I watched one of my favorite Depression era films recently called Wild Boys of the Road (1933). In that movie, homeless kids are forced into some unpleasant circumstances as they try to survive the hard financial times of those years.
Watching those kids brought back memories of some of the crazy things I saw and did as a kid with my friends. Fortunately, the Depression years were long gone by the time I was born so my friends and I had only to deal with the late 1940's and through much of the 1950's.
In conservative Cincinnati, Ohio during those times, a lot of people thought nothing of leaving their cars overnight in the driveway or in an open door, detached garage with the keys in the ignition. I had some buddies who knew where those cars were and they would sneak out of their homes during the night an go joy riding in their neighbor’s cars. Never mind they were bad drivers and had no licenses. I was gutless, I never went and I have never been sorry for it.
I knew a kid named Barney Clark who was born to get in trouble. He and I used to go to swimming lessons at the local high school during the summer of my 4th grade. Barney was a couple years older than I and not too swift. One Saturday morning as we were walking to the pool, he saw a car by the curb with a parking ticket on it. He thought it would be funny to tear up the ticket and at the time, it seemed pretty funny. That is, until a police officer pulled up in a ‘48 Ford after we had walked a couple blocks. I was scared to death but fortunately, a good citizen pointed out Barney as the culprit and away he went to the police station in that Ford coupe.
Another fun activity was to go to the local train yard and hop the freight trains as they pulled out of the yard. We would ride them for a few miles then jump off except for the times they were going too fast which meant a longer ride than planned. Sure, we could easily have been killed but kids don’t worry about such minor details.
We used to like to pitch a tent in one of the kid’s backyards and sleep out. Then, we would wander the streets until dawn looking for some way to get in trouble. I remember one time we were fooling with M-80 firecrackers which were quite powerful and loud. We were in a school yard at around dawn when we threw one in a sandbox. As soon as it hit the ground, I looked up and saw a police car coming around the corner. If he heard the M-80, we were cooked, so I stepped on the firecracker as hard as possible and put it out. I could have blown my foot off!
One of our biggest thrills was when a group of us went downtown to the Gayety Burlesque Theater to see the strippers. The headliner in those days was named Rose LaRose. They let us walk right in despite our underage status. What the hell, we had the admission cost. That was quite a night and a signpost on the road to adulthood.
Then, there were the games of spin the bottle with the neighborhood girls. Uh....... maybe I’ll save that one for a later date.
I’ll always remember those kids that I knew all those years ago but never saw again after we grew up. We fooled around for fun and were lucky to live in a less hectic era than the Wild Boys of the Road.
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