Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where We Played: Rice Park

It's a wonder, really, that every kid in Burbank didn't end up sterile because of all the power lines that are draped across some of Burbank's parks. Maybe this was an urban legend, but I'd heard that the electric company donated some of the land to the city where several power line towers and transformers are amassed. (Most cities fence those areas off, by the way.)

In any event, the park where I spent most of my time wasn't one full of power line towers: Rice Park.

Rice Park sits behind Kennedy Grade School. I wasn't an athletic kid (in fact, from the second grade until eighth grade, I grew increasingly fatter by the minute), but I spent a lot of time at Rice Park. But doing what? I owned a tennis racket that I'd bought at a flea market, and I loved knocking tennis balls around, often over the fence, but I never learned how to play. I also loved playing Horse at the basketball court. But as soon as any other kids came up, I left. I was a magnet for trouble (maybe all fat boys are), and so I learned quickly to remove myself from situations before they happened.

One time that I didn't remove myself was shortly after our family had moved to that part of Burbank, and I was riding my bike up and over the dirt hills that sat over from and behind Rice Park. What I didn't realize was that Rice Park was a little bit like the island on Lost in that there were the kids who hung out in the park, and then there were The Others. The Others hung out over by the dirt hills, and they didn't like it when some fat, younger kid came riding up and over their hills. As was usually the case, I was outnumbered: about six or seven of them to me. The one I remember the best was this red-headed kid who was notorious for causing problems -- their pack-leader. He grabbed my handlebars while The Others surrounded me. I honestly don't remember what happened next -- they may have knocked me off my bike and given me a warning -- but I do remember that such incidents weren't uncommon in Burbank in the 1970s. The upshot was, I stayed away from the hills after that.

During the summer of 1979, I spent a lot of time by the Little League part of Rice Park, not because I liked baseball (I didn't) or because I was friends with some of the players (I wasn't). No, I started going because a girl from another part of Burbank -- a girl I didn't know but had started seeing riding her bike around our part of town and, as these things happen, developed an intense, heart-pounding crush on -- had begun going to the games. I had started losing weight, so my confidence should have been on the rise, but it wasn't, so I would merely situate myself and my bike near her in the hope that I'd catch her attention. And one day, while I was eating Milk Duds, she came up and asked me for one. That's all that happened. She asked me for a Milk Dud, and I gave her one. The fact that I still remember this should give you some idea of just how fricking excited I was! I didn't see her again until the fall, when she was (miraculously) in my high school Geometry class (I was a freshman; she was a sophomore), a class I would end up failing because I spent all of my time either talking to, or pining for, her. She would even walk with me to my locker after every class. There was only one hitch: She had a boyfriend who was three years older and could easily have been one of The Others. And one time she warned me: "I can't let my boyfriend know I'm walking with you."

Too bad. But at least we'll always be bound by shared Milk Duds at Rice Park and, uh, Geometry...or at least our mutual hatred of it.

P.S. I took Geometry over during the summer and got an 'A' in it, which further proves just how damned smitten I was of this girl.

What park did you hang at? Memories, anyone?

(photos of Rice Park courtesy of Renee Greco)


leomemorial said...

I hung out @ Rice Park as well and played ball there (Lawn Funerla Home was my sponsor two years in a row and I have the picture).

A childhood friend I grew up with became a cop but also a Park District Pres. because of the crappy field at Rice.

Someone from Reavis WAS killed on those power wires; Jim (forgot the last name). He was a tear older then myself and supposedly climbed up to get a kite or something out of the wires.

leomemorial said...

The guy's name was Jim Bollas. Just thought of it.

mike said...

MacArthur/stevenson park which straddled state road between 83rd and 85th. i can remember it before they built the library and before they built softball fields.

I can remember the bridge that went across state road to get you to either park. The bridge was an interesting feature of the park - it was a good place to make out with girls!

Also - hanson pool. While the place has gotten huge over time, it used to be a pretty small rectangular pool (actually L-shaped). I spent many days as a youngster treating blisters on my shoulders from too much time in the sun at hanson pool.

YellowRose said...

Rice park, played softball there and I remember going to MacArthur Park alot. I learned to swim at the Stickney Pool, or at least that's what I think it was called. I actually can't remember the names of the parks, I had to ask my sister who's sad is that? LOL

Theo said...

I was jock in my early years but once I got into my first band in high school it all over. I was a regular at Rice Park as a Baseball player and Stevenson Park as a Football player (the Titans) but I didn’t spend much time hanging out there. I spent my time in the Owens school yard playing sandlot baseball on a makeshift field or fast pitching against the gym wall, otherwise we would just hang out in a buddy’s garage. I do remember dirt bike riding behind Rice Park but I wasn’t one of “the others”. We also hung out at a place we called Birds Paradise where we would ride dirt bikes in the summer and sled in the winter. Every now and then we would play some softball at Newcastle Park but at the time that was more the adult’s park, so we stayed away. I too spent many summers at the Park Pool, I looked forward every year to getting my summer pool pass and my parents looked forward to getting rid of me for a few hours each day.

Anonymous said...

riding dirt bikes behind rice and drinking back there at night and catching tadpoles in the pond in the early 70's. Ahh memories!

Bobby said...

I grew up right down the street from Rice Park. I remember "The Hills". You could actually ride your bike from Rice Park to the park on 77th and Naragansett. Played baseball for years at that park. I'm loving these blogs.

Anonymous said...

thanks, i would have never remembered those dirt bike trails behind reavis and rice, we were owens kids, did you forget about owens school? we usually rode the bike trails in a place called birds paradise which was a suicidal mountain surrounded by swamp and trees, that land is now kohls and all of that mall area up to cicero. can you solve a question i have? when i was a little boy my grandfather walked me to harr park on 84th and laramie and i remember a huge slide like the one at the carnivals with chains you would have to climb to get to the top. this would put it at about the year 1976? still not sure if this was a real slide or a dream.

newzad said...

Answer of the geometry problem is 30

newzad said...

answer of the geometry problem is 30

Tom said...

Just thought some folks would like to know that I just found out from the Playland Park Facebook page, that Midwest Hardware & Paint located near 79th and Narragansett in Burbank has closed. They were there for over 60 years.