glasses chews on a doughnut, contemplating me.

“Hey, kid! You alright?”

I give a pained grunt in reply.

Mister Shades takes another bite and adjusts the angle of his sunglasses.

I imagine that I look like a piece of fresh cut hamburger wearing bloody cutoffs and one flip-flop. Roadkill.

“Better put a Band-Aid on that, kid. It’s gonna hurt!” He swallows his last piece of doughnut.

“Have a nice day now!” The window rolls up and the car throws out rooster tails of dirt and rocks.

Man! I think, as I spit out a piece of chipped tooth.

That hemi sounds so cool!

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