By David Glenn Cox
I went for a walk to celebrate the end of the Orange abomination. There was heavy weather predicted, so I wanted to get right to it. The park has all the modern accoutrements, tennis courts, running path and a playground. In the United States a man cannot watch a playground without being accused of being a creepazoid. But I enjoy seeing the joy on children’s faces and the excitement of play. It gives me joy to reminisce about the sunny days of my own childhood.
I’m a boomer; our playground equipment was designed by the Marquis de Sade and the Three Stooges. “Hey Moe, what do you make playground equipment with?” Stupid! Cast Iron and steel and then you mount it in concrete and put big steel bolts on everything!
Swinging on a swing as high as you can go looking over your shoulder to see if you are higher than the crossbar. If so, you could expect the chain to go limp for a second. Dropping you with a thud then swinging even higher. You were doing something wrong, and that meant you were on the right path. You let go and fly off seemingly hundreds of feet in the air coming down and sticking a perfect ten-point landing. Our abandoned swing with its four pound two by twelve seat base, flailing wildly with enough kinetic energy to decapitate a small child.
Danger was our business if someone didn’t get hurt you weren’t doing it right. Now here is a fun game for children. Take a 350-pound round chunk of hardened plate steel and place tapered roller bearings on the center shaft. Now mount in the ground and add cast Iron bars for the children to hold on to and call it a Merry go round. Top speed not more than twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. I never saw anyone ejected more than four or five feet. Nose bleeds and nausea, you bet!
I’m going into the closet of old and any terms or phrases you might be unfamiliar with ask your parents. Being the 1960s, everything was built bigger and better. Why build a six-foot slide when you could build a twelve-foot slide or a twenty-foot slide? Slides were made of steel and iron designed to outlast nuclear winter. We had a secret weapon called waxed paper. Once common until the rise of plastic wrap it was a paper infused with wax. Hit mom up for some waxed paper and give that slide a good polishing. If properly done on the right slide you can literally jump the time barrier. I’ve seen kids hit the end of the slide a blur like a bullet coming out of a gun barrel skidding to a stop on the other side of the playground. “How did you rip your pants?” I dunno.
One of our favorite games was called, “God speed John Glenn.” This one took some care and planning on our part as the playground patrol was decidedly anti-science. You know how they take an old tire and fill it with concrete and put a tether ball pole in the center. Well, tip that tire on its side and you have yourself a launch vehicle, an adolescent trebuchet. Remove the tether ball hold on to the end of the pole as your friends assist! Ejected into the heavens coming down yards away and demanding another turn. When bored we would climb the Monkey bars a ten-foot-high geodesic structure of narrow iron pipes and plumbing fittings and try to push each other off. What could go wrong?
This was the Space Age, and everything was about rockets and space. They built a four level “Moon Rocket” at a local park. On the top level where the “Capsule” ought to have been was a hatch. A steel swinging door hatch in the floor. Well, little Johnny was about to enter the capsule when little Timmy swung the hatch door trying to stop him ending little Johnny’s ability to do higher math forever. Did you know we had no paramedics? If Bactine or mercurochrome wouldn’t fix it, you were on your way to the emergency room.
The irony of this being the baby boom and adults building us playgrounds with every hazard except loaded guns. It was as if to say, “If we lose a few it will be okay, we have plenty.” Dirt clod fights and bicycle jousting and then we got bored and invented the skateboard because life just wasn’t dangerous enough. I say skateboard but what you might envision is far different from the contraption I’m describing. Steel wheeled roller skate trucks attached to a board from a packing crate. Hit anything larger than an eyelash, and your trip will continue without your skateboard. A BB in your path would stop you as effectively as a howitzer round.
We borrowed some unneeded building materials and built an impressive three level tree fort in the woods. So impressive the policeman who ordered us down had said so. Oh, for the days of a ten-year old’s architecture. Not just aspiring Frank Lloyd Wright’s but also Henry Ford’s. Buggy wheels were not safe if left unattended. Fortunately, I lived in Illinois with few hills, if I’d been raised in West Virginia I probably wouldn’t have survived. I might have set the land speed record on buggy wheels, though. “Don’t forget to use the two by four, mounted as a drag brake before you reach the highway ramp!”
A neighbor had put fiberglass panels on the curb for the trash. This was Chicago the windy city and there was a storm coming. Running downhill with a panel over your head into a thirty-five mile an hour wind. Now that was fun. Dangerous but fun. A dozen airborne children flying on fiberglass green ultralights. Children who went home and when asked, “What did you do today?” answered, nothing.
What a shame we didn’t have video games. We were forced to play in Darwin’s playground.