Remember When Playgrounds Were Dangerous?

The playgrounds of today do not look like the playgrounds that I played on, when I ran around with my jacket unzipped and in blissful ignorance of the fact that I would one day have more conversations with Time Warner Cable than with my parents.  Gone are the monkey bars, the jungle gyms, the pieces of metal welded together in the shape of something that was at the same time a slide and a medieval torture device.  No longer can children test their courage and their parents’ coronary strength by climbing to the summit of iron structures, where one slip would send a child pinballing down to an unforgiving concrete surface in an indifferent universe.

Playgrounds today are made of single pieces of plastic, their summits so low that children can eat on them without having to sit on telephone books—not that there are any telephone books left to sit on.  The concrete ground has been supplanted by rubber foam, and the swings are allowed a maximum swing of five degrees in either direction, and even that much requires clearance from air traffic control.

Look hard and you will see the city of wood and metal that once was there.  See the tiered wooden maze with splinters and exposed nails.  Run your hand over the rubber ground, and you will feel the sea of pebbles that once washed over Velcro sneakers, and drove little rocks into the soles of little feet as those feet dropped from the monkey bars.  Sniff the air, and you will smell the charred pieces of wood that littered the playground, with which the children would draw pictures of bison and of teachers they despised, just like their ancestors did on cave walls some 40,000 years ago.

And along the perimeter of the southeastern quadrant lay a line of giant rubber tires, each one the width of three children, or one and a half of the children we have today.  The tires had been implanted into the pebbled earth on their sides, forming a tunnel that the children could crawl through, and catch their Champion sweatshirts and scratch their rosy cheeks on the wires that protruded from the tires as a testament to the thousands of miles that those tires had traveled before being retired to the playground where they could bring joy to all children.

Crawl through that tunnel of tires.  You are led to a three-story rusty metal cylinder in the shape of  rocket.  Children climb up to the top of it with only cold metal rungs to keep them from falling to death or paralysis.  At the top of the rocket there is the opening to another tunnel.  This tunnel is horizontal and is made of the same wooden planks as the charred and splintery maze.  In that tunnel three stories above the world, a boy can meditate on what it means to be young, and dream of one day having a television in his room.

Listen!  Hear the cries of a child who slipped off a giant metal sea horse placed on a spring.  The child split his lip when he hit the pebbles, and he leaves a trail of blood as he is led to the nurse’s office.  The other children observe a moment of silence out of respect for their fallen comrade, and after that moment go back to their wanton cruelty.

Here, in this playground whose spirit will not leave, is where blood was spilled and teeth were lost, knees scraped and ankles sprained, skin pierced and lockjaw contracted.  And where heroes were born.

23 thoughts on “Remember When Playgrounds Were Dangerous?

  1. hahaha. Such a great post!
    I remember those metal slides that got so hot you could smell your skin cooking as you slid down them.

  2. I just found your blog and I’m glad I did. You’re a funny guy with a razor wit and I can’t understand why I haven’t come across you before. Yes, I can remember when playgrounds were dangerous and nobody but kids with freaky parents ate yogurt of any kind. I hope you’ll visit me at Chubby Chatterbox where I write about humor, travel and nostalgia. I think we might have a lot in common. If you do pay me a visit I hope you’ll take a moment to press the Join button and I’ll return the compliment. Take care, and thanks for making me laugh today.

    Chubby Chatterbox

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment, Mr. Chatterbox. Always happy to meet someone who enjoys this topic as much as I do. I’m going to check out your website now. Glad you enjoy the posts – come back anytime. Mark

  3. A kid named Bobby Biggs slid down the (now outlawed) firemen’s pole in the winter. He was wearing his gloves. I can still see the blood on the snow. The ambulance came to take him away. I never saw him again, and our teacher never mentioned him. Ever. I always wondered what happened to him. Did he die? Does he live nearby? Is he the reason playgrounds changed?

    1. That image of the blood in the snow would stick with me too, Renée. Did you try to look him up on Facebook? Maybe he can’t type with his hands and has to punch the keys with a spork from Kentucky Fried Chicken. It must have been pretty bad for him to just disappear like that.

      Maybe his hands healed right away, and the government realized that he had a superhuman healing ability, and kept him prisoner so that he could be studied, getting a tutor for him so he wouldn’t fall behind in math and social studies. And then they coated his bones with an indestructible substance and he now goes by the name of Wolverine. Yes, you should look him up on Facebook.

  4. Well, if they’re lucky, there is still sand to throw! As always great post about “memory lane”! I’m glad that I grew up when I did… thanks for the reminder, Mark!

  5. Although I was never allowed to spent much time at a playground, because they were better ways to spend my days, according to my mom anyway, I loved it. It was like a small battlefield. Today’s playgrounds are more like labs. Great post, brought back some good memories.

    1. Thank you, Harriet. That’s a good way to look at it – laboratories. Every new policy change is preceded with, “Studies have shown that…” I even read last week that they are now building playgrounds for adults. No joke. There was a picture of one the New York Times, showing a grown man hanging upside down from monkey bars. I’m sure there was at least a foot of rubber foam beneath him, though. Adults don’t heal as quickly as children.

  6. The playground that I take my daughter to is all plastic and colours and spliter-free wood chips.
    Remember the metal merry-go-round thingies that had the wheel in the middle and you grabbed it and spun and spun and spun until you couldn’t walk and just threw up all over yourself? I miss my childhood…

    1. I do remember those. There was one at the park near my house and I loved getting spun around on it. I did not understand the nature of centrifugal force, but I definitely enjoyed its effects! I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, but I’m sure the thing has been replaced by a piece of foam made from recycled foam.

  7. You didn’t mention the mention the “Merry Go Round”, Might have been before your time, you would get on it and get it spinning so fast either you would get sick and puke on everyone, or get chucked off it, flying into rocks and gravel or the splintered wood frame. Oh the joys of youth – it prepared us for this crazy world we live in!

    1. I know, I know. I think it’s because there wasn’t a merry go round at the playground at my school. At least, I don’t think so. Unless I got tossed off it and hit my head on concrete and lost all memory of it. But as dangerous as the playground was, it was nothing compared to dealing with the cable company.

  8. Awesome post and I will be subscribing! I am glad that playgrounds ae safer now for the sake of the children, but back in the day we had to grow up fast on the playgroud…lol. I remember every amusement being fun AND a potential bodily hazard all at the same time. Aaah, memories…

    1. Thank you – you won’t be disappointed! I remember that while the playgrounds were dangerous, I did not think there was anything wrong with it. I did not think to myself, “You know, they should make this place safer.” If someone fell and starting spouting blood everywhere, I just thought, “Wow, that’s too bad. Glad that didn’t happen to me.” I never had the concept that it might have been someone else’s fault for allowing the playground to be too dangerous for normal child activity. I was obviously behind the times.

      1. “Wow, that’s too bad.” …LOL! Well, back in the “old days”, we were all naive as kids being kids and just concerned with playing and the makers of the structures should be kicked in the head! Nonetheless, they still provided hours of fun! No regrets : )

Leave a Reply