You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

10 Feb

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

or,

Losing Touch With What It Means to Be a Kid

by L. Stewart Marsden

Note:
This piece was written a few years back, but in my opinion, is still relevant and will remain so until we come to grips with the issues that prevent our children from being able to range and roam safely. And until we adults put away our techno-toys and get outside ourselves.

At dinner recently I had to demand that my youngest children and grandchildren hand over their electronic gadgets from iPhones to iPads to Kindles and Nooks — innocuous-sounding replacements for true outdoor exercise. As well as table talk.

Am I not right?

Outdoor exercise. Hmmm. Today that’s the process of going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned school — and repeat the return trip, which is often spiced up with an air-conditioned mall or air-conditioned movie theater.

Sure, we’re the generation who brought you MacDonald’s and drive-throughs and empty calorie-laden drinks like Coke and Pepsi — TV dinners and more. But few of us were pudgy, ’cause we walked and biked miles every day through our towns and neighborhoods.

Kids today don’t know what outdoor play means. They don’t know what it means to survive and thrive for a full 12 to 14 hours in the neighborhood — wading down creeks to catch crayfish, or stealing those smudge pots street workers put out and lit to warn motorists of roadwork.

Or climbing trees to build really great tree houses 50 feet in the air.

Or blowing up coke bottles with M80’s and cherry bombs.

Or swiping playing cards and clothespins from your house and fastening them to the spokes of your bicycle. Two or three bikes equipped like that sounds like a Hell’s Angels gang! And who doesn’t like or wanna be a Hell’s Angel?

THAT was being a kid!

Nobody had allergies. Nobody cried or whimpered at the sight of blood. Or mud.

We didn’t have Wii controllers, we had Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, and plastic machine guns with full military combat regalia.

We hurled Dixie cups filled with flour to mimic grenades.

We played all over the neighborhood until the sun had set for an hour and our moms had to come out looking for us.

We were easily entertained by a box of stick matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Okay, that might have been extreme.

Comedian Bill Cosby (he whose name can never be mentioned again) said in a comedy bit he knew adults were out to kill the kids. His proof? Whirligigs, jungle gyms, and see-saws.

He left one out: the Flexi Flier. Not the sled, but the steel-wheeled running board vehicle, shaped like a bullet and designed for death-defying fun!

This crazy craft was great for areas like a flat, concrete paved parking area where there were no cars. Problem was, there were no flat, concrete paved parking areas with no cars in my neighborhood.

In my neighborhood, the street was paved, but with that rocky pebbly stuff — not asphalt. You know the kind: if you skated on it with your key skates (if you don’t know what these are, you will not understand anything else in this blog), and you tried to sing the word “buh” it would come out bubbabubbabubbabubbabubba.

Sidewalks — a concept that escapes current city planners — ran parallel to either side of the street. Sidewalks were constructed in squares of roughly three to four feet. Trees planted next to these sidewalks grew their roots under these squares and pushed the units out of kilter. This is an important thing to note and remember if you were a Flexi Flier rider.

The Flexi Flier design:

image

It looked like a sled. Not those molded thingies that are devastating our forests of plastic trees, but a thing of beauty! Made of real wood, and real steal. Painted with an American Eagle on top in multi-colors, and lacquered to a sheen. The metal steering and “bumpers,” painted bright red. It WAS a sled, but with four steel disc wheels rimmed with a half-inch of hard black rubber. Two wheels in the front, that could turn if you had muscles like Charles Atlas; and two at the rear.

Yes, a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Kind of like a BB gun was.

The Three Ways to Ride a Flexi Flier:

One knee position
You positioned one knee on the bed of the flier, and bent over forward to grab the imagesteering handles with each hand. This position was ideal on those nonexistent flat, carless parking lots. You would propel yourself with the other leg, hung out over one side. It was kind of like a huge skateboard with front wheels that turned. The kid in the photo is a random selection. The fact that he has no shoes or shirt or long-legged Levi’s on tells me he’s an idiot.

 

 

Stomach position
imageFlat on your stomach with your hands on the steering handles, and if you were a short kid, your legs extended over the back end of the Flexi. If you were tall, you bent your knees and rode with your feet in the air. Like a snow sled. This is undoubtedly the preferred position.

The kid on the left (a detail from a painting by Francene Christianson) is living a fantasy life. Probably somewhere in California, no doubt. Who the hell had flat and even sidewalks back then? Where’s the challenge in that?

Sitting up position
Buttox positioned over the rear wheels, and hands firmly gripping either side slat, you put your feet forward on the steering handles. Not as aerodynamic as the one knee or stomach positions, and you definitely could not operate the state-of-the-art front brakes.

There are no photos of this position. I suspect because few survived and blood and gore had not become a fare of the local evening news yet.

Stopping
The wheels of the Flexi were steel disks with a hard rubber rim about a half-inch thick. imageOn the steering handles were metal nubs that extended out over the front wheels. If you twisted the handles forward, the idea was that those nubs would rub the rubber rims — kind of like disc brakes — and the Flexi would ostensibly and eventually stop. After maybe half a mile when gravity or a curb brought you to a halt, it did. There was no way to quickly stop a Flexi that had built up momentum other than turn towards a bush hedge, tree, or brick wall. And uneven sidewalks.

imageIf you sped down a sidewalk and had built your speed up to maybe 15 to 20 mph — remember, you are about six inches above ground level — and you hit an uneven place in the sidewalk? Well, the Flexi would pretty much stop dead, and you would continue on — Flexiless.

Face, chin, chest, stomach, knees — pretty much any clothing on your front side — was rubbed away as your body slowed to a stop.

It wasn’t unusual to have a full body scab from head to toe from a Flexi mishap. It hurt like hell, but was an unmistakable badge of pride.

Alas, Flexible Fliers pretty much went the way of whirligigs and jungle gyms and see-saws. Fearful mothers and greedy lawyers pretty much did all that great fun in.  Plus kids today are wusses. If you don’t know that term, you probably didn’t understand anything above.

Keep your iPhones, iPads and iEverythings. It’s your loss.

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