A Summer in the City Memory

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File this under: The World Moves On, Dept.

For me, as a child in the city, if my parents couldn’t send me to camp for the summer – and we didn’t know from year to year if that was possible – summer meant spending all day with “the gang” roaming Riverside Park or Central park with friends. Of course I use the word “gang” in its loosest possible sense. Crime didn’t enter into it. All that much.  We’d hit the park each toting along a canteen, generally filled with Tang, and a compass, and that most indispensable of exploration gear – walkie-talkies. We may have been in the park, mere blocks from home, but in our adventures we explored Mars! The Moon! We formed an elite commando unit moving through the growth to rescue The Boys trapped on a Pacific Island… we went everywhere and did everything. Not bad for city kids whose Boy Scout Troop met in what would shortly become Plato’s Retreat.

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There was a time – could it have been so long ago? – when low power, 100mw, walkie-talkies were so popular that every hit movie or TV show issued a set to go with the entertainment. 007, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lost in Space – all had walkie-talkies. G.I. Joe had an “official” set! And the frequency they used crackled and buzzed with intrigue and derring-do, all punctuated by the calls of, “Can you still hear me?”

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Sometimes, for SUPER-SECRET tasks, we used Morse Code. Some walkie-talkie sets had a copy of the code printed on the front of the “transceiver,” as we called them with Popular Science bravado. But most of the neighborhood kids memorized the code. That was then… So “Twentieth Century.” Does anyone now in these sophisticated, Hi-Tech days, use Morse Code?

I still have a pair of “toy” walkie-talkies, circa 1981; late in the cycle to be sure, but just the same as they always were, right down to the bleating Morse Code key on the side. Today, my erstwhile passport to adventure serves a more mundane purpose. Like when one of us has to go to the tenement roof to adjust something, or stay in the apartment while someone investigates that leak in the basement… Where is the fun in that? Who needs dots and dashes for a leaky roof?

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A few afternoons back, I took out one of my vintage “toy” walkie-talkies to take a listen. 35-40 years back, in summer this gadget would have been a wall to wall mishmash of pre-teen messages flying through the ether among kids out at a hard day of play. Today? What did I hear? Static.

I suppose the fun of this kind of thing has been rendered passé by text messaging and cell calls… Or maybe kids just don’t go out on adventures when at home they have an XBox to play with rather than the real world… Do they know the fun they are missing? How does an old-timer explain it?

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As kids we had great fun with these – and we did some wild stuff – including a few adventures we all swore to secrecy. I will still never admit to those didoes and escapades even under torture. Now, instead of fizzing and buzzing with the sounds of kids exploring the moon, or raiding the enemy over the hill… these frequencies are silent.

I still get the urge now and then to take one out to listen. Sometimes I send messages to… to nobody. They all grew up and the magic is gone…

Have you got a set of these? Maybe one summer day you too may give in to the urge and dust them off, stick in a 9v battery and listen. If you find yourself in or around Hell’s Kitchen, you may hear me breaking the silence… and who knows… I may hear you and answer back.

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2 Responses to “A Summer in the City Memory”

  1. John V Says:

    Great blog. Sort of a NY Stand By Me.

    >

  2. Rev. E.M. Camarena Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, John V!

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