In grade school, we spent
most of our summers riding bikes on elaborate adventures - my brother, Chris, our friend,
Ricky, and I transformed our urban landscape into a geography that would rival any
conjured in Tolkien's imagination. The drainage ditches near our home, which flowed
run-off rainwater beneath the streets, served as our thousand caves of Menegroth. We rode
through the old train yard, chased rabbits, and built what might have been described as a
fort, but was little more than slats of wood laid between the branches of a tree. In my
memory, it seems that we had a vast wilderness to explore, but like the shoddy reality of
our tree house, our plot of nature was a tiny tree-laden grove that housed more junked
cars than foliage. It didn't matter though - our "wilderness" offered enough adventure
to fill seemingly endless days. |
Our ultimate destination was a series of
construction hills in a developing subdivision, mostly scattered dirt mounds no higher
than eight feet surrounding twin 30-foot mounds. We spent hours scaling the tremendous
dirt walls of our personal Andes, biking ramps and scrambling trails. There were two
problems with the hills however, which were also part of their appeal - the first was the
cops whom we constantly had to hide from.
The second problem was far more
insidious: "Gal-gal & Hen-hen" a biking band of pre-pubescent Hell's Angels in training.
Even their name evoked fear - and it was a nomenclature created specifically for the
purpose of neutralizing it. In the playground vernacular this was the harshest of labels
- "Gal" as in "cootie" ridden, "Hen" as in "chicken", repeated for emphasis. They were
the older kids, traveling in packs like ravenous wolves on the hunt, riding in triangular
V attack formation, following the orders of their nefarious leader, "Jay-tan" (as in
Satan). Sometimes they flanked us and ran us off the road completely. It was a turf war
that made "king of the mountain" literal; "G & H" were sworn enemies.
wasn't that we were chicken ourselves. You had to have nerves of steel to launch the
Andes, risking a skinned knee or elbow and on one occasion a dislocated shoulder - let
alone to attempt this on a bike with a banana seat. For that matter, you probably had to
have nerves of steel to ride a bike with a yellow and orange banana seat in the first
place. It was just that "Gal-gal & Hen-hen" were malicious.
were a competitive rivalry - these chases often dissolving into some kind of challenge
and mud slinging of both varieties. For control of the hills, our groups would trash talk
each other while hurling dirt bombs through the air. We competed to out-trick our
opponents, race one another and so forth. Ricky racing on foot against "Jay - tan" on his
light frame bike, Chris playing chicken with Tom toward a ditch, Mike and I peddling
against each other in a reed bar punctured asphalt obstacle course; these were trials of
the hills by which our legends were made.
From the hilltop we could see
"G&H" rolling in, they shrouded the street en masse like a murder of angry crows. "Jay -
tan" on point and his minions staggered behind peddling toward us, hooting and hollering
as they approached. This tactic was usually enough to intimidate us, but this day Chris
had gone to use the port-a-john at the base of the hills. When "G&H" became privy to this
knowledge it represented an unprecedented means of torture for them to subject us to.
Ricky yelled a warning to Chris while I manufactured munitions, balling
mud into mini-grenades and stockpiling them. "G&H" were already spilling into the
foothills and in typical fashion spreading out so that they could cover a broader area.
We packed our weapons in a discarded plastic tarp and crossed the ravine to position
ourselves at the edge of a small plateau known as "Dead Man's Drop." Having exhausted
our creativity on the name "Gal-gal & Hen-hen," we relied on cliché where we could. The
precarious ledge dropped straight into massive bulldozer ruts. It was a steep ridge that
unlike the bulk of the hills was composed of exposed clay and rock. Many a kid had nearly
taken a spill from its height; in fact, "Dead Man's Drop" was a staple feature in death
- defying double dog dares doing daredevil skids right at its edge.
"Cover me." I echoed in B - action cliché.
Chris's light frame bike, I prepared to pull the most dramatic of pop-up wheelies at the
ledge, capturing the image of a silhouetted lone ranger. My own bike had the banana seat
automatically dispelling the aura of ruggedness.
Meanwhile, Chris made
his exit from the port-a-potty and was instantly forced back inside by two of the "G&H"
crew who barricaded the door with a plank of wood. I revved up to exhibit my
action-adventure prowess. I nodded to Ricky. He nodded back, and I put the bike in
motion, racing to the edge. In the next triumphant moments "G&H" would, for the first
time ever, flee from us proving to be one of the most empowering moments of our
childhood. I raced toward "Dead Man's Drop", my eyes fixed on the portable toilet that
two of "Jay - tan"'s demonic horde prepared to overturn, so focused on it, in fact, that
I forgot to apply the brakes.
The bike soared off "Dead Man's Drop" like
a rocket taking flight; we sailed together through the sky (one basket shy of an E.T.
re-enactment) and parted ways in descent. Chris's Huffy became the largest projectile
hurled from the hills - it fired like a missile through the foothills at the base of the
Andes, directly toward one of "Jay - tan"'s henchmen. I followed close behind, tumbling
through the air as the hill's heaviest projectile, flying right at "Jay - tan" himself.
"Jay - tan" took flight, still land-based and in desperate retreat; his
boys followed close behind, the toilet tippers included. I literally hit the ground
running, then tumbling, then rolling, then bouncing and then moaning. They witnessed none
of this as they fled the scene. My shoulder was dislocated, my body bruised and bleeding
as I raced over to free Chris. We collected Chris's bike, which had in phantom form
pursued the boys right to the curb before it permitted them escape. We made our way back
to Ricky who was slowly climbing down the bluff.
A month later the
construction crew bulldozed over the hills. They were smoothed out, flattened and
eventually all trace of them erased, but in that last month "Jay-tan" and the "G&H" boys
avoided the hills completely. Years later in high school, we actually partied with the
"G&H" crew and reminisced on these experiences. Recalling this last one, Jay himself
explained it this way: "Man, we all ran because we thought you were dead, but when we saw
you guys around that place later, we were afraid of what you might do."
laughed, "Yeah, we were all crazy back then." Never relaying the entire event had been