What was family time like for you when you were a child? Did it leave you feeling happy, hopeful and excited, or suspicious, mischievous and scared? Growing up, what would you do as a family and/or household for fun? Arts and crafts? Sports and music? Movies and board games? Horticulture or hunting? Trips to historic landmarks? Did you enjoy family time? Why or why not?
Spartan. Austere. Eccentric. Isolated. Resolute. The author’s own parents had a strong distrust of outside influences, a distinct disregard for popular sentiments, others.
Indeed, they preferred those activities where we would be left alone. On one Super Bowl Sunday, for instance, we were the only passengers on the ferry to Treasure Island, where we hiked the deserted trails, entered the abandoned building where persons from abroad had once been quarantined. The island was eerily silent, solemn. To their mind such conditions were ideal.
Driving up Highway 1 on a sunny weekend, they would pass beach upon beach, where many individuals engaged in activities such as bodysurfing, playing ball, and flying kites. Why not stop here? “Too crowded,” they would inevitably say, not stopping until they reached a suitably abandoned bit of coastline.
On weekends, as a fun family activity, the author’s father would often screen slide shows. It was wholesome fun for the whole family.
In a darkened room, this Urban Planning Consultant with a professional interest in the contemporary California landscape, would force us—small children, his children—to look at his slides of new freeway overpasses and cloverleafs in Hayward, or earthquake-damaged sidewalks in Fremont, train stations in San Jose. (Public transportation and trains are another of his passions. One Christmas he gave me a signed copy of Ghost Trains by O. Winston Link—a monograph of black and white photographs of now extinct American trains. Ghost Trains came with a 7-inch LP recording of evocative train whistles and steam engines in its sleeve.)
“There’s no people in these!” I would call out as the next slide advanced with a chop. Dust twirled indifferently in the projector’s light.
In this semi-Victorian atmosphere of thwarted desires—where children were treated as miniature-adults meant to engage in adult activities, share adult interests such as trains and traffic patterns—our one real freedom, growing up, was skateboarding. Ironically, we were allowed to engage in the one activity that even more liberal parents would often forbid or discourage.
They kind of left us alone where skateboarding was concerned.
Away from adult supervision, we could go down the street and skateboard, 50/50 the curb, powerslide, ollie the little gap.
Even on that weird but not unusual Sunday—when, for absolutely no reason, they made us walk 5 miles, from our home in the Mission, through several neighborhoods to our elementary school in Presidio Heights—we were allowed to take our skateboards. That’s right: One Sunday they made us walk from home to school for no reason. What child wants to go to school, unnecessarily, on the weekend?
It was hardly the most picturesque of walks/forced marches either. If you walk alongside upper-Market on a foggy day, you might as well be walking alongside some random strip of highway, 280, or 101— it’s that bleak, that godforsaken, that wide. You’re on upper-Market forever, then you climb over Ashbury Heights, and keep going through the panhandle, down Masonic… by foot it just goes on and on. (It’s moderately faster on a skateboard.) What on earth were they thinking making us do that on a weekend when our peers would be, by rights should be, at Raging Waters, or Great America or playing Laser Tag?
AUTHOR: Hey Mom, do you remember when you made us walk from home to school on the weekend?
AUTHOR: What was that for?
MOTHER: For fun. And to see if you could do it, walk the route you drove by car everyday… That was far.
AUTHOR: At least you allowed us to take our skateboards.
MOTHER: Hmm. This fish is delicious.
What did we learn? What was the point? Upon arrival on that cold Sunday, the schoolyard was the same and yet different. Finally reaching the empty school, we found the front door unlocked and entered to use the restroom. The student aide—college-age with bushy hair and a flannel shirt who resided on campus for the semester—was still in his sleeping bag on the couch by the stage area. (It was that kind of progressive educational institution.) He woke, clearly surprised and somewhat confused by the inexplicable intrusion of this errant family.
AUTHOR: Do you remember that time we walked all the way to school on a random weekend?
FATHER: Oh yeah that was fun. Far.
MOTHER: Be careful he’s going to use this.
AUTHOR: Don’t worry. It’s off the record.
Perhaps this was the lesson learned: Even in the bleakest and most boring moment of your life, when the world is arrayed against you, you will at least have a skateboard.
On that day it was a Steve Caballero deck, the pink one with the green dragon graphic and the little triangle grip tape. When they walked down upper Market Street, Twin Peaks radio tower to left, the city skyline to the right, fog spilling over the red railing, you at least got to skate.
AUTHOR: We did get to take our skateboards.
FATHER: Yeah. Looking back on it, we were naïve, in terms of what kinds of injuries you could suffer.
FATHER: You really didn’t know you could walk that far. How old were you then? 8 and 10 right? But you guys were game. You really enjoyed it. You had so much fun.
It was boring. It was cold. It was lonely. It was slow. It was foggy. It was irritating. Yet, even though that arbitrary trudge through San Francisco was so ludicrous, so absurd, there were moments when, because we had our skateboards, it was almost fun. The little hills just before California Street—the sloping driveways—were likes waves to ride. With any day you get to skate, you know part of the time is going to be at least a little bit awesome. That’s a valuable lesson. Kind of.
AUTHOR: Do you remember when Mom and Dad made us walk to school from home for no reason?
AUTHOR: Do you remember the day we had to walk from home to school?
AUTHOR: You don’t remember the day we had to walk from home to school?
Be prepared to walk strange and lonely roads was what our parents seemed to imply with their odd recreational choices. And, particularly if the journey is going to be a long one and the reasons for it unclear, always bring your board.