High Slide!

“In Morey Park, there were two slides. Both were of the same construction and built to last a hundred years…”

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One of the prominent things in my memory of my youth is bicycles. They were a means of locomotion that leveraged your energy to the point of nearly flying! When I was very young, even running was so exciting… the wind in your face, the roaring in your ears, the ground rushing by as you sped along and the scenery disappearing behind you!

Then you got a tri-cycle, and things happened at a more accelerated pace but you were around older kids who had bicycles, and they seemed to have another degree of freedom that you lacked. Just the fact that they had to balance on two wheels made bicycles seem like some form of magic carpet, and the bicycle riders would look down on you as if you were some lesser life form for not being able to ride one… The allure of joining that club made the necessary pain of learning how to ride worth the cost.

1960s Girls Schwinn Bike, via Mr. Martin’s Bicycle Museum

I remember when I had finally sorta got to the point where I could ride a bike, but didn’t have my own yet. My oldest sister had a full size girl’s bicycle that I had finally mastered because I could ride the pedals up and down through their full travel, first one side then the other—the lack of a center bar allowed me to pump the pedals with my full weight and keep it moving forward! One day, I wanted to ride it and she wouldn’t let me.

She kept riding by me in the street taunting me as she passed by on the shells… so I got a stick, and as she went by, I tossed it into the spokes of the front wheel causing her to come to an abrupt stop in a spectacular dusty noisy crash! As she ran screaming bloody murder toward the house, I picked it up and pedaled off down the street. I would have to deal with the wrath and justice of Mom, but I was gonna get my few minutes of freedom and fun before the pain. After I recovered from the ass-whuppin I got for that, I would eventually cover many miles on several bicycles in Bayou Vista.

And when we moved to Patterson, it just got better. My parents knowing everyone in Patterson, had a false sense of security, I think. They allowed me to go pretty much anywhere, as long as they “knew” where I was.  I also got to spend a lot more time with the guys I had grown up with at school; Don Guidry, Al Grotheer, Joey Adams, Jack Smith, Keith Gary, Chuck Toney… the list goes on and on! In the immediate area where we lived there was Glenn Jumonville, Teddy Paul, Billy Gober, Richard Smith, Ray Primeaux, and we all rode together at different times, depending on who was doing what that day. I could probably fill up a page with just names, and another book with just bicycle and motorcycle stories, but for now, I thought I would tell a story that has become near-legend in Patterson (at least amongst our generation)—about something that, as far as I know, only two other people have done in the history of Patterson on a bicycle. Only Chris Costa (R.I.P.), I, and Johnny Smoorenburg (in that order) were crazy enough to ride a bicycle down the high-slide in Morey Park!

When we were growing up there was not all this concern about kids getting injured while playing. Much of the playground equipment could be dangerous if abused. But if you broke an arm or leg while doing so, well, that was another reminder that life can be tough on you when you make mistakes in judgement!

The playset items in the parks were pretty common and the dangers were accepted. In Morey Park, there were two slides. Both were of the same construction and built to last a hundred years or survive a nuclear strike, whichever came first. The slide itself was a sorta smooth sheet of seamless stainless steel, bolted to a cast steel framework and braced by a couple of sturdy galvanized pipes cemented into the ground. They were as solid as a rock, and the only difference between the two was height. One was about six feet high at the top of the ladder, and the other was about ten feet at the top. Now, that doesn’t sound so high, but when you were up there looking down it could be pretty intimidating when you’re only 4 or 5 feet tall! By the time of this story, Chris Costa was already a legend for having ridden his bicycle down the high-slide, and though many of us may have considered it at one time or another, no one had replicated his feat—yet!

via Buck's County Folkart

During the summer, we spent a lot of time at my good friend Joey Adams’ snowball stand.  Bobby Adams had set it up for his sons, Joey and his brothers, next to Joey’s grandfather’s store, Rizzo’s. Rizzo’s was an upscale clothing store in the middle of town on Main Street (once US 90, now LA 182). There was still a fairly thriving downtown in that area. The bypassing of Patterson’s downtown by the new four-laned US 90 had begun a slow decline, but it was still busy back then.  So the snowball stand was a magnet for a lot of us kids, and we made a bunch of great memories hanging around there.

One day while a group of us were hanging around, I decided I wanted a snowball, but I had used up my meager funds for the day already. When I asked for a rain-check ‘til the next day, Joey—being the astute businessman that he already had become—declined. I then began thinking of how I might barter something of value for the snowball, and I suddenly thought of something that would be irresistible to anyone with a sense of adventure!

“I’ll go down the high-slide on my bicycle for a large one!” I exclaimed.

All other conversation ceased, and everyone’s attention focused on ours, as Joey, after a second or two, exclaimed, “BULLSHIT!” –but a raucous response by everyone that amounted to ‘I gotta see THIS!’ encouraged Joey to agree to the terms.

So a group of us headed over to the park which was only about a half-block away on the other side of Main Street. After a brief reconnoiter of the area, a couple of people pulled 2 swings aside, as the exit path at the bottom of the slide pointed to the swings only 15-20 feet away. Then I began the process of getting my sister’s bike, which I happened to be on that day (a minor inconvenience—for me, anyway) to the top of the slide.

Holding onto the bike frame with one hand, I took a step up while holding onto the rung above me with the other. I then quickly grasped the next rung, and stepped up again, repeating ‘til I got to the top where I had to get on the small platform ahead of the bike, and then pull it up next to me. Then I had to sit on it, balancing it on the 2’x2’ platform, with the front tire already pointing down the slide and the back tire barely at the rear edge of the platform. I have to admit that at this point I was having second thoughts… and just as I wondered if I should be doing this, it was too late. I was on my way!

It was kinda like being in a car wreck—time slows down. I vividly remember being surprised when the front tire immediately dropped off the straight edge at the bottom. Then the back tire slammed down and bounced the back of the bike into the air, flying me through the swings with no way to slow down. Just as the back tire finally came down I slammed into the monkey bars, doing them no damage at all… and fortunately, besides a few bruises, none to me either! The forks of the bicycle were bent back a couple of inches, but me and Glen Jumonville heated them up later with a torch and pulled them back out. If it hadn’t been for the burnt paint, I woulda got away with it!

We all enjoyed a round of side-splitting laughter and re-telling the story from different vantage points while I ate my snowball—before I headed off to fix the forks, go home, and get chewed out for the charred paint.

I didn’t tell my parents the true story about how they got bent, but eventually everyone knew. It was just another one of those days in the life of a small town, where fun was where you found it!

To be continued; same life, different story…

© Dewayne P. Blanco, 2017

The Water Tower

“…I gar-awn-TEE you will wrap your arms around that ladder as you make that last few feet!”

One Friday afternoon, toward the end of the school day, I was plotting the campout itinerary with Keith Gary; we did a lot of things together over the years… some good, some bad, all fun. Also plotting with us was a couple of other friends who didn’t have the same WTH attitude (translation: they studied and made good grades!)—Alvin Zeringue and Jared Vantromp. But they had heard all the stories from the previous campouts, and the curiosity finally got to them, I guess; they were in for an Adventure! Some of the adventure was due to a general lack of planning, other than when, how, where… some of it was due to the circumstances that presented themselves during the night…

We decided that we would meet at Keith’s house after we went home and told our lies, –Ahem… we got permission to campout at X–the previously agreed upon placeholder that all the parents would be okay with—then, we would proceed to Y, the more exciting alternative. In this case, we had decided that we would walk to Bayou Vista and camp out at Skeleton Hills. There was always the possibility for various goings on there, and the longer you were there, the better chance to be a part of the fun.

So we finally got together at Keith’s house, at the corner of Railroad and First streets, and since we didn’t all have bicycles, we decided to walk to Bayou Vista. It seemed like farther, but a quick check of Google Maps shows it to be 3.8 miles. Once we got there, we stashed our meager camp out gear and joined in the various goings on at the Hills.

It was great fun until the cops came and ran everyone off! Well, we grabbed our gear, and knowing we couldn’t camp at the Hills, we went south across the road into the woods (now the Wal-Mart is there). After going what we thought was a sufficient distance in so that our fire would not be obvious (we thought), we established a small clearing and began gathering anything that looked like it would burn, and proceeded to try and start a fire to heat up our cans of beanie-weenies, etc.

Well, if you’ve ever built a fire with green/wet wood, you will already know how much smoke you can create without even trying. And during this exercise, I got a healthy dose of smoke in my eyes, and me being me, I began to scream. Not just your everyday scream, understand; I could scream very, VERY loudly, and like a girl, just to make it more interesting. But after a few moments, we got back to keeping the fire burning, “cooking”, and enjoying our billowing smoke. Life was good…

Well, for a little while, anyway. Suddenly our campsite was bathed in light like the noon-day sun, except it was blueish and accompanied by loud voices yelling, “POLICE! DON’T MOVE!!!”

Police

which was my cue to dash off into the nearest brush like a scared rabbit—but, to no avail. Those lights cut through brush like it ain’t even there, exposing my position pretty easily. After I extricated myself from the briars, they had us all sit by the campfire while one of them did a canvass of the area and the officer detaining us began asking questions.

“Is anybody else out here?” was question one; the obvious answer “no” didn’t seem to satisfy him, so he followed up with “Did you have a girl out here with you?” and the light bulb came on in my head, “Oh shit; my screams!”

After we all said no, I followed up immediately with the story about getting smoke in my eyes. By then, the other officer had finished his canvass of the area, and having found no evidence to the contrary, they decided I might be telling the truth. They proceeded to tell us of the phone calls reporting the young girl in obvious distress, and then told us we had to go home. Not wishing to appear dis-agreeable, we began packing up our stuff, glad that we hadn’t been offered a free ride home! After a parting warning that they didn’t want to see us again that night, we concurred, and they drove away as we began walking out, and back toward Saturn Road, the main East-West road that bisected the subdivision.

As we made our way back toward Saturn, we were kinda bummed that we had to cut our night short. Besides, walking home at 2:00 in the morning was not in our plan. But our route soon brought us to the water tower, and Keith and I began discussing how we had always wanted to climb one; and, Hey, there’s one right here!

Alvin and Jared weren’t real keen on climbing a fence topped with barbed wire, let alone a water tower, so we told them to wait at the side of the Waterworks building near the base of the water tower in the entrance alcove, where the chance of them being seen by our friends in the Gendarme would be less likely. They grudgingly agreed, and took our gear and headed there while Keith and I scouted the fence for the best crossing point.

In our previous campout endeavors we had become skilled in crossing barbed wire topped fences; the best place is where the wire is tightest, so it doesn’t sway so much as you work yourself over to the other side. We made short work of the fence, then caught our breath before tackling the next obstacle, getting to the bottom of the ladder.

Back then they didn’t have cages around the base of the ladder, but it didn’t reach all the way to the ground, either. One of us had to stand under the ladder and let the other one climb up his back and stand on his shoulders to reach the end of the ladder; then, the person on top had to hang on to the end of the ladder while the lower person climbed up his legs and back to get over him and onto the ladder!!! You had to really want to do this, eh?

After a short break to recover, the long climb to the top began. This was the most critical part of the adventure, as we knew our dark clothes would show up like a beacon against the white ladder and legs of the tower, and we didn’t want to meet up with our peace officer buddies again like that! But you ain’t lived till you’ve climbed a 60 foot ladder that LEANS OUT the last 15 feet or so. I gar-awn-TEE you will wrap your arms around that ladder as you make that last few feet! Then collapse over the rail and lay there for 10 or 15 minutes just catching your breath—but it’s worth every second for the view.

It was a cool fall night, with a very slight breeze; and the fog was beginning to come down.  There was a solid cover about a hundred feet above us. You could see and hear everything for a mile or so, and all sound seemed to come from below us. As we made our way around the perimeter of the tower walkway, we stopped almost directly above where Alvin and Jared where sitting near the Waterworks building entrance.

We could hear them talking like they were right next to us! They were trying to decide how long they would wait for us before they bailed and headed back to town.  Suddenly, I had an inspiration! I choked back a laugh, and elbowed Keith as I unzipped my pants… he instantly knew what I was going to do and joined in! We began peeing over the rail, and after a few moments, we had to stop and almost choked to death trying not to laugh out loud as we heard one of them exclaim, “DAMN! It’s starting to RAIN!”

We were kicking each other and laying on the walkway choking for I don’t know how long before we finally got enough control to head on over and begin the long reverse trip down the ladder. We had to stop several times on the way to recover from uncontrollable fits of choking laughter trying not to ruin the moment by being caught now.

I don’t remember either one of them joining in a camping adventure after that.  I know that unless Keith said something, I never told them what the “rain” really was. They were both really good guys, and I suppose we felt a little guilty for the prank… Nah, not really.

To be continued; same life, different story…

Skeleton Hills

“…maybe 20 feet high, but in South Louisiana, that’s a frickin’ Mount Everest!”

Skeleton BicyclingWe lived in Bayou Vista, Louisiana from the time I was 2 years old until I was 13. I have some great memories of those times, and we were living the American Dream. My Dad bought a small house on Jupiter Street in 1957 or so, and we lived there for 5 years as he built up equity and savings until we could afford to move into a bigger new house he had built on Neptune Street.

Then he did the same thing there, so we could build a nicer house in Patterson.

Bayou Vista was a relatively new sub-division sorta, previously sugar cane fields between Patterson and Berwick, and while we lived there it was filling up rapidly. My Dad actually worked for the construction company out of Morgan City that was developing the property south of the drainage canal that we all just called ‘the canal’ and everyone knew what you were referring to. I remember falling asleep in his lap on the bulldozer while he was moving dirt and knocking down trees! It was a simpler time.

One of the results of the earth moving/tree clearing was 2 relatively high mounds of dirt that were left after the clearing of the section to be developed. To those of us living there at the time, they became known as Skeleton Hills, and they became a focus of activity for several years for a large group of kids in Bayou Vista. As they were only maybe a hundred yards apart, and we soon had a trail from the top of one to the top of the other, you only had to pedal your bike moderately hard to get a pretty good head of steam up between them! They were only maybe 20 feet high, but in South Louisiana, that’s a frickin’ Mount Everest!!!

One story from Skeleton Hills that still makes me smile is the time Perez Aucoin, one of my friends from the Berwick side, decided he was gonna climb a tree with his bicycle. I had met him during my one year hiatus from going to school in Patterson; I attended the new elementary school in Bayou Vista for my fourth grade year… and fought everyone there. Well, it seemed like it. Looking back, you realize that you had an established order after a while where everyone knows who is who in the pecking-order; but if you go into a new environment where it doesn’t exist yet, it has to be established–and Perez was one of the guys that I fought to a stand-still, so we became great friends.

There were a couple of trees near the trail between the hills that were kinda up on pedestals of dirt; the dozer had cut around the base, lowering ground level by about 5 feet, and leaving a 6 foot high or so pedestal of dirt around the tree. There was a slight slope to the dirt around the bottom, just enough to tempt a crazy MF like Perez to try and ride up it to the top! Well, he got a running start down one of the mountains, then veered off to the base of the tree–then WHAM! A big cloud of dust, and Perez is laying on the ground in gray-face, out like a light!

We got the dirt out of his mouth and nose so he could breathe and after a few minutes he woke up and says, “Did I make it?!?”

We all about died laughing! Perez was one of the only friends I knew in Bayou Vista that was crazier than me…!

To be continued; same life, different story…