Greatest hits: Toilet Bowl Hill

[Reproduced from e-mail, by request.]

This story takes place in the winter of 1977-78. I was in sixth grade and hung around a lot with my friends David and Sarah. One day after a heavy snow, the three of us felt like sledding. David said he knew of a cool sledding spot I’d never heard of before, called “Toilet Bowl Hill.” Off we went to a wooded spot near Sarah’s apartment.

When we arrived, I discovered that the spot was aptly named. We stood at the south edge of a circular depression. Kids were sledding down the east and west slopes into the “basin,” then trundling back up for another run.

When I suggested we march around to the east slope to do our sledding, David said no; he wanted to try “Dead Man’s Run.” David showed us the top of it, near where we were already standing. It was a narrow gully, like a bobsled track, that ran down the south slope, with trees very close on either side. No one was sledding there, and it was easy to see why. A sledder would quickly lose control in that narrow channel, which descended toward the basin much more steeply than either the east or the west slopes. It jagged back and forth slightly, and tree roots jutted into the path. The rider would certainly be thrown from the sled, into one of the trees or at least the brambly underbrush. Sarah and I said “No way!” but David wanted to give it a try, having heard legends of daring local kids who’d done it before.

Now, when you’re eleven years old and your friend volunteers to perform a crazy stunt, maybe you spend a few seconds trying to talk him out of it, but really what you want is to see him do it. So there was David, setting the sled down in the top of Dead Man’s Run, apprehensively gauging the course ahead. Sarah and I were filled with fear and excitement.

And then David’s grip on the sled slipped, and off it went without him!

For a second it was funny, and we accused David of chickening out and making it look like an accident; but as we watched the sled careen down the hill (getting knocked around mercilessly), horror began to dawn on us. You see, Toilet Bowl Hill has a sleddable east slope, a sleddable west slope, and a mostly impassable south slope, but it has no north slope — because that whole side is the Grand Central Parkway. Along the north side, nothing but a few short, widely spaced wooden posts separated the basin from lanes of speeding cars; and when the sled reached the bottom of Dead Man’s Run, it had tremendous speed — more than enough to allow it to cross the basin and sail out into highway traffic!

Time slowed down for me as I watched the inevitable unfold. There’d be a hideous wreck on the highway. People would be hurt, maybe killed. Worse: I’d be in a heap of trouble! I think my craven eleven-year-old mind was already plotting how to put it all on David. There: it crossed the basin and was still gliding along, slower than before but still at a good enough clip to exit onto the roadway.

And then a miracle happened. Against all odds, the sled banged into one of the few short wooden posts and came to an abrupt stop.

Sarah, David and I stood at the top of Dead Man’s Run for several long, silent seconds while contemplating the bullet we had just dodged. Then we trooped downhill to retrieve the sled. When we reached it, we were standing just a few feet from the shoulder of the road. We watched the cars speed safely by. Feeling much too somber, we left Toilet Bowl Hill without sledding at all.

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