Summer Night Slopes of Adolescence (formerly summer nights and golf courses)

Although I’m a hacker (golf, mind you); my fondest memories on a golf course occurred many years ago in the southern part of the golden state in a green hills part of lost angels in the south bay right along the coast. The sixties were rolling along in the mids, experimentation of all kinds was rampant and we were finding new ways every day to make new and amusing adventures and memories. Our code motto to remind each other that time was a’wastin’ was, “hey, we’re burnin’ daylight”. We were a band of wild revelers and pranksters. We had a sense of the absurd and the creative and drove each other into situations that escalated into the wondrous. If you’ve been there and done that yourself you know exactly what I mean and if not; it’s why stories like this are recounted.

Summer nights in lost angels at that time for us were memorable no matter what happened. There was adventure waiting just around the corner for us at all times. In those days there were only six million on those freeways. It sprawled from the Palos Verdes peninsula to Ventura and from the ocean to the badlands of the eastern boundaries. It was a circus of cars, hot rods, wild young kids, millions that had not a clue all contributing whether they knew it or not.

Our summer nights were usually spent at the beach, on the strand (that concrete walkway that borders the beaches) or coming up with totally whacko ways to stretch the envelope of experience. Although some of those things aren’t subjects for nostalgia rants like this, our golf course adventures were some of the more tame and acceptable forms of recreation.

The golf course was a natural magnet for us when night had fallen. It was our own wonderful world away from the swarming masses. The manicured rolling hills and fairways beckoned to us long before we actually began prankish behavior there. In our early years in high school before we were driving; we’d walk on the course to one of our spots and talk and watch stars or night sky fuzzed at the edges by the lights of Los Angeles. There weren’t many places we could go where those millions of lights didn’t light up the night sky. On the other hand, there were places where we would go to see those lights that twinkled all the way to the horizon. It was a pastime of everybody we knew to find places to watch the sprawling lights. The golf course was at first a place where we went to sit around in our own space and then later became a place where we knew every nook and cranny and graduated to other wonderful and wild things.

The golf carts were originally kept in a big shed with a metal roof and wood walls that was hidden in some trees just off the first fairway. The shed was out of view of the clubhouse and pro shop. When we began our night races and games of hide and go seek or cart tag the carts were not only unlocked but either full of gas or all charged up and ready to go for full nights of fun and frolic. We knew the habits of the night watchman. He had a little building near the pro shop with a big window and a floodlight on the front. He was a nice old guy and could barely walk. He had a television that you could see him watching through his big window and was sometimes asleep in his chair by midnight. Soon thereafter there was another old guy that took over the shift. His habits were about the same except that he was usually asleep after he’d been there an hour or so. Both of them never ventured out onto the golf course in those early years when we were making the golf course our nocturnal amusement park. Years later they were replaced by serious active younger guys that acted like they were guarding Fort Knox or something. When that happened everything was changed forever but that’s another story altogether.

The old security guard that we met by chance was a very nice guy. He usually stopped at a convenience store on the way to the golf course each night to buy himself a pack of cigarettes or two and something to drink. Just by chance we were there at the same time one night and said hi and spent a few moments in idle chatter. He was in a great mood and we were sure he’d never use that gun strapped to his hip unless he caught somebody breaking into the pro shop or the clubhouse. It was 1964 and in our world he was one of the more understanding adults of his generation that we knew and always had a kind word and a smile for us and actually listened and answered questions without any attitude. There he was one of the nicest old guys we knew and we were taking advantage of him. We decided we’d use the golf course and it’s equipment but that we would never vandalize or destroy anything while we were there.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of those rural sprawling estates areas on the outskirts of south Los Angeles. Just south of the Hollywood Riviera section of Torrance in the rolling hills not far from the coastal bluffs was Palos Verdes High School. To the north of the avenues of Torrance Beach was Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and El Porto. This was the community we ran wild in. The golf course was big and expansive and had a plethora of detached and sequestered geographic pockets. It was our enormous amusement park where we roamed and played and reigned supreme. When we began our adventures there; we treated the golf course with respect and never left a sign we had been there at all unless we left in the morning after the dew had collected. If we left too late there would be walking trails where we had been until the sun dissipated the telltale signs. We noticed that early on and adjusted our schedule so that the early arriving greens keepers had no clues to unlock secrets of night before.
We enjoyed our private sanctuary and did our due diligence to ensure we wouldn’t screw it up.

We roamed the golf course for months until we worked up the courage to check out the golf carts. The carts were situated in a place that was very easy to get in and out of without even getting close to the guard building. In the beginning the carts weren’t even chained up or locked up in any way. There they were, sitting there all gassed or charged up or on chargers and ready to go. There were gas engine models as well as the electric carts but when we began these adventures after lengthy discussions we decided to only use the electric carts because they wouldn’t show signs of gas usage and above all didn’t make the noise that those faster and probably more thrilling carts would make. When I think about it now; we were really careful about stretching the envelope of life even though we were only fourteen or fifteen years old.

At the beginning of these adventures just reveling in the nooks and crannies of the golf course were good enough. After a time we succumbed to the allure and thrill of driving golf carts in the night through our own private park. Eventually were having races on the fairways of holes nine and ten where there were no houses and where we wouldn’t bother the guards. We had all manner of games that we played in the carts. We were careful not to tear up the grounds or the carts and cause no wear and tear that would be noticed. In those first months a six pack of sodas and a bag of chips or other munchies were the extent of our refreshments and we packed out everything we took in so there’d be no evidence. Everybody we introduced to our wonderland played by our rules and did as we did. That lasted about a year or so.

Things changed when one of the regulars invited his older brother and a couple of his friends. They showed up with six packs of beer and know it all attitudes. The beer didn’t bother us at first because we had no idea how they’d act after a few of them. We had established routes from the cart area through the course that avoided observation if the on duty guard was outside his shack smoking a cigarette as well as from surrounding neighbors houses and roads around the periphery. Once we were clear and in the outbacks of the golf course, the older guys took off on their own and were doing things we never did that could ruin the whole thing. The second time the older guys showed up without an invite they had girls with them who couldn’t keep their voices down and whose laughter you could hear from far away. Our rules were being shattered and things were getting out of control. That night there were about a dozen of us on the course, more than had ever been there at the same time before. We were where we usually were in the safety zone of the back holes but the older guys and their dates we could hear hooting and hollering and laughing along with occasional whoomps or crashing sounds. Whatever they were doing; we had a feeling that things were never going to be the same and we didn’t know it then but we were right.

None of the carts were wrecked that night, despite the older clowns playing chicken and other games that were over the top. There were some paint scratches and beer spills on seats and floors and we were sure it would tip off our joy rides to the maintenance man. Another thing we didn’t know until later is that instead of packing out or hiding their beer cans; they’d thrown them all over the place on fairways and other places they been marauding.

Nothing changed immediately and we were able to have a few more nights with our usual activities but that summer would be the last that the carts were unlocked and kept in the area where we had first started borrowing them. The older guys were making forays on their own whenever they felt like it and getting wilder and wilder until neighbors started calling police and they eventually were caught.

In a way it was one of the most horrible things that happened to us up until then but in a way it was a wake up call and forced us to be more creative and careful with who we trusted. The next summer we were not able to liberate the golf carts so we were forced to come up with plan two.

Our new idea was not as high tech or as long range mobile as the golf cart races but it became the favorite pastime of that era. In many ways; it was more fun and far reaching than times with the golf carts had been and more importantly was fun that didn’t interest the older vandals at all. They’d moved on to bigger and better things. At the time we made the next discovery and change in our golf course night activities most of us were driving cars or motorcycles and were far beyond the mystique and novelty of golf carts but were still drawn to the magic of the empty golf course and it’s moonlit parklike sanctuary. There was just something unexplainable about those grassy enormous rolling knolls and hills back on the ninth and tenth and eleventh holes areas. All around them the woods at the top of surrounding hills framed the course with their borderlands of shadows and mystery just waiting for us. Those places were hands down the best place to see the stars on clear nights without moon or to play around when it was moon bright and lit like day far beyond the estate drives and street lights of the surrounding area.

The hills around the back holes were long, smooth cut grass rollercoasters that were hundreds of yards to the bottom. Our new game was conjured late one night after star watching and storytelling when we found that we could run and then slide for yards in the wet grass down the hill. After a few thrill slides down the hill we made a starting line and had a contest for longest slide on two or one foot. If you fell that ended your slide and was your mark. Although none of us drank beer at that time we were experimenting with pot and other mind altering substances. At that time our interests were becoming getting high, girls, motorcycles, cars, music and the wonders of nature and pretty much in that order. There was something that surfaced in all those things about reliving and feeling our childhood and that joy of life which had been there in sweet but short moments. It was an undercurrent in all our activities at the time. As time went on we letting our hair get longer and wearing beads and bellbottoms. Psychedelic music and current pop tunes were constantly our background sounds for everything. We were expanding our consciousness and slowly maturing in a way that was alien and foreign to our parents at the same time we were trying to find new ways of recapturing something that was gone forever.

While we were sliding down those slopes in our bare feet there was a noise they made in that wet cool grass. Bare feet were a part of life in the south bay of Los Angeles and the only times we wore shoes during high school years were places like school, church, work, restaurants that had that sign or during sports endeavors in places other than at the beach. The rest of the time was barefoot time. I remember the words of Redondo Pier Bob, the wino, when he said, “I’m barefooted because I like to walk on the earth and stay connected to it. When I walk in shoes I walk on shoe leather and am not connected to the earth at all”. Wisdom from a wino from the beach was good enough for us because it made sense at that moment. We not only walked everywhere we could in bare feet, and drove our motorcycles and cars in bare feet; we liked to slide down those long dark or moonlit magic slopes of the golf course with bare feet as well.

One particular night one of us had a brainstorm. Now we don’t remember who had the idea first, but all of us saw the genius in it as soon as we heard it. We were convinced if we got blocks of ice; we could sit on them and slide faster and farther down those long grassy slopes. Sitting on a block of ice with feet as balancers and stabilizers would be a wild ride, silent and much more fun that sliding on bare feet alone. We figured our weight would be distributed more evenly, there would be way less friction and that the ride would be amazing. With our feet as steering guides triangulating with the ice block under our fannies it would be a maximum thrill ride. We couldn’t wait to test the theory and made plans to get ice blocks for our next visit.

When the time had arrived for our next foray we all stopped at the ice company and bought big blocks of ice. We brought burlap bags to drag them with and cardboard for the top of the block where our fannies would for insulation and to keep our butts dry. We walked and dragged those burlap sacked ice blocks back to our playground. The ice blocks had only costed us a few dollars apiece and the burlap sacks had come from one of the gangs garage where there were hundreds of them sitting folded and waiting for some fun. We were right. Sitting on a block of ice with the folded burlap sack and a piece of cardboard on top and our legs out in front to each side and our hands extended for balance when we really got going found us rocketing down the hill at speeds you had to experience to believe. After awhile the burlap and cardboard were soaked though and so were our butts. It didn’t matter that first night at all though; we had downhill races, who could go the farthest contests, downhill spinning around contests for farthest without falling off and for best and most spins and the ultimate short slides standing on the cube and surfing the hill as far as we could go which was always just a few precious feet of out of control pell-mell thrills laughing all the way.

As we became more experienced we covered the ice blocks with plastic bags and cardboard boxes with only the bottom exposed where the ice met the grass. Like that the girls would ride them as well and nobodies butt got wet after a few rides. Sometimes there would be a dozen or so of us, maintaining silence and racing at the speed of ice and feet swishing through the wet grass with a noise that was one of a kind. It was white noise underneath and the wind going past your ears above. It was magic. Going down those slopes in groups, everybody zooming this way and that with only the sound of our feet swishing through the grass and the wind were moments I’ll never forget. After high school we never went back to the golf course although we talked about it from time to time. We reminded each other of those times with deep nostalgia and satisfaction and longing and made plans to do it again although we never did. When I remember the sound of feet and ice block in the grass, wind in hair and ears and stars or moon in the sky along with oohs and ahhs we all took down those slopes; it hits me and holds me like very few other things. Those sounds and feelings were one of a kind.

Years later on a visit to Lost Angels I met one of greens keepers from the golf course by coincidence at a friends house. I’d been a gypsy following the music and then done a tour in the Air Force. When I got out of the Air Force; I moved to northern California and those back pages were a memory that surfaced from time to time. As I mentioned our revels and highjinks on the back slopes of the golf course years earlier; he suddenly lit up like a floodlight. Smiling and laughing he said, “you know, we found big blocks of ice at the bottom of those slopes a few times in the early mornings while mowing or whipping the greens. They were usually in the bushes near the tenth fairway until now I never had a clue about them. Now I know, and that solves a mystery none of us could imagine when we found them. We didn’t know what to think. Wish I had been there with you guys to see what it was like”.

“It’s a small world”, I thought to myself as I remembered the sounds of the wet grass hissing under my feet and a block of ice with others sliding and quietly whooping all around me as we raced down the slopes of fading adolescence.