As a child, I loved playgrounds. What child doesn’t, right? However, as most children of the 80’s will remember, our playgrounds weren’t made of the colorful, cushy plastic and foam-like springboards that they are today. The play structures of my childhood were molded out of metal and wood. So in the warmer months, if you were smart, you always remembered to take a jacket to sit on while you were on the slide, or you would most likely burn your little buns off. You could also guarantee a splinter or two from climbing around on the wooden structures, or from running around in the wood chips that were supposed to help cushion your fall. Yes, the playgrounds of my childhood were basically the equivalent to the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel, they looked very inviting, but were essentially a nicely packaged deathtrap.
About a year ago, someone told me of a secret old slide in the Castro. Upon hearing this, an immediate feeling of curiosity and excitement began to brew within me. I’m always one for adventure, and I absolutely love anything considered “secret,” “hidden,” or “underground,” so I knew that I would need to seek out this slide.
I found out that the slide, which is tucked into a mini park, has a really cool history. The park was born through the victory of a 1960s community-based campaign that was vying against the construction of a 105-unit residential building in the neighborhood. The creation of the slide was the brainchild of a fourteen-year-old art student, who won the “Design the Park” competition.
As is the case for most playgrounds in the city, it is strongly suggested that you be accompanied by a child to partake in the fun. Luckily for me, I nanny part-time, so on a particularly sunny afternoon, I decided to take my little four-year-old partner in crime to visit the slides. If you don’t have immediate access to a little person, ask to borrow a friend’s… they’re jolly, good fun!
As with any “secret” find, it only remains cool until it goes mainstream. Although this mini park is turning forty-one this summer, it is still widely unknown. So out of respect to this little treasure, I’ll just let you know that it’s somewhere on Seward Street.
After a bit of searching and the assistance of a kind neighbor, my little buddy and I arrived at the slides. We looked up at the sleek, parallel cement beauties and then at each other. “This way!” shouted the Honey Badger, (a term of endearment given to him by his parents). We headed towards the tiny set of “stairs” to the right of the slides and up a steep ramp. The little Badger started to slip half way up because of the sharp incline, so we turned back and opted for the more structured set of brick steps on the left.
We reached the top of the hill and looked down at the mini thrill ride that lay before us. These slides were positioned perfectly for races! However, before I could suggest a friendly competition, the Badger had already chosen his slide and was halfway down the hill. He got to the bottom, looked up at me, and shouted, “Go!” So, I scooched my way towards the edge, which was looking much more like a luge track at this point than a slide, and prepared myself for the ride.
A couple of things flashed through my mind just before I slid down… “Why did I wear cotton capris?! I’m going to tear a huge whole in the bottom! Open-toed shoes probably weren’t a good idea either. Why didn’t I bring some cardboard for us to sit on?! Geezus, this slide is really steep!”
However, I did slide down, and I squealed like a little pig for most of the way. In fact, the Badger and I slid down as many times as we could during the next hour. We were joined by a group of six adults and two children, who had come prepared with several pieces of cardboard to share, even though it was also their first visit to the slides. We quickly made friends with our fellow thrill seekers, and challenged them to some races.
There’s something undeniably magical about the slides. Maybe it’s because they were dreamt up by a child. Maybe it’s the spirit of a small community rallying together against “the man” to create them. Maybe it’s that they still remain mostly unknown after forty plus years.
Or maybe it’s the fact that on any given day you can see this…