Continuing on the theme of safety that I discussed in last night’s post, I got to thinking about all the things I did as a kid and young adult that today would be perceived as dangerous. Here’s a partial list:
Laying down foam pillows in a row on the grass and then doing dive rolls onto them from the top of the stone wall at the end of my parent’s house. Age 12
Riding a Honda Trail 70 minibike all over the back roads in our part of the county with two other kids, also on mini-bikes. No licenses or parents anywhere. Age probably also about 12
Spending entire afternoons with my friend Mendy roaming the fields and woods on our farm, often swinging on vines out over a ravine from the top of an old railroad. Age 9 and up
Swinging on a rope in the hayloft of our barn by standing on the ledge of the barn window (while it was open) and then jumping one foot into the loop of the rope. The trick was to stop yourself on the backswing before shooting out the window. Age – maybe from 7 or 8 on up
Crawling in the pitch black through mazes my brother and his friends built in the hayloft out of hay bales, each of which could weigh up to 70 or 80 pounds. You had to feel your way through. It was stifling hot and you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. He included drop offs so one minute you’d be crawling along and the next you’d meet open air and fall head first into a pile of loose hay. The worst thing that ever happened to me? I went into the maze with a pack of M&M’s in my jeans pocket, and it was so hot that they melted all over everything. Age maybe 10 & up
Wrecking the Honda Trail 70 in my parents’ front yard by hitting a hole hidden with cut grass. Went over the handle bars and cut my leg; still have the scar to prove it! Age 13
Swinging as high as possible on the swings (at school!) and then jumping out of them from maybe 10-12 feet. Age 10 and up
Practicing gymnastic dismounts – especially the penny drop – from the metal bars on the school playground (at recess in full view of the teachers) onto hard-packed dirt. Age 11-12
Riding to Michigan in the back of my parent’s pick up truck – it had a camper shell on top. My Dad would drive all night and we’d spread out on foam mattresses and sleep in the back. No seat belts and my spot was right up against the tailgate. Age 8-16
After I went away to college, most of the “dangerous” stuff included travel. Road trips to see how many state lines we could cross in 12 hours, and a 1988 Spring Break trip to Florida that included a very unscheduled, night-time breakdown on I-75….
I was with my friend Susan and we were driving my baby blue 1973 Super Beetle. We were on our way back home and planned to drive all night because I had tickets to see Michael Jackson on his “Bad” tour in Indianapolis the next day.
Except somewhere in northern Florida my car just stopped. On the interstate. Did I mention this was 1988? Which again meant no cell phones or GPS trackers that would send up flares and summon a handy helicopter or something. (They don’t do that yet, do they?) No, instead we got out of the car and walked to the nearest roadside call box. Amazingly it worked, and an operator told us she’d send a tow truck.
And there we sat. In the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere, waiting on a tow truck while inches away, semi-trucks roared by at 60 mph.
The tow truck showed up about 45 minutes later. The somewhat scruffy looking guy (I’m being kind) hooked up my car and we got into the cab of the truck with him. He told us there were no garages nearby, but that he knew a guy who worked on Volkswagons and who could look at my car.
What choice did we have?
So we drove in the dead of night to some guy’s house, and our tow truck driver LEFT MY CAR in the back yard, explaining that the guy worked 3rd shift at a local factory, but would be able to look at the car the following afternoon. Wonderful. Then he drove us to the Swanee River Motel (I kid you not), woke up the night manager, who might also have been the owner, and we got a room. It looked like something out of a movie set and the TV got exactly three channels, all of them badly.
The next morning we spoke to the desk manager/son of the owner and then, because my car was in some stranger’s yard, we walked into the “town”. Again, it was like that scene from the movie where the stranger walks into a bar and everyone turns to stare, except this was a local diner. No one was unfriendly, just curious. Two people asked what we were doing there and when we told them they said, “Oh yeah. Jake (maybe not his name – can’t remember) will fix your car soon as he wakes up. He works 3rd shift at the factory.” But this was the deep, deep, deep South, so what they really said was, “Oh yayuh. Jayke’ll fix you’uns car soon ez he waykes up…” Suwanee Florida is much more southern than, say, Miami ever thought of being even though it lies several hundred miles to the north.
Anyway, very long story short, that afternoon the tow truck driver showed up and drove us back to Jake’s, and Jake had, in fact, fixed my car. It was the alternator and he just happened to have a spare lying around. Charged me something like $50, and we were on our way.
I missed the Michael Jackson concert, which is the worst part of the whole story.
If there ever was proof that people are basically good, it is this story. (Although I just thought of another one involving a friend of mine who at the age of 19 accepted an offer from an anonymous cab driver in Minneapolis to sleep on his couch rather than spending the night at the airport. Crazy, right? But he was working all night, let her into his place and, as good as his word, showed up at 9am the next morning to take her to the airport. No harm, no foul. No charge.) There we were, two 20 year old girls stranded on the interstate at night, basically at the mercy of everyone we met. Except that everyone we met was sincere and helpful and honest.
My “dangerous” life has never actually been that dangerous. I certainly never felt that I was in jeopardy, and I wasn’t. I credit my parents for not being alarmist, helping me to be capable and independent, and trusting me to use good judgement. Building up needless anxiety in our kids over things that aren’t going to happen does them a huge disservice. It actually leaves them less capable rather than more so.
Take it from me and my dangerous life.