I’m pretty sure it was front-page news in the Pleasanton Express sometime around the spring of 1977. I was 11 years old at the time. There wasn’t a whole lot happening in Pleasanton then, so if it wasn’t on the front page, it sure should have been. The CBS Evening News reported on it, so it HAD to be a big deal, right? I can’t remember the exact date it happened or any of the smaller details surrounding the event. I Googled some, but didn’t find anything. Wikipedia let me down, too. Ultimately, I decided to just wing it, because there are some things one never forgets.
The Pleasanton of my youth wasn’t complicated with widespread fear of violent crime, drugs or even people texting while driving. Heck, texting wasn’t a thing. When not in school, kids were pretty much turned loose to do whatever we wanted to do as long as we stayed out of trouble and were home by suppertime. Bicycles were our main mode of transportation.
My friends and I all had one.
We were young, wild and free as we rode through the streets of P-town. We didn’t have portable music devices or phones to distract us. We grooved to the sound of the rhythmic squeaking of bicycle chains interspersed with the dissonant popping of bubblegum. We were firm believers that there was no such thing as too much gum in your mouth, but navigating a bike with five pieces of Bubble Yum in your pie-hole wasn’t easy. Being blinded by a busted bubble on a bike was dangerous business. Maybe not Evel Knievel dangerous, but you get my drift.
Danger lurked over every street. It came in many forms, but the “do-gooder adult” was particularly feared. If a do-gooder saw you riding recklessly on your way to school, it was a safe bet that your parent’s phone would be ringing later that evening. Deborah Do-Gooder would be on the other end of the line ratting you out on what she perceived to be your lack of respect for your own wellbeing. “I could’ve run him over if I hadn’t been paying attention,” she’d inevitably say. Whatever, Deb. The next thing you knew you’d be banned from riding your bike to school for a week. Worse still, you’d have to mount one of those orange “safety flags” above the sissy bar of your bike. Oh, the horror.
Then, there were the dogs. I knew the streets of Pleasanton better in 1977 than I do now and every dog from Chow to Chihuahua and mutt to Mastiff along the way. The need for speed in any given dog encounter was directly proportionate to the aggressiveness of the dog. Size didn’t matter. A persistent Pomeranian was more worrisome than a bluffing Bulldog (OK—enough with the alliteration already, I know).
The greatest danger I ever faced on a bike goes back to that front-page story. I grew up on Winship
Road. One afternoon that spring, I travelled alone on my bike north on Winship towards Goodwin Street. Before the intersection, there was a trailer house on the right-hand side of the road. As I casually put a second piece of Bubble Yum in my mouth while passing the trailer, I caught a glance of something BIG on the hood of a car parked in the front yard. My first thought was, “That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my life!” As I turned my head toward the “dog” to get a better look at what might soon be headed my way, I clearly saw that it was no dog. My gum bounced down my shirt as my jaw fell toward the pavement.
One feels pretty confident seeing a lioness from behind the safety of a 30-foot-high wall and across a 20-foot moat at the San Antonio Zoo, but all confidence is lost if that lioness is 15 yards away behind a chinchy little chain link fence in the front yard of a trailer house. They don’t make a bicycle fast enough to get away from that kind of situation. Home was behind me. I had to think fast. After gathering my wits, I made a U-turn and pedaled as fast as any 11-year-old boy has ever pedaled in the history of 11-year-old boys pedaling bikes. I careened my bike up to the front porch of my house and leapt in a single bound from the bike to the front door. Bursting through, I screamed, “MOM … there’s a lion … it nearly GOT me!” Unfortunately, no one was home. I didn’t know what to do. Who should I call? Who would believe me?
Someone did eventually believe me—and all the other alarmed neighbors who reported the lioness to the police. She was not technically “on the loose,” however. The “responsible” lioness owner, who denied Winship Elsa her born-free moment, had “securely” chained her to the Buick in the yard. Funny … I never noticed the chain. Sadly, I can’t remember the rest of the story. I just know I never saw Elsa again.
An interesting epilogue to this tale came to light at last week’s Atascosa Running Club get-together. After an exhilarating run, we all pulled up chairs and set about the business of solving the world’s problems over a few refreshments. I asked my friends if anyone remembered the lion. A trusted source for “all things Pleasanton,” Joe Vickers, spoke up and said that while attending Baylor Law School in the late 70s, he heard Walter Cronkite on The CBS Evening News report on a loose lion in Pleasanton. Good stuff. So, in the absence of any archival Pleasanton Express articles to back up or confirm anything I’ve told you, we’ll just have to rely on Joe’s and Walter’s word, respectively. I’m good with that. “And that’s the way it is, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.”