At the risk of sounding like a drill sergeant or a very, very old person, playground equipment of yore was better. It served as a butt-blistering, splinter-stabbing, tooth-loosening rite of passage that introduced us kids to the realities of life. If we did not bleed from a fall from the monkey bars, then we were ill-prepared for our first job, just decades away.
But today’s playground is designed to absorb the impact of a child’s fall and to cushion a city against the financial impact of lawsuits. Now slides are made from plastic that coddles a kid in a slow descent to the “ground,” which is carpeted in morcellated tires. Mud has been banished. And the equipment is in color, not black and white.
So I was stunned to stumble upon an old-school playground (on private property, natch), in southwest Durham. The Royal Oaks apartments on Weymouth Street are off the U.S. 15-501 service road, near a covey of car dealerships. And there, in faceless suburbia, stood the most beautiful slide I had seen since 1975. An American Playground model: steel, silver-gray, and since it was late December, cold to the touch.
The slide is about 7 or 8 feet high, which put my head 13-plus feet above the ground when I stood at the top. Although I’m a small person, the space between the railings was quite narrow, narrower than an airline seat. I looked down to the mud puddle that awaited me at the bottom.
I looked back. A child had left her pink scarf on the ground.
Later, I knelt in the dirt beneath the slide, and found several notes written on its underside. One read: “I love God I do but I hate people who say curse words.” Well, just wait until summer, when the slide is hot.