Our house on the hill, and the view of Stone Mountain from our carport
Life was good… and I sure hope I’m wearing pants in that fishing picture. Careful viewers will notice the Wide World of Sports package with the cat; behind the swing set and tire swing is Jill Patton’s carport, aka the launching site. More on that later.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE EVEL KNIEVEL
When I was a kid, before girls and cars took over all my thoughts, I would spend my days outside from sun-up until the streetlights came on at night. I must say that I had it pretty good. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a metropolitan Atlanta subdivision that backed up to acres and acres of woods, had a few creeks nearby, a lake filled with bream and a bridge to fish from, a “horse field”, and a public pool and baseball fields within walking distance. A short bike ride away was a convenience store to get Slushies, comic books, and baseball cards (also football cards, hockey cards, KISS cards, Garbage Pail Kids cards, and Star Wars cards). In the other direction was the town of Stone Mountain. Picture something out of a Disney movie with tree lined streets of antebellum mansions, a main street with old shops built near the turn of the century with a hardware store, pharmacy (with soda fountain) and some other touristy places. Beyond the town was Stone Mountain Park which was an absolute wonderland for me as a kid and even into my teens… but I digress; we need to save that for a different post.
Back to the neighborhood… we lived on the highest hill in Shadowrock Acres, a subdivision full of twisting streets (all with the word “rock” in their name) with split-level and ranch houses built in the late 60s. Practically every house on our cul-de-sac had kids the same age as me or my siblings, and the neighborhood was literally filled with families. In other words, there was ALWAYS someone to play with. Yep, that’s what we did back then. We’d go to someone’s house and either knock on the door, or just walk right in, then we would find something to do for the day. Build a fort in the woods, go swimming or fishing, fly a kite at the horse field (until old man Venable shot us with rock salt), check to see if the cat had kittens (that cat was ALWAYS having kittens), play on the pirate ship that my dad built in the backyard, swing on the swings, or just lay on our backs and look at the clouds. You get the point. Life was good.
Growing up in the 70s, when a group of boys got together, we would always try to outdo each other. If someone was somehow able to see the latest Bond movie, or their parents were cool with them hanging that Farrah Fawcett poster on their wall, they were the coolest of the bunch. We all knew every fact in the Guinness Book of World Records, but there were a few that we never stopped talking about. There was of course the tallest and shortest person, that dude with the fingernails, and the Siamese twins, but then there was the fact that ‘The Who’ was the loudest band in the world and that Evel Knievel had broken more bones than any other human. Oh yes, Evel Knievel, the subject of MANY of my childhood conversations.
Kids today are gonna come at me with how he was arrested for beating his agent with a baseball bat, and that several women had restraining orders against him. That’s some bad stuff right there, and certainly not anything that should be glorified, but that was not the kind of stuff that was on an 8-year old’s mind back then. To me, Evel was a daredevil and a freakin’ hero of immense proportions. He jumped the fountains at Caesars Palace the year before I was born, but it was STILL top of mind in our boyhood conversations in the mid-70s. We watched Evel on Wide World of Sports jumping cars, trucks, buses, and the mother of all jumps, THE GRAND CANYON (except it was really the Snake River Canyon but we didn’t know any better) in a rocket ship called the X-2 Skycycle for cryin’ out loud. He wore a cape, white boots, and a red, white, and blue jumpsuit because he WAS a superhero. In our minds, every damn one of us was our own Evel Knievel as we slid onto the banana seats of our bicycles, complete with sissy bars and ape hangers, and took off down the steep hill on Needlerock Court.
We all had the Evel Knievel toy motorcycle, which is actually making a comeback today, but better than that, we would build ramps that felt like they were the highest in the world to launch us and our bikes into the sky, up and over some kid’s sister’s dolls, or a line-up of Tonka trucks. The kid down the street busted his head open once, and the site of that incident went down in Shadowrock Acres history with that part of the street marked off in memorium for years. We once heard that some other kid sabotaged that ramp, and he later got eaten up by a lawnmower… karma. Not every jump that we did went off perfect. In fact, there were more skinned knees and elbows than there were perfect landings. But that was the thing about Evel Knievel, many of his jumps ended in an insane crash. Dare I say that was part of the excitement about watching him jump. You see, Evel relied more on cojones than a slide rule. He wasn’t out calculating the angle of trajectory and dividing that by the velocity of the crosswind. No, he just jumped on his bad ass bike and took off, up, and over whatever was in front of him. There was NO ONE like him.
Evel would start every jump with a speech about how bad drugs are, and how you should always stay true to your word. I truly respect anyone living up to that last part. And I had that in mind on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 16th, 1977, when someone asked me if I was scared to roller-skate down Jill Patton’s driveway, which was long and steep with a wicked curve at the end (or so it seemed when you were 9-years old). I of course said “no”, but the truth is that I was terrified to roller-skate down Jill Patton’s driveway. However, staying true to my word, I pulled out my sister’s skates… they were white, just like Evel’s boots, so it was okay… laced them up tight, and made my way to the top of that monumental hill. As a crowd of kids grew at the end of the driveway, I pictured myself at the edge of the Grand Canyon (Snake River Canyon… whatever) in my X-2 Skycycle. Having no plan, just some temporary courage, I backed myself up to the edge of the carport so I could get some speed before hitting the driveway and took off! For a brief moment I was king of the world, flying at warp speed down that hill… the only thing that would have made it any better was if I had a cape and a red, white, and blue jumpsuit.
But I did not have a cape, and that must have thrown off my aerodynamics, because I couldn’t cut the turn at the wicked curve and totally lost it while I was at top speed. There was a horrific crash at the bottom of the hill as I tumbled hard, barely missing the maple tree and the fire hydrant, then landing on my back in the grass by the curb. I remember letting out an awful sound when I hit, followed by a slow groan as things started coming back into focus. It was at that moment that I realized I couldn’t move… oh my god, I WAS PARALYZED… and then I started to see angels… I had DIED… oh wait, that was just Jill Patton and her pretty smile, duplicated because I was seeing double. Some kid ran next door to get my mom, and she ran across the street to get Mrs. Atkinson who was a nurse. As things started to clear up, I still couldn’t move my left arm and had a really difficult time getting myself up. Mom didn’t know how to drive, so Mrs. Atkinson ran me over to DeKalb General Hospital.
Now, the reason that I know the exact date is not because there is some kind of plaque commemorating the event at the end of the driveway, but because at the same moment that I was flying through the air like Eric Knievel in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Elvis Presley had died on his bathroom floor in Memphis, Tennessee. So, I sat with Mrs. Atkinson in the waiting room of the hospital for hours watching the breaking news on t.v. She was an Elvis fan and was glued to the news which helped pass the time. It was not until 2 a.m. that I finally got x-rays and was informed that I broke my collar bone. It was a nasty break, and they could either break it again to straighten it out, or I could live with a crooked collar bone; I chose the latter. It was my first broken bone; of course, I was thinking that I only needed to break 433 more to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.
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