It takes so little to entertain a child, well it took very little to entertain me when I was a child. I really was one of those kids that would play with my new toy at Christmas for a few minutes, then get hours of entertainment out of the box that it came in. And I wasn’t alone.
There were railroad tracks mere feet from our door, there was a river just beyond them, there was a creek in my back yard, there was also a small park (with a huge ass tree in it) just across the tracks. There were so many ways that I could have had fun, but that was for personal fun. No one else really played in any of those areas. There were a couple of seasons, however, where everyone in my block liked to engage in the same two activities. One was to tube down College Dr. (which, of course, only worked in snow) and the other was to take a run down cardboard hill.
I don’t know if the cardboard hill thing existed anywhere other than the particular block, on the particular street, in the particular town where I was living, but damn those was good times!
It was really a simple concept. Behind Jason Friedman’s house (well, technically it was his parent’s house) there was a big old hill. In fact they actually had a strange terrace of car tires buried into the hill behind their house to keep the hill from flowing down and destroying it. Those made for an excellent ladder to get to the top of the hill. The hill itself was nothing more than a bunch grass (well something like grass) that would be dry and yellow at the correct time of year. It was easy to knock it down (usually just took a few runs down the hill on a piece of cardboard), and carve trails to zoom down on a piece of cardboard.
When the season was right we would all go dig through the dumpsters behind the Albertson’s store, which was less than a block away, and try to find the best, largest pieces of cardboard that we could. If you had a wimpy piece of cardboard it would likely tear out on the way down and leave you with a blistered ass, and a run back to Albertson’s to find another piece (what is totally unfortunate is that we all lived in Oregon. Oregon was way ahead of the curve on recycling. The majority of the cardboard from the Albertson’s was put into this huge compressor thing and recycled. The best we could usually find was some small scrap no bigger than 12 inches square).
Once the hay weeds grass whatever the hell was covering that hill was pushed down, it acted like sex wax on a surfboard. Imagine barreling down a hill, completely out of control, no steering, no brakes, no protection, on nothing but a very thin piece of cardboard (unless, of course, you happen to be my mother –who actually does read this– so for her sake let us pretend that our safety measures went beyond the ‘just jump if it gets too bad’ mentality –which they did not– ). Good times.
There was a blackberry bush right at the end of the run, how close you got to the bush was a sort of character building machismo kind of thing. If you rode your flimsy little cardboard close enough that the briars actually stuck your little sliding body as you bailed, that meant you were a dare devil. Of course this was at the time that television was airing (I am not going to link to them) The Fall Guy, The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky and Hutch and The Smurfs. While the Smurfs might not seem to be such a motivational factor in all of this, considering the other programming, the Smurf’s was really the biggest motivation. Nobody wanted to be Brainy Smurf, you know, the guy who didn’t fit in.
Each kid would speed down the hill on his/her (no female entity would be stupid enough to try this) tiny chunk of refuse (call it what you will. I saved many pieces of cardboard from the local landfill, for a few days at least), each successive run would make the path a bit longer. Eventually it would lead to the patch of briars that separated us from the unknown (well it was known, even to me, but I have to save the reveal for later).
So you sit on a piece of cardboard and then let gravity take its course. You end up totally tearing ass down the hill. I don’t know what the top speed acquired on that hill was. It seemed to me that it was akin to a rocket launch, or at least a Dragster, but I was quite young at the time. Memories do have a way of glorifying the past, don’t they?
It so happened that one of us found a watermelon bin behind the Albertson’s one day. If you have never seen a cardboard watermelon bin I will give you a brief synopsis. It is a huge piece of cardboard, way thicker than any normal cardboard. It is stapled (with seriously heavy-duty staples) at its only break. The dimensions that matter are that it was about 30 inches tall (which translated to 30 inches wide for riding purposes), it was at least four times thicker than normal cardboard, and it looked like it could really survive anything (the thing was about a half of an inch thick FFS).
We were all pretty young at the time. We knew what Math was, but only in an abstract manner. 1+1=2 for sure, but acceleration, gravity, velocity and other such was a bit beyond our reach. So, in our infinite wisdom, we called this piece of cardboard “the truck” and decided that we would all ride it down the hill together. Big Mistake.
Looking on this with my adult eyes (or what pass for them around here) I realize that this was pretty damn stupid. While “the truck” was certainly the best piece of cardboard ever, it was also enclosed on the front and back (when you are doing what we were doing), which meant that you have no idea which way you are going. Gravity will take its course and you will be at gravity’s mercy for the rest of the ride. Of course I was young and stupid, one of those two, I am happy to say I have overcome, but I am still stupid. I really don’t think that anyone who jumped into “the truck” went on to be a math major.
Our little minds didn’t seem to put together the 2+2 equation. We had no idea that having four of us in “the truck” would make us accelerate a hell of a lot faster than just one kid on a piece of cardboard. We tore ass down that hill! Since we were now in an enclosed traveling device, no one knew when we were getting close to the briars. We tore ass through them as well. We had, at this point, gone fifty or so feet further than anyone else had ever dared. Not on purpose, mind you, had someone voiced concern over getting close to the briars we would all have bailed, but no one did…We were in for the whole ride…
That was when we went careening off the cliff. No nets, no wires. We all went off the cliff, quite fabulously, with a piece of cardboard as our vessel. We all hit with a thud. It was a thankful thud, as I noticed that everyone else had immediately exited the vehicle. There were whoops and cheers up above, coming from the people who didn’t just crash their cardboard into asphalt, they thought it was the best thing ever. I couldn’t even ham this one up, well, I suppose I could have, but the wet spot in the front of my pants might have given me away.
I don’t even think that we were gods for a single moment; Once the other kids knew that the fall to the street was survivable, not to mention that we had mowed down the berry briars in advance, they came in droves to try it. Damn my luck.
I had the opportunity to visit cardboard hill when I was 20 years old. The hill was only about fifty or sixty feet down to the drop. The drop was only about six feet. It seemed so much bigger back when I was so much smaller.
Still, good times. That is an experience that you will never forget.