in Plainview, the Ruby Lane Boys used to think how cool it would be to live on Central Park Road.
Back then, we figured the big thoroughfare derived its name for the bucolic linear park running down its middle. It turns out "Central Park" was the earlier name given to present-day Bethpage and this was the north-south road to old Central Park. We were kids; who knew?
In those days we'd play ball in the street: toss a baseball around; play a little touch football. Some of you are probably confused by this. It's mind-boggling, but there was no Internet back then. Computers were used only by NASA and the Bethpage Boys over at Grumman to actually land men on the moon. We had the LM, but no Game Boys; no Xbox.
Simply the Dark Ages.
And TV? Jeez! We were lucky if we got seven channels, and they would flicker on our screens in medieval black and white. (You could get more, but you had to know how to connect a wire hangar to the UHF knob. I'm not kidding.) Besides, in the summer, Mom was home watching daytime TV and cooking. The shows had a lot of doctors and nurses kissing and making eyes at each other. Just yuk.
So we played ball in the street. All summer. I know: Prehistoric times.
Street ball meant having to dodge cars, both the moving kind and the ones parked on your "field." When one approached we'd yell "car!" and scamper to the curb. Then, we'd chuck the ball over the passing motorist unless, of course, it was a cop, or worse, somebody's dad.
Generally, parked cars were considered "in play" and could be used as "picks." Your buddy could square out in front of a '64 Ford wagon. You could hit him just over the hood while the defender crashed into the front quarter panel.
The end zones were marked off by two street lights. One stood at the corner of Opal Drive (aka: The West End Zone) and the other was a few feet in front of a fire plug. At some point or another, the Ruby Lane Boys ran into all these things -- the Ford, the poles, the hydrant. Frequently they were injured badly enough to require first aid from my Mom. She'd leave behind those amorous doctors to tend to the wounded outside.
I checked this week: All these obstacles are still there, right where we left them, sometime in the last century. But Mom has moved away.
There was another problem. Ruby Lane is on a steep incline, sloping downward from west to east. Sometimes our ball would get away and start rolling. And we'd yell "sewer!" and start running after it. But sometimes the damned abyss would just swallow up our only ball with an inglorious "plop."
Insurmountable, you say? Not at all: If the Bethpage Boys could go to the moon the Ruby Lane Boys could snatch a ball out of a sewer.
Somebody would grab a crow bar and pry open the manhole cover. Then we'd dip a rake into the stinking black ooze and fish out our ball. We tried not to think about our rescued treasure: just roll it in the grass and all the germs would be gone.
We'd play until dark or until somebody ran into the hydrant or Mom called out to say dinner was on the table.
As I said: Miss her.
One day, the Ruby Lane Boys decided to walk down the hill to Central Park Road, where the grassy, tree-lined median could become a touch-football field of dreams. No hydrants to bust open a knee; no cars to rudely force a stoppage of play. No sewers.
We got there and hadn't run a set of downs before some guy came out of his house and ordered us to leave. "Play in front of your own house," the guys yelled. We took our ball and walked home. I bet that ball is still there, floating in that sewer beneath Ruby Lane. If you find it, just roll it in the grass a little.
Central Park Road's pretty median is still there, too. I'm sure the neighbors are much more friendly. You can sit in a great little park at the south end. The put benches there, and the horse statue. It's a nice place to take a walk with your dog or connect with a boyhood friend.
Or maybe you're a lucky one and your Mom's still around. Take her along if you can.
When you trip over a fire hydrant, she'll know what to do.