“Nostalgia is a dish best served old.” - Elisson
Lately, I’ve been spending time in a Facebook group consisting of peeps from the Old Hometown. It’s a great place to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, to revisit pleasant memories of our Snot-Nose Years, and to lament about how much things have changed since then. Simply put, it is a massive Nostalgia-Wallow, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Some of the discussion threads revolve around the history of the area, with especial focus on those years we were of school age. Other threads have more to do with 1960’s and ’70’s culture, old advertisements, favorite restaurants, that kind of stuff. And sometimes childhood activities will surface. Any and all of these topics can provoke a veritabobble firestorm of memory-laden commentary.
Someone recently brought up a sporting activity that, back in the day, was popular among a certain segment of the population. It was a winter sport, one that required streets encrusted with icy snow... and it was most definitely illicit.
I refer to the time-honored sport of skitching.
If you are not from Long Island, you are probably scratching your head and saying to yourself, “Skitching? WTF is skitching?” And not everyone on Long Island is familiar with it.
Skitching is the act of grabbing the rear bumper of a vehicle on a snowy street, generally without the knowledge of the driver or passengers, when it is stopped at a stop sign or traffic signal. When the vehicle begins moving again, the skitcher hangs on, sliding along the street in the manner of a skateboarder sans skateboard. An expert skitcher could ride along for over a mile without being detected by the driver or seen by any of the local constabulary, simultaneously avoiding being squished by the vehicle being ridden, by other vehicles, or hitting a dry patch on the pavement. And a manhole cover? Fuhgeddaboudit. There was, as one of my old neighbors points out, an art to it.
Cars were fair game, as were mail trucks and school buses - the latter especially desirable because the high bumper was just right for hitching a skitch unseen by the driver. UPS trucks had a ledge on the back where you could sit if you got tired. All you needed was a good pair of old, worn-out boots - and a fierce grip.
One kid remembered his gloves freezing to the metal bumper of a car when he was skitching. When he let go, the gloves stayed, stuck firmly to the bumper. Another recalled trying to latch on to a car and finding a pair of frozen gloves on the bumper - presumably the same gloves, but who knows?
There are plenty of stories. The time two guys grabbed a car’s bumper and inadvertently yanked it right off. The time a driver stopped to run a brace of skitchers off, only to have her purse fall out onto the pavement. Or when there were so many “hangers-on” on one car, they actually had to push it to get it going. Crazy.
Skitching was, as noted above, an art... and, like graffiti tagging, one that was frowned on by the gendarmes. The end of our street was a popular spot for the local Skitch-Crew to grab rides: there was a stop sign and bushes behind which the aspiring skitcher could lurk. And the local champion skitcher was one Stephen Baldwin*, who was downright audacious. There’s a story about a time when a cop caught Stephen skitching behind a school bus. Rather than dragging him down to the precinct house, the officer decided to deliver unto him a stern lecture, presumably on the danger (and illegality) of the activity. After the lengthy harangue, the cop drove away... with Stephen clinging fast to his rear bumper.
*Yes, that Stephen Baldwin.