#980 Old, dangerous playground equipment

Tssssss!Slides used to be dangerous.

After climbing up those sandy, metal crosstrax steps you got to the top and stared down at that steep ride below. The slide was burning hot to the touch, a stovetop set to high all day under the summer sun, just waiting to greet the underside of your legs with first-degree burns as you enjoyed the ride. It also smelled like hot pee, years of nervous children with leaky diapers permanently marking it as their territory. Lastly, to top it all off, there were no cute plastic siderails or encapsulated tube-slides, which meant that if you went too fast or aimed your legs poorly, your shoes would grip-skid on the metal, and you’d spill over the side, landing face down with a sickening thud in a bed of pebbles, cigarette butts, and milk thistles.

World of Unimaginable DizzinessIt wasn’t just slides, either. Everything in the playground was more dangerous. And they were different and unique, seemingly put together by the neighborhood handymen who in a burst of creative energy one Saturday morning emptied their garages of old tires, 2x4s, and chains and just nailed it all together.

There were wooden tightrope beams suspended high in the air, daring the confident, athletic kids to attempt a slow, heart-pounding highwire walk while other kids encouragingly showered them with handfuls of sand and pine cones.

There were fire poles two stories high — just a cheap, simple pole planted deep in the ground. It was popular, and educational too, quietly introducing children to concepts like gravity, friction, and badly sprained ankles. There was a certain Fire Pole Form too, a kind of arms-on, cross-legged-spider-wrap maneuver that was both awkward and majestic at the same time.

PerfectAnd of course, there was my favorite — the Big Spinner, also known as a Merry-Go-Round, but not the kind with lights and plastic horses going up and down. This was just a giant metal circle that laid about a foot off the ground and could be spun, usually by someone standing beside it. If you were lucky you’d get a pile of kids on there and somebody’s mom or dad would kindly whip you into a World of Unimaginable Dizziness. A couple kids would fly off from the G-forces but most would hang on, teeth gritted, eyes squinted, cheeks flapping wildly against the wind, until the Big Spinner reluctantly came to a slow stop and finally let you off. Then you’d all walk away in different directions, some kids hitting tree trunks head on, others falling down nearby hills.

These days those classic playgrounds sure are hard to come by.

Safe and aloneEverything is plastic now — unaffected by temperature, easy to disinfect, and bendable into all kinds of Safe-T-Shapes, the sharp, rusty nail heads of yesterday replaced with non-toxic washable adhesives poured from a cauldron of polymers and Purell. Now not only are our kids getting lame baby-approved fun, but just think what we’re doing to the tetanus shot industry.

Seriously though, new playgrounds sure are terrible. This guy agrees. They say that playgrounds have gotten too safe and become so sterile and boring that kids just walk away from them, preferring instead to hang out in the weeds by the railroad tracks or throw bottles in the alley behind the pizza place. Kids could actually be placed in more danger by these lame plastic netherworlds that encourage more video game time instead of fresh air and bruising. Another blow to childhood struck by overprotective parents and pesky lawsuits.

Going nowhereWell, we can’t change the world, so let’s just enjoy the good news: old, fun, dangerous playgrounds are not completely extinct. Yes, the Safety Conglomerate hasn’t killed all the buzz with their rocking horses two inches off the ground, pillowy-soft imitation sand, and stationary, bolted-on steering wheels. Old, dangerous playground equipment can still be found. They’re out there.

So please — when you find monkey bars taunting you from ten feet off the ground, extended see-saws that allow for maximum elevation, and rickety, sagging rope bridges with planks missing, please, run around like crazy, bump your head a few times, and twist your ankle. Because tell me something– is there anything quite like it?

AWESOME!

Heaven

Hey everyone!

I signed my very first Journals of Awesome in stores this week. It’s not supposed to be out until July 25th but you can order it online directly from Chronicle Books and score 25% off your order if you use the promo code “Awesome” (without the quotes). Click here to flip through the first twenty pages! (Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

Have an awesome weekend,

Neil

Illustration from: here

27 thoughts on “#980 Old, dangerous playground equipment

  1. Again my FAVORITE!! I got to visit the merry go round of pain on my last visit to my parents…30 years later, there is plastic, “safe”, equipment in the park, surrounding….the old rusty merry go round! AWESOME!

  2. Yes, this is definitely one of my favs too! It really wasn’t that long ago when we could burn our butts sliding down a metal slide and break our arms falling from the monkey bars or be thrown from the merry-go-round. But it was fun. There are no more tall slides that lead down to a mud hole. You’re stuck with these small plastic slides that lead down to cut up rubber or mulch.
    At a school around here, there was ONE kid who fell off a swing and broke his arm. His parents threw a fit and wanted ALL swings taken from ALL schools. A few were taken out here and there but quickly replaced after realizing how crazy stupid it was to punish all the kids because of one kid.

  3. This is my absolute favorite post! Glad to see it has cycled back around. Reading #980 reminds me of my elementary school playground, which featured a yellow house-shaped jungle gym. One could always walk away with either great pride or a broken limb if they gathered enough courage to dare a jump from the top.

  4. Hey.. was this one included the first time around? I don’t remember it.. ;)

    If it was, someone really should have digg’ed it. It’s an instant classic.

    1. LOL! I have to say, instant classic is a pet peeve of mine. Nothing is an instant classic, unless it’s the instant coffee or instant pudding you’ve just stirred up and choked down. But then, I assume you were being your usual witty self, so perhaps we should let it slide? :)

  5. Oh man, talk about hot slides, I recall one in our playground next to the pool. It was quite tall, and a SPIRAL slide… in order to go down quickly in the summer, we’d go straight from the pool and run up the slide’s stairs with our slippery wet feet and all (no, there wasn’t any grip pads on the stairs either). Wow we would enjoy the super fast slide down with our wet trunks lubricating that super hot silver metal route! Yeah, if you got going really good, you’d fly over the side and that pretty much made you the hero of the day.

  6. The post that first really kicked off the hits on this blog!! I’ve never really had any true appreciation for this until the other day, when we went to my Babci and Dziadzia’s (Polish grandma and grandpa’s) for the first time in a few months the other day. The have a playground that we always used to go to across from their house, and there was a really old wood/metal one and then they installed a painted metal/plastic one that was fun, but not as fun as the old one. Apparently they took out the wooden one a couple years ago, but I’ve only just noticed!! D: It’s terrible! Even though it was basically just half a wooden bridge over the ground with rungs you could climb up, with a really tall metal ladder and fireman pole next to it, it was the best playground ever! Sure do miss those days!

  7. Ah, classic, dangerous playground equipment. I never did find one of those Merry-Go-Rounds. I’ve always wanted to go on one.

  8. Best post ever! Took me back to the fateful day at the park when I was playing with a much older group of kids. I was probably 5 or 6 years old, and the teenage boys took great delight in getting the Merry-Go-Round going as fast as possible to make the little kids sick. I accidentally did them one better. . .I was hanging on for dear life when I suddenly felt my body levitate. Yes, the force of the turns picked my little body up off the hot metal base of the twirling menace. I was hanging on so tightly that instead of flying off, my body flew perpendicular to the ground and flapped in the breeze for several rotations. Luckily it freaked out one of the older kids and they stopped the spinning as I gently floated back to the base (in my mind anyway!). Most awesome part? The big kids spent the rest of the afternoon trying to duplicate my feat to no avail. I was truly an original and didn’t realize it in my terrified state. Still pretty awesome if you ask me!

  9. Best daft warning I have seen – on packet of peanuts: may contain nuts.
    ?!
    Health and Safety they call it.

  10. These “Safety” measures are going insane. I went on a class trip to LA once. This was highschool. We went to Venice beach AND WE WEREN’T ALLOWED IN THE WATER!!! It wasn’t even just “No swimming.” It was “Don’t go in the water, don’t even dip your toes in the water. Stay as far away from the water as you can, in fact just stay off the sand in general.” We were at VENICE BEACH! And we weren’t allowed on the beach!

  11. This is just an incredible post! It so sums up the greatness of this blog to me!

    I remember the dangerous playgroud equipment well. Back then, playing wasn’t for the faint of heart; you took your life, or at the very least your appendages, in your hands each time you played! It wasn’t just the playgrouds, though. We had dangerous toys, too. Real kid-sized weapons and such tested our bravery at home, too. I even remember our fav place to play in my neightborhood: a large field full of farm equipment. The local farming good store kept the huge combines, etc. in a field by a creek, so of course we kids spent summer days playing hide and seek in these huge contraptions with blades and lots of moving parts! Then we’d hang by the creek with its rats and trash floating by (a sewer creek!). No wonder I remember it all sepia tinted: if my memories were in color, I’d be scared even now! LOL! ~Kathy

  12. This is beautiful. Thank you so much! My favorite was the May Pole. Tall metal pole with about 12 metal chains with handles at the ends hanging down from the top of it. Grab on with your friends and run like mad around and around. Then pick up your feet and fly! Great times until you were not paying attention and got smacked in the head by a rogue chain =P Who am I kidding? That was still freakin awesome! :D

  13. I was just at a *new-age* park. From health, safety and construction, I know by laws about distance between rails and decks distance from the ground, etc. etc. etc. Kids still get hurt b/c this has NOT been thought through. Bottom line, supervision. And children need be taught how to protect themselves while given opportunities to tap into and discover their own resources. The play ground is truly where SO much more is learned!

  14. ooh! what about tire swings!! i never see any of those anymore! >.< there was one in my neighborhood playground when i was 10 and it was the best!! but i think it broke :'(

  15. Me and two of my friends on Tuesday went to the local wildlife park and playground haha, it was so much fun! We didn’t end up actually going on the cool rides because there were little kids. EVERYWHERE. Sprawled across all the brand new playgrounds. But as we were passing the old merry-go-round from my childhood, my friend was like “They’re actually pretty dangerous when they’re going fast” and I was like, SERIOUSLYYYYYY???????? And I thought of this post and thought I should tell you :) And also that two little girls hopped on the dizze-whizzee as we went past so I ran with it and spun them really fast and we all had fun :)

  16. I wonder how many kids don’t get to experience things like the merry-go-around. There is an old rusty one at a community pool, but unfortunately it doesn’t really move much.

  17. Dennis

    Wild and crazy absolutely yes! We had kid in elementary school and he had brittle bone disease or something like that but he still wanted to play on the swing no one was there to watch out for his safety but us kids. The monkey bars is were I hung out and that caused a few blisters. And yes a kid fell off and we had to get the teacher from the launch room, no safety monitor at that time. I can not see how the new “safe play ground” is fun. There is lady that right a blog she tells how you would skin knees and maybe break something but you always went one. How times have changed.

  18. Somebody linked to this article here: https://playgroundology.wordpress.com/category/john-f-kennedy-memorial-playground/ . The second picture is of the same kind of slide that was in a park in the town I grew up in (Wooster, Ohio), except mine was over ASPHALT. (Also it was actually trapezoidal not triangular. I finally found the slide when I decided to search for ‘dangerous playground equipment!) So you would slide from that sheer edge about 2 ft from the ground, & HAD to land on your feet! Most dangerous slide ever? (^_^) I don’t think it was until I was about 10 that I was brave enough to get to the top. Nobody got hurt on it though, because we weren’t stupid. We had swings on long chains, a merry-go-round like in the picture except a ft off the ground, & see-saws, too. Playgrounds today are made for babies & insulting. Hardly any point in taking kids there. They are better off playing in the backyard or house, reading, even playing video games.

Comments are closed.