STRANGE THOUGHTS by D.L. Russell
When I was a kid, there was a big metal slide at McMillin Park. This slide, at the time seemed as tall as a four-story building to my childhood eyes. For years, I was afraid of that slide. I can remember making excuses each time my brother or one of my cousins tried to coax me down from the top. You see, I had no problem going up the slide’s ladder, but boy-oh-boy did I have a problem going down that shiny, sheet metal ramp.
I’m not sure at what age I was finally able to build up enough courage to take on the big metal slide, but that’s not really my point. The day this reflection hit me I was sitting in Foster Park, on a bench, watching my own child run and play. Next to me was another father, also watching his daughter run and play.
At some point in our conversation I mentioned how the kids couldn’t slide down the slide. This wasn’t a big metal Wide World of Sports Ski-Jump killer like my young mind grew up with. No, this slide was one of those cookie-cutter, plastic contraptions that you see everywhere, replete with yellow, blue and red sections all connected in a corkscrew shape. It was just as tall as the metal slide of my time, but it had no speed. In fact, most of the kids were actually scooting around the plastic slide, using their legs and rear-ends to maneuver their way down. There was something pitiful about the whole thing.
By the time my daughter and the other father’s daughter had had their fill of playing, I had worked myself into a small frenzy, over the implications of this crappy, un-sliding, slide. I had convinced myself (I’m not sure about the other father) that this was a metaphor for the world we live in today.
When I was a child, a slide was a thrill ride. It held a certain amount of excitement, even before it was climbed and descended, and once I reached the slide’s summit, there was no guarantee I would have the courage to take the one second plunge to the bottom. Luckily, the kids we were watching had no idea what they were missing.
Today, designers of public parks equipment must consider fat kids, skinny kids, dumb kids, worried parents, and litigation before bringing their goods to market. The world we live in has become so “cover-your-ass,” we have taken away, not all, but much of what I like to call, “risk related fun” for our children. My daughter has never sat down on a slide, let go, and instantly found herself at the bottom and I doubt if she ever will.
Designers also believe they need the equipment to be disposable so municipalities can have money put into their budgets year after year for new parks equipment. The slide I grew up fearing was all steel. It had a thick sheet metal ramp, heavy welds and bracing all over it. It made it through thousands of rainy days and snowy nights. And, it would scare the crap out of little kids today, just like it did me.
Our children deserve to have a little “risk-related fun.” They will survive and even thrive on it. They already know speed isn’t a bad thing; we all learn this when we’re small and our uncles come over and toss us up in the air, or when our dads hold us up high and pretend we are airplanes, as we extend our arms outward. Yes, kids can take it, they don’t need to feel that safe, that well-protected, or that fragile.
D.L. Russell is an author of Horror and Dark Fantasy and the co-founder and editor of Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Publishing. You can also visit his blog at www.dlrussellsblog.com.
This article originally appeared in our May 15, 2013 issue.