It was the summer of 1963. Dennis Vitarelli, Teresa and I were at loose ends with a long summer ahead. We’d exhausted our escapades in the gully, swinging over the ravine from the dusty banks, and the trees were tired of us trying to climb them.
It was time to take our adventures up a notch or two.
What about the Carpenter Bridge? We hadn’t tackled that yet. For those of you who remember, it led from Laurel Canyon onto the schoolyard. There was a small asphalt footpath that led past the kindergarten classes, before it traversed over the looming gully below.
The drop from the bridge to the rocks and bushes below was easily 40 feet, but it could have been higher. The chain-linked fence that ran on both sides made sure the students were safely embraced inside the bridge before they were delivered safely to the school. It seemed longer than a mile, but to young kids like us, it was probably less than a block long.
On Saturday, one of us had the bright idea to climb onto the outside of the fence and meander along the perimeter over the gully. What fun to loom over the jungle below, with just our arms and legs to guide us?
I’m sure Dennis was the one who found a way to the outside of the bridge, and soon, all three of us were climbing sideways, monkeys in motion, trying to get to the other side for safety.
“Gee, isn’t that a volleyball down there?” Dennis commented, moving like a chimpanzee. No doubt, we’d be rewarded once we got to the other side and could climb down into the ravine, fetch the ball and usher it to safety to one of our homes.
I hadn’t really realized the danger of this adventure until I spotted the volleyball, which looked a bit like a golf ball from this altitude. I felt dizzy.
“Don’t look down!” I said to myself. Realizing the drop was well over two stories high, I knew any one of us could be goners if we slipped, got scared, or missed our footing.
“Just keep your eye on the fence ahead of you, “ I said to myself, not wanting either Teresa or Dennis to know that I was more scared than I’d let on.
I grabbed harder onto each of the chained link squares of the fence and continued shuffling along. The end of the bridge was probably no more than about 30 feet, but it seemed like it was longer than a football field. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears.
Teresa and Dennis had already made it to the other side, but I was only inching along, wondering if this day would end in doom, at least for me.
“What’s taking you so long? “ Dennis shouted, impatient to get the volleyball below.
I made a face, and continued with my snail pace, hoping the bushes from the other side would soon be within my grasp. Dennis and Teresa scrambled down the embankment and rescued the homeless volleyball and climbed up the bank to greet me.
“Wanna hop the fence and go into the schoolyard?” Dennis suggested, his face beaming like it was his birthday.
“Naw, I’ve had enough fences for one day, “ I replied. He tossed the volleyball to me, and we headed back to his house.
As for me, I was really glad to be on solid ground once again. I realized at that time that heights and I would never be the best of friends.