The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

Hillcrest Bike Culture

Schwinn Stingray

We loved our bikes on Hillcrest (as most kids do). We could spend an entire day lapping the block over and over again. Most of the kids in the BRAT patrol had a BMX style bike, complete with pads covering all of the dangerous parts of the bike. My brother and I? We had the legendary Schwinn Stingray. The only complication? It wasn’t “cool” by the time we were aware of the concept of “being cool.” A yellow banana seat atop a metallic red frame might have cut it in the 70’s, but by the 80’s a banana seat would just get you chased by “the big kids.”

Christian (my brother) and I would try anything to make our curvy bikes more BMX-like: replacing the seat, different handle bar grips, pedals, tires… anything. Looking back though, I really loved that bike. It provided my first tastes of freedom, danger, and excitement… banana seat and all.

Eventually, most of us upgraded to multi-speed bikes. A few folks got 10-speed street bikes, but just about the time it was my turn to get a new bike, mountain bikes were becoming the new standard. They could take more abuse and looked a lot more like the BMX bikes that I longed for when I was younger, but they really never replaced the spot in my heart occupied by that old yellow and red Schwinn.

2 comments August 20th, 2008 by duane

The Lost Art of Block Parties

Hillcrest had the best block parties. Ever.

Everyone on the street knew each other. Every summer… usually late July, the block would put up a barricade at each end of the street, set up tables in the road and have a whole-block party. Early in the morning, our families would work on their agreed task: filling water balloons, making a dish for the potluck, getting ice for coolers, etc. The kids only had one task: clean up your bike. We would gather at one house and detail our bikes with concourse precision. It was the one day of the year that we could ride our bikes in the street and not get in trouble… our bikes had to be clean!

Meanwhile, the adults would form into smaller groups: the gossipers, the sports fans, the cops, and the beer drinkers. Gossipers took turns telling each other the dirt, carefully avoiding subjects involving other gossipers present. Sports fans would stand around and either complain about the Tigers or rave about their indestructibility, then change gears to talk about how the lions need to do either as well or better than the Tigers come football season. The cops would start as a separate group, but eventually merge with the beer drinkers… that group was self-explanatory.

The earlier block parties had 3 distinct groups of kids. The “big kids,” “older kids,” and “us.” The big kids liked to scare, intimidate and chase us. The older kids were nice, but quite obviously not interested in being around either of the other 2 groups… the kind of other kids that were most likely to be babysitters or tutors.

Around a week before each block party, “the word” would get out that the big kids were going to “get” somebody in the BRAT Patrol. The reasons were trivial, but the excitement was priceless. Everything came to a climax early during the block party with a big kid chasing someone home and a few water balloons being used before the official water balloon toss began.

After a little mid-street bike riding, somebody’s mom would organize the balloon toss. The balloon toss replaced the open fire hydrant that traditionally accompanied the block party. However, legend says that “Crazy Kers” (a mysterious man around the corner) complained enough to the city about the loss of water pressure when we did this that it was eventually discontinued… anyway, back to the balloon toss: The kids all got a kick out of the adults that dared to participate. Predictably, the toss would become a water balloon fight and everyone would be soaked to the skin. A little more bike riding and everyone was dry enough. The kids would take turns guarding the ends of the block, glaring at confounded drivers when they approached the block party barricade. Occasionally, we would let residents in by sliding the barricade over just enough. To an eight-year-old, that’s real power: complete control over who is allowed in and out of your world.

As the sun began to get lower in the sky, dinner would make it’s way to the lines of tables set up earlier in the day. Everyone would gather, pile up food, and sit together to eat. The adults took their time, chatted, and hoped the food would make the kids sleepy. No such luck. We all knew that the block party meant we could stay up past dark… and that meant we could play “witch!”

After dinner the adults would start up card games and drink coffee (or sometimes more beer). The kids (all three groups) would gather on a front porch and set the rules for the night’s game of “witch:”

  • One person starts as the witch, they will hide
  • Everyone else covers their eyes and counts the magic chant:

    One-O’Clock, Two-O’Clock, Three-O’Clock… Rock! Four-O’Clock, Five-O’Clock, Six-O’Clock… Rock! Seven-O’Clock, Eight-O’Clock, Nine-O’Clock… Rock! Ten-O’Clock, Eleven-O’Clock, Twelve-O’Clock… Rock! Starlight, moonlight… Hope to see the witch tonight!

  • Look for the witch (seeking). When found, yell, “Witch!” and try to get back to the safe zone (goal) without being tagged.
  • If you are tagged, you help chase down the fleeing seekers.


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