The “Tricycle Principle”

Dear Reader:

Awhile back I caught a 50th anniversary CBS program on Charles Kuralt and his “On the Road “ stories and videos. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed watching him meet people from places all over this country. I think we need a lot more stories like it today….just to remind and reassure ourselves that America doesn’t exist in big places with “important” people with lots of money but on the back roads where ingenuity is still alive and thriving.

As I read more excerpts from Kuralt’s stories I kept hearing about his popular “Tricycle Principle” and finally found this explanation of it by another correspondent.

“The Kuralt rule, named for the late, great CBS correspondent, is described in this excerpt of “On Reporting.” We’ll let the master himself explain, using his famous “Tricycle Principle”:

“Well, one time the cameraman with whom I’ve worked all these years, Izzy Bleckman, and I were in his room at the Holiday Inn somewhere, I can’t remember where, watching the local evening news as we frequently did before going out to supper. And there was a story on there about a children’s tricycle race. It was a very appealing story about youngsters peddling away, trying to go fast.

And as we watched, Izzy said, “You know, before this story’s over, that guy is going to ride a tricycle. That reporter.” And I said, “No, he wouldn’t! It would just ruin it! It would turn an attractive story into a kind of joke.” And we watched. And sure enough, at the end, the camera was close up, and this guy says, “Joe Dokes, Eyewitness News,” and the camera widened, and he was on a child’s trike, and he turned and peddled awkwardly away.

 Izzy and I just looked at each other. And there was born the tricycle principle, which is very simple for a reporter. (And it is simply, where possible, don’t ride the tricycle.) Keep yourself out of the story. ………………………………………………………………………………………………

It took me a few minutes to process what Kuralt meant…but suddenly I went back to being a nine-year-old who learned this lesson from the flip side of the story…

I remember it was a chilly, breezy early day in March. It was also a Sunday and Sunday afternoons were mother’s “sacred” day…we children knew we were to make ourselves scarce…either play quietly in our rooms or go outside to play….but basically…leave mother alone… for her few precious hours of quiet time. Absolutely no squabbling allowed!

So on this particular Sunday, one of my neighborhood friends and myself, decided to try out our skates. We had all gotten skates for Christmas and were anxious to wear them for the first time. March had just arrived and cold or not…in our minds March meant spring…and skating.

Anybody growing up the fifties remember these skates…the “key” skates.

I never could get my skates adjusted to stay on my feet….either they would start ‘growing‘ on me in length (while in the middle of trying to skate) or widening…either way it meant disaster.

We were supposed to be able to control the length and width with the key (tied on a string around our necks) but I must not have had the strength to tighten it securely…and apparently Joanne, my neighbor and fellow classmate, didn’t either.

We would start down the hill right, at the corner of my street, Huske Street, and for two blocks we would be in a downward decline. We never, ever made it to the bottom without falling or detouring to fall in the grass by the road for a softer landing.

But that day…right before we started our first descent….a man stopped his van with the name Fayetteville Observer on the side and asked if he could take a picture of us skating for the daily newspaper. He thought a picture of little girls skating on an early blustery March afternoon would be a great introduction to an article he was writing on…heralding in the spring season.

Joanne and I were so excited- we were going to be celebrities- our picture taken for the newspaper! (We must have been a sight back then…Joanne with her bottle-neck eyeglasses and me with my buck teeth.)

The reporter ran halfway down the hill with his camera posed to catch us in action. Unfortunately Joanne and I both ran into our usual problem…our skates got bigger and wider and our feet started coming out of them. We both had to try to make it to the edge of the street and crash land in the grass.

I think the reporter originally had planned on just taking a picture of two little girls skating….bringing in the new season. But he must had sensed a new twist to the story looking at his photos of us flying down the hill, flailing our arms trying to keep our balance and then crash-landing.

Suddenly a cameraman climbed out of the newspaper van and he came over, whispered something in the reporter’s ear….and laughingly the reporter asked to borrow my skates. He, then, imitated us by flailing his arms and crash landing too while the camera man took the photos.

Joanne and I laughed a little…but realized, at a certain level, something seemed off…not really so funny. Sure enough the next morning…there was an article in the paper….something about ‘You know Spring has Arrived When...’ little girls and big reporters crash land their first attempts at spring skating. Perhaps this year we should say “Spring Came in With a Scream…and a Crash.

The picture of our flailing arms and runaway skates didn’t seem very funny at all while viewing it now…and this time it did seem that the “nice” reporter was making fun of our attempts at skating. (This proved true…as Joanne and I got heckled at school for several days following the photo.)

Yes…as an adult now I certainly understand the “Tricycle Principle“…putting oneself in the limelight at the expense of someone else’s feelings.

Don’t we see this scenario played out more and more in this self-absorbed gratification age of constant and immediate attention to ourselves gone viral?

There is a time to tell one’s story…but never at the expense of telling someone else’s story. A good lesson to learn in life.

I was the observer in Rutledge’s spend-the-night adventures…we had a wonderful time and in between rain showers stayed outside planting flowers, creating artwork, adding lights and fairy houses to Rutledge’s tree, making friends with the turtles and “Mrs. Red the hen” at a local pond, playing at the park, and picking out special mementos to remember Rutledge’s first sleep-over. A grand time shared by all.

*It is amazing to watch the difference in climbing skills and athletic prowess returning to the same park year after year…but more amazingly keeping the imagination intact.

When I took Rutledge home…Walsh, Mollie, and Eloise had just returned from lunch ….Eloise was all decked out with her accessories…bow and necklace. Too cute. She was happy to see her big brother! (I promptly came home and crashed! 🙂

So until tomorrow…“Each day of our lives, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” Charles Swindoll

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh


About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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4 Responses to The “Tricycle Principle”

  1. bcparkison says:

    Oh how many hours I spent on rollder skates. And I do understand the crash…after being a grandma.


    • Becky Dingle says:

      Certainly…we don’t want anyone making fun of our children or grandchildren in an effort to self-promote themselves.


  2. Jo Dufford says:

    Thanks for bringing back so many good story memories of days of yore when those kind of skates was a prize possession for me. Just remember back in the dark ages when I was young, there were very little cement areas, but our roads were made of cement, and thus the memories begin.


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