Tuesday, February 23, 2016

31 Months Goes Audio

I am currently in the process of creating the script for the audiobook of our memoir, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park.

I find it hard to believe how much I’ve forgotten!

We published the book in 2005 from lots of source material, collected during the construction of the Universal Studios Japan theme park.

I saved all the emails we sent home from Japan during our time there as well as other emails sent to and from the team. When we wrote the book, we used much of the material to present an accurate picture of our adventure.

Reliving those experiences fifteen years after park opening has been a great deal of fun. I’ve laughed and cried and been transported back to the actual events. I have also mourned the colleagues we’ve lost in the interim.

Although I remembered most of the events, I had forgotten the details. Reading them again transported me back to the great times in Osaka.

We wrote the book for ourselves, and also for the team (American and Japanese) who made the park a reality. Seeing it again, when we returned five years ago for the tenth anniversary of park opening, made me thankful to have been a part of its construction.

When we published the book, we thought only our fellow team members would be interested in it. However over the years, it has continued to sell.

People doing business with the Japanese and expatriates living in Japan discovered it. For a number of years, it was on the Forbes recommended reading list.

People going to Japan to teach English also found the book and recommended it to others. Interest spread through word-of-mouth, and books have sold in Australia, New Zealand, England, and Canada as well as in the US to these teachers.

Since it is the only book ever written about a Universal Studios theme park, junkies like us have been attracted to it. The title appears on several theme park aficionado sites.

We are excited about it appearing in yet another form. We are also considering doing a second edition with a chapter on our return to Japan ten years later.

This period in our lives is certainly a highlight, mostly because of the wonderful people we met who remain friends to this day.

Arigato gozaimasu, Universal and Japan, for giving us the sweet gift of wonderful memories.

31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park is available in paperback, hardback, and ebook through www.Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble (www.bn.com), as well as other online books stores and through our website, www.lornalarry.comThe audio version should be available later this year through www.audible.com and Amazon.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Playground

Last week I wrote about Granada Park, where my friends and I spent many happy days in our childhood. Several people asked, “But what about the playground?” I decided I had far too many memories from that magical place to lump it in with the rest of the stories of the park, so today I’ll tell you about it.

At the entrance to the park was a fishpond. Some friends caught pollywogs in the pond, and many played around it. (I didn’t catch pollywogs or frogs or toads there, but I remember the sound of the frogs and toads on warm summer evenings coming from the catch basin at the end of our street, where Hathaway Ave. and Sarazan Drive met. We called it ‘the Gully,’ but others had different names for it. I was too chicken to spend any time there because of the snakes and other critters, who lurked in the muck.)

Eventually, as I recall, a couple of children were injured in and around the pond, and it was filled and turned into a rose garden. They later took out the garden and replaced it with a fenced cement catch basin. I don’t know if it still exists.

At the south end of the playground, near the tennis courts, a cinder block building held the restrooms. I remember very little about them because the playground itself offered such pleasures.

We celebrated my fifth birthday at the playground with Diane Graham and her mother, Laura Lee, and Wilma Sehnert and her son, Dan.

In the photo below, my brother looks a bit bewildered after his ride down the slide. Yours truly prepares for a fast run while Diane Graham waits her turn.

The big slides were high and fast! The metal ladder led up to a platform some fifteen to twenty feet off the ground. From there, the rider had a choice of two options. The right slide was straight and ride was fast. The left slide had a dip in it. The ride was slower, but if you were moving, you might lift off as you left the bump in the middle—sort of like a ski jumper hitting a mogul.

We usually packed a lunch to go to the park. Then we used the waxed paper from our sandwiches like sleds to make the ride even faster. Because the slides were made of metal, they became burning hot in the sun. The heat melted the wax and formed a slick surface. I remember returning from a day at the park with the backs of my legs red from the slide.

However, the slide was not my favorite of all the activities at the playground. I loved the swings!

The park boasted two sets. The ‘little kid’ ones consisted of a slatted wooden structure with back, seat, and sides. The corners connected to chains, suspended from an A-frame tubular metal structure embedded in the ground with cement footings. A parent or older child placed the little one on the seat and then lowered a metal bar with holes on the ends, through which the front chains slid, to secure the child in the seat. The bar also offered a handhold. Then the older person pushed the little one.

However, I loved the big swings. They were large enough even our parents used them. They were constructed on the same type of A-frame structure as the little ones, only this one was about fifteen to twenty feet high. (Of course, I probably remember it larger than it was, but it was at least twice the height of our parents.)

The seats were made of heavy woven material with metal attached to the ends. Like the little swings, these fastened to a mechanism on the crossbar above. After a few years, the fabric began to wear and caused abrasions on the backs of our legs. Still, we were not deterred.

Swinging always brought to mind a poem I memorized when I was about two years old:

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

We’d kick off from the ground, and then lean forward and back to gain momentum. The goal was to get so high the chains snapped. We had no fear of the supports lifting off the ground as we did on the Jungle Gyms in our friends’ back yards.

Eventually, we allowed the swing to lose momentum—usually because others were waiting for a turn. None of us ever dragged our feet to stop the swing, however. When we deemed it safe, we leapt off at the farthest point forward in the arc and landed (or tried to) on our feet. Sometimes I missed and ended up with skinned knees for my effort.

Opposite the swings was the ‘merry-go-round.’ It looked something like the one above. Each of us grabbed one of the metal bars and ran as fast as we could around the circle. When we reached a speed where we could no longer run, we threw ourselves onto the spinning platform and enjoyed the ride.

Next to the merry-go-round were the teeter-totters. Like the swings, these were long enough for the adults to use. Like the other play equipment, they were made of metal. Some kids could spend hours going up and down on them, but I was easily bored and lost interest after a short time.

During the summer, we spent a lot of our time in the cinder block shelter at the opposite end of the playground from the restrooms. This consisted of two side walls, a back, and a roof. Inside, several permanent tables provided seating. However, during the summer, we were offered an array of crafts. For a small amount to cover the cost of the materials, we could spend days creating wonderful objects. They often became gifts for our parents. I presume the program was run by the Parks & Recreation department, but the specific instructors remain faceless and nameless.

Every kid in the neighborhood carried a skate key. The challenge was where to carry it since some of our clothing didn’t have pockets. Soon all of us had created lanyards from plastic string on which to keep our keys. Some created several in different colors to match our clothing. We also made square keychains. I’m sure our parents treasured those we created for them.

Some of my friends still remember basket weaving at the park. I remember the tubs of wet reeds, but I suspect the baskets were more expensive, and we couldn’t afford them.

I do remember using a manual drill to twist crepe paper into colored rope. We then glued the rope to old bottles to make vases and candle holders. Another treasured gift for our parents.

I recall painting plaster knickknacks. We carted our masterpieces home after the instructor sprayed them with a clear sealer. Since my mother saved very little, they decorated the house for a short while and then disappeared while we were at school.

We also took thin sheets of copper and traced designs on them. Then with a burnishing tool, we embossed them to give the designs dimension. Afterward, we painted them with paint that resembled tinted clear nail polish. I think I mounted a set on blocks of wood as bookends, but like most everything else, they eventually disappeared.

We made things with leather, too. We bought a pre-cut piece of leather, then used leatherworking tools to make a pattern. I made a comb case. Once the design was complete, we used a leather thong to lace the sides together. Now that might have been worth keeping…

Unlike today, when playgrounds are covered with foam or rubber matting, ours was straight dirt. Once in a while, the groundskeepers smoothed out the surface—especially under the swings, where dragging feet made grooves. No one seemed overly concerned about our safety. I’m sure children probably sustained injuries, but we didn’t hear about them.

I know lots of the kids who grew up in the area have equally vivid memories of the time we spent at the park and the playground.

What are your favorite summer memories from childhood?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Remembering Granada Park

Last week, I wrote about growing up in the Midwick Tract in Alhambra, California. At the edge of the tract was Granada Park, the hub of activity for the entire area.

The kids in the tract attended two public schools and the nearby Catholic school, but on weekends and during the summer, we all met at the park.

In those days, we walked, skated, or rode our bikes everywhere. Parents didn’t worry about us. We had no need for block parents because most mothers stayed home. If we ever needed help, we knew we could knock on any door and find it.
For the neighborhood boys, summer began with Little League tryouts. Although several teams, sponsored by local businesses, played at Granada Park, not every boy who wanted to play made a team. Larry’s dad (second from the right in the back row) was a coach for his brother’s team. I also recognize quite a few of the other neighborhood dads in the photo above.

The park featured a large baseball diamond where the games were played. We sat on bleachers to cheer on our friends. Parents manned the snack stand in case we were hungry. A second diamond, adjacent to the main one, could be used for practice.

Next to the baseball diamonds, were the tennis courts. When others weren’t playing, we roller-skated on the cement courts. Sometimes we rode our bikes there as well. Some years later, lights were installed so the courts could be used at night. Larry remembers skateboarding there in the evenings.

The biggest draw at the park was the pool. Although I learned to swim at the YMCA, most of the neighborhood kids, like my brother, learned at the park.

I always associate the strong smell of chlorine with the pool. We paid our quarter and were entitled to a full day in the pool. We accessed the deck through the locker rooms, segregated by gender. Before we emerged, we were required to shower. Of course, most kids turned on a shower and flicked water on themselves. If the lifeguards caught anyone with a dry suit, they blew their whistles and made the dry swimmer return to the showers.

Between the locker room and the deck, we had to traverse the footbath. The strong chlorine smell burned my eyes and stayed on my skin for days. I often wondered if straight bleach was poured into the basin.

The pool seemed huge to me as a kid. It might have been Olympic size or larger, but I can’t be sure. The shallow end was two feet deep and the depth increased to about ten feet. (I’m sure others will correct me if I’m wrong.)

Two diving boards graced the deep end. One was a standard springboard. When I took diving at the Y, I practiced on the low board.

Next to it was the high dive. A platform rose probably fifteen to twenty feet high from the deck, accessed by a steep ladder. (Again, it seemed high and scary to me as a kid. I’m sure others may remember exactly how tall it was.)

When I was in my teens, I finally decided to try it. I climbed the ladder, but when I looked down, I froze. I had intended to dive, but the idea of going headfirst into the water so far away terrified me. Only one of us was allowed to be on the platform at a time, and the kids on the ground started yelling at me. Retreating down the ladder would have labeled me as a chicken for life. I finally screwed up my courage, walked to the end of the board, and stepped off the end. I held my arms close to my sides and dropped straight in. I sank to the bottom, kicked off, and rose to the surface. I never tried the high dive again.

A big hill rose in the center of the park. I remember rolling down it with my friends. We often had grass stains on our clothes. Our mothers complained but we loved playing there.

Some kids brought large pieces of cardboard they used as sleds to get from the top to the bottom. Others brought large blocks of ice. In the heat of summer, riding those down must have felt good. I never did it, but some of my friends remember it fondly.

My idea of a great summer day was riding my bike to the park with a book and sitting under a tree on the hill reading the afternoon away.

When I was in junior high, a gymnasium was built at the top of the hill. Kids played basketball on the court, and dances were held there. I attended one, but I never went back.

Next week, I’ll tell you about my favorite place in the park: the playground.

Did you go to a park as a child? What do you remember?