When people ask Eric Lawson about his new bicycle, he erupts into spontaneous joy.
He grins real wide, and his arms spring up from his elbows, like he’s making a football goal post.
With a few squeals of delight, he claps his hands rapidly in front of his face for a few seconds.
Eric is 30 years old, but thinks more like a youngster.
“People say it’s a shame he’s got a man’s body and a child’s mind,” Glenda Lawson said while watching her son with the bike. “He has to have someone with him 24 hours. I told him, ‘Baby, people will take advantage of you.’ ’’
That might have been what happened Jan. 8.
While his mother was talking on the phone about his grandmother’s health, Eric slipped out of the backyard on his old bicycle.
Nobody remembers what kind it was because it was pieced together from parts of two broken bikes found discarded.
Eric often goes with his caregiver in search of cans and scrap metal along the roads. The extra money helps with expenses.
When the family realized he was gone, they went looking in the usual places, presuming he was on foot and would return as he had in the past.
“I didn’t want to call police because I thought he’d be right back,” his mother said.
She left the door unlocked for him overnight, but he didn’t come back to his Bloomfield area home.
It was time to call police.
They learned early in the morning that a neighbor saw him ride off on the bike the evening before.
The temperature had dropped to 20 degrees overnight, and there was no sign of him.
His grandmother had been in the hospital in Atlanta, did he try to go there? Her home in Byron? A Special Olympics event in Perry?
Turned out, he was headed to Houston County.
One of his Special Olympics coaches found him at about noon at the Chamber of Commerce in Warner Robins.
“I was surprised he got as far as he did,” said Lt. Randy Gonzalez of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. “It was fortunate nothing happened to him.”
Eric was fine, but the bicycle was gone.
“Somebody stoled it,” Eric said.
He told his mother someone snatched it from him near Seven Bridges as he made his way toward Perry that night.
She is not sure whether to believe him, but when asked if he left it somewhere, or if it broke, Eric shook his head back and forth.
Gonzalez, who works in the sheriff’s public affairs unit that sent the news releases about Eric’s disappearance, approached the W.L. Sparky O’Cain Lodge No. 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police about buying him a new bicycle.
President Danny Thigpin thought it was a good idea, and Gonzalez took the Lawsons to Wal-Mart on Harrison Road last month.
Eric was shy at first but started to talk to the deputy once they got toward the bikes.
“Eric, do you know why you’re here today?” Gonzalez asked.
“No, not really,” he replied.
“FOP wants to get you a new bike,” Gonzalez said.
After his mother steered him away from one with multiple gears, Eric found his bike -- a black Huffy Panama Jack model, with fat, whitewall tires with a creamy yellow tread.
The brown seat has white stitching in a diamond pattern.
Glenda Lawson still thought it was too fancy, but Eric would not be dissuaded.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he said, slapping his hand on the seat as he was showing off the bike to visitors at his house Saturday.
Coming in the kitchen door, the first thing in sight is the old school style bicycle decked out with Panama Jack emblems, logos and a signature on the tires.
“I make him leave it in the house, that’s the way I know it’s here. It’s safer,” Lawson said. “I told him, ‘Baby, you can’t ride that outside unless one of us is here.’ ’’
Eric is particularly proud of the cup holder, the cooler strapped to the handle bars and the bottle opener fastened to the right fork of the front wheel.
Asked if he’s ever taken a drink with him on a ride, he shakes his head.
“I don’t want to mess it up,” he said.
Although it’s a little difficult for Eric to get his 5-foot, hefty frame hoisted over the seat, once he is up and riding, he lets out a loud giggle as he glides down the street.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” his mother rapidly yells as she herds him away from an approaching car and into the yard.
She is laying down firm guidelines.
“You don’t dare ride it up to the store with your daddy and leave it outside,” she told him. “You’re going to take care of that bike. If somebody comes up and says they want to ride it, tell them, ‘No!’ ’’
Lawson tries to keep Eric busy with Special Olympics and the Arc of Macon, but she knows he’s prone to wander.
A group home didn’t work out, and he cut off an expensive tracking bracelet he had years ago, she said.
She always tries to notice what clothes he is wearing, just in case.
With the bicycle propped near the refrigerator, she keeps an eye on it.
When asked what Eric has to say to the Fraternal Order of Police, he said: “Tell them, ‘Thank you. The bike. Thank you much.’ ’’
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.