I was around eleven years old, which was seventy years ago. I had a red bicycle with balloon tires that I decided to try to sell it. For me it was a business adventure. I placed an advertisement in the classified section of the Bulletin (“In Philadelphia almost everyone reads the Bulletin”) and received an inquiry from what sounded like an elderly woman.
She said she had a boy in her neighborhood that couldn’t afford a bike and she wanted to buy one for him. Was mine in good condition? How much was I asking for it?”
My goal was to get the best possible price. After all, my family was in the retail business and that was what I had been taught to do. I said $20. She said she would give the boy the money and set a time for him to come by to pick up the bike. Which is what followed.
A. day later the lady called me again. She was very upset and angry. I sensed that the $20 had been a sacrifice for her (about $200 today when adjusted for inflation) and she believed that she had been cheated and the boy deprived of a prideful bike.
She pointed out that the bike had old fashion balloon tires, not the thin racing type that was in vogue. She gave me a tongue lashing. I felt unnerved. Up until that time I had always identified with the seller, the goal was to get a high price. Now I had to look at things from the other viewpoint. A kind old lady had spent her savings and she felt she had been cheated. And in my heart I did not disagree.
That scolding influenced me for the rest of my life, becoming a compass in business dealings. Profit but fairness.
I had long forgotten the incident until walking on the Ocean City boardwalk this morning, noticing how people riding fashionable bicycles that, to my surprise, had balloon tires. In fact, some of the tires were wider than the ones on the bike that I had sold.
This doesn’t change anything. It simply reminded me of a painful mistake that I deeply regretted then and now, a valid if ethnicly tinged tongue lashing I had received, and how tastes tend to go around and around.
May her memory be for a blessing.