Back In The Day
Mon, May 22nd, 2006
posted by Explorer Zero

Some of my earliest explorations involved my two best bike riding friends, a Schwinn Stingray Deluxe and these apartments. The winding sidewalks, retaining walls and curbs were made for jumping and rat racing, our favorite past time in those days. This story is not so much about urban exploring as it is about growing up around there.

There was a mean old caretaker or maintenance man in these apartments that would always run us off and threaten us. When we found one of the Coke machines in the laundromat could be made to pay off with the right bend of the wrist and a skinny arm, two or three times a week we would slide in for free Cokes. We also went in the mechanical rooms where the evaporative coolers and pumps and stuff were and played around the brand new storm drains built next to a grocery store next door. One of the drains connected to a parking lot drain and went all the way under Northwest Highway to the outfall in a creek.

The alley between the apartments and the grocery store was a hang out spot for older kids. We were afraid of them. There was always a fight or someones window getting broke or something happening and we would get blamed the next day when we'd ride through. About the worst Hell we ever raised though was tying every garbage can in the alley together with nylon cord then stringing it across the alley. As luck would have it one of the older guys came ripping down the alley in an old gray bomb Pontiac GTO and snagged the rope. All 6 metal trash cans and lids went flyin down the alley after him before the rope finally broke and we laughed until we couldnt catch our breath. Then there was The Dummy. We crafted a lifelike dummy out of old clothes and would stage a "dead body" type accident scene in the parking lot. We got brave and hid in the shrubs one night with the dummy and when a car would drive by we'd toss him out into the side of car. Some people would get out all horrified that they hit someone while others would just step on the gas, horrified that they hit someone! One night we donated our dummy to some younger kids to get in trouble with. They got the bright idea to hang the dummy and swing it out into the alley in front of a car. Only problem was the little geniuses hung it from a power line and when the lines got pulled together they arc'd out and tripped a breaker shutting off power to the whole complex.

Then one day some older guys told us about the "wildman". No shit? There really was a wildman or hobo that had taken up refuge in some piles of cardboard boxes dumped behind the grocery. Well being normal 12 year old boys we just had to go check him out. We looked where he was supposed to be but there was no wildman. We decided to stake out the alley and wait for him. We parked our bikes and sat down in the bushes not far from the piles of cardboard we hoped he would return to. As we sat quietly waiting a car drove up and a guy gets out. He walked over to the bushes just a few feet from where we were hiding and pulls out a bicycle. Then he goes back and pulls out another and then another. He tossed all three in the trunk of his car and started driving down the alley. Then he stopped again got out and picked up some paper sacks full of something that were also hidden deep in the shrubs. It didnt take us long to figure out we had discovered the drop used by a "fence", a local guy that bought stolen stuff from the local thieves.

We had already forgotten about the wildman when this creaky old voice comes from behind us: "you boys come hyar" then we nearly soiled our britches. There stood the wildman like 6ft away and coming right toward us. I jumped up and backed up so as not to be cornered. He was an old black man with white hair and a messed up white eyeball. About the scariest looking thing 3 suburban white kids ever wanted to meet in a dark alley. As it turned out he was just an old wino that meant nobody any harm. We told him about the car and the bikes, he said they come there every Thursday night to get them bikes. Sure enough next Thursday night we showed up early and found a bike stashed in the bushes. It was not part of our up bringing to steal bikes, free sodas from the evil apartment guy sure but not bikes. It was just a Huffy anyway so we left it and went on. Later that summer two of the older kids that hung out in the alley got caught stealing bikes and got a ride downtown. We kinda laid low for a while since the heat had been stirred up and the old caretaker and the cops were patroling around all the time.

We saw the wildman again too he hung around most of that summer but he moved down into the creek. When we went to check out his digs we found he had built a shelter in some over hanging tree roots and was camping along the creek bank. We found his campfires and empty food cans and the bones. We decided then he really was wild because there were burnt bones either from dogs or pigs or goats, I couldnt tell but I remember they sure looked like dog bones to me. Last time we saw him he was cleaning up trash at a nearby miniature golf course. Not sure where he was getting the dogs and there werent any goats or pigs around here back in the day.