I did some blogs for Elmhurst Patch last year. One of them was "It Was Different Growing up in North Elmhurst". I knew at the time that there was much more to tell than I could fit into one blog. So with the help of fellow native Chris Byrnside (again), here's some more about growing up in the small town just north of Elmhurst.
As a 13-year-old, crossing into North Elmhurst at night via the Emroy Street bridge could be scary—about as scary as it was for The Warriors when they had to outrun the Baseball Furries through Central Park.
It was probably OK if you were on your bicycle because you were about to go flying down the hill toward Armitage. But there wasn't a street lamp to rely on for vision, and if the local gang of kids were out on their BMX bikes, it didn't matter how fast you were going because they were gonna get you.
This was the gateway to North Elmhurst, and as a kid growing up there in the late '70s and early '80s, it was clear that you were entering a town different than Elmhurst.
Yield signs were nowhere to be found, the town's economy rested on the success of the coin-operated laundry, there was a kid with an undiagnosed behavioral disorder on every block, and you were probably gonna get your ass kicked if you crossed Grand Avenue into Bensenville.
That's what it was like growing up there. Strangers to this town were met with disgust and distrust. So unless your name was Jack and you sold Good Humor ice cream off a small white truck, you weren't going to receive any red carpet treatment when visiting.
The aforementioned BMXers were our ambassadors. They were made up of a dozen or so kids who were all from North Elmhurst, and they were the closest thing we had to a street gang.
A swarm of them could appear on their bikes at any time, and if you were holding a baseball glove or a pack of Big League Chew, you might as well just hand it over as they rode by.
Mischief and tomfoolery were abound as we grew up. When we weren't bullying other kids, we were terrorizing the neighborhood or we were up to some other highjinx. It was a community of kids in year-round need of positive diversions. Our parents were desperate for outlets to keep us out of trouble, and they turned to the North Elmhurst Park District for help.
In the winter, we didn't need any assistance. Our town's official sport of Skitching sufficed. A pair of slick Keds, a solid grip on the rear bumper of a passing car and an appetite for exhaust fumes was all that you needed to participate.
It was a sport, an art form, and a means of transportation all wrapped into one activity. But it wasn't what our parents had in mind.
Fortunately for them, the N.E.P.D. came through big-time each year with what can best be described as a Winter Wonderland at Crestview Park. The scene was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: a sledding hill, ice skating and garbage barrels ablaze with glowing fire.
The pièce de résistance of this setting was the Warming House. If the older teen attendant wasn't drunk or making out with his girlfriend behind a locked door, you could get out of the cold and buy a hot chocolate. It also served as first aid, so if you slipped on the rubber mat going down the ramp to get hot chocolate, you were right there for treatment!
But outside the winter months, the Park District's success was debatable: The tennis courts at Crestview were primarily used for street hockey, and years went by before a torn basketball net was replaced (eventually by chains). There wasn't a football league in town, and most of us never laid eyes on a real soccer net until high school.
Luckily, we had the Elmhurst North Baseball Association for summer recreation.
The E.N.B.A. was indicative of what it was like growing up as underpriviledged kids from the wrong side of I-290. The baseball fields didn't have lights or an outfield fence, the porta potty was not to be entered under any circumstance, and if you played for the Phillies, your uniform was purple.
But we didn't know any better, and we really didn't care. It was normal that our coach was Mr. Buttermaker, and we didn't question why he drank "lemonade" from a newspaper-wrapped can.
We would hear rumors of intense sponsorship bidding wars between North Elmhurst elite businesses like Naugles and Janet Oil, but we had no idea that you could be traded for a catcher's mask the night of the player draft.
We just showed up to play baseball. It was always a great summer playing in the E.N.B.A. Peace was restored to the town, our parents could rest easy for a few hours on game days, and victory sometimes got you a team trip to Cock Robin.