Tommy Joe And The Trident
By Ralph "Gonzo" Crosby
We sat on our bikes and watched the bulldozers clank across the field.
An endless parade of dump trucks dropped load after load of dirt at the north end of Snyder's Woods.
We rode our Sting Rays around to the main gate at the construction site.
A giant billboard stood at the gate and proclaimed; FUTURE SITE OF SURF CITY!
The old men at the barbershop were right; this was big news!
We pedaled out onto the soft black dirt and asked a man in a hard-hat what they were building. He took a big blue handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat off his face. "Boys, this here's gonna be the biggest water theme park in the Southeastern United States!"
WHOA!! A water theme park? Man, a water theme park!!
We didn't have a clue what a water theme park was.
After a couple weeks had passed, we rode out to see how Surf City was coming along.
Now there was a huge mountain of black dirt at one end of the site and a few brown water filled holes scattered across the remaining property.
TJ looked over at me, and sang, "Two giirrrls for evvvvvvry bouyyyy!" He sounded at bit sarcastic.
Weeks turned into months and dirt piles turned into wonderful blue and white concrete rivers and lakes.
Surf City was taking shape and the anticipation was almost more than we could bear.
TJ, Sammy The Slide Rule, and I had become junior architectural consultants to the builder due to our vast knowledge of what kids liked.
Mr. Taylor owned Aqua Trends and he built amusement parks that could drain a parent's wallet faster than his pumps could fill the wave pools.
We were in his trailer on the job site looking at a scale model of Surf City.
There were tube rides, swimming holes, beaches, creeks, hot dog stands, ice cream carts, and bleachers. There was a big concrete pool that sent three-foot high waves across the surface letting you actually surf!! There were waterfalls you floated under to cool off and water cannons that blasted the summer heat off your body.
The thing that stood out more than anything at Surf City was the big mountain rising up twenty stories high in the back of the park.
This was where you hiked up a couple of miles of concrete paths to get in a tube and slide and wind around a Styrofoam glacier down past plastic trees and flowers.
Picture yourself on a boat on a river, somebody calls, and you... well you get the idea.
The other side of the mountain was where all hell broke loose.
Here orange fiberglass half pipe culverts twisted turned and looped from the top of the mountain down to the splash pool at the bottom.
There were three different runs, and three different levels you could fall from.
Surf City had lots of signs that said please don't pee in the pools, but it didn't say anything about peeing in your pants. The Trident was so fast and so radical the astronauts wouldn't ride on it!
Surf City thrived for a few years and it was THE place to go during the summer.
We spent our days amazing the general public with our bold thrashes down the Trident's long tentacles into the sparkling water below. Tommy Joe, Crazy Norman, Sammy, and I were the only kids foolish enough to take the highest level drop, so we had the first one hundred feet to ourselves. We would blast down the tube and into the backs of the less daring kids cruising along at around sixty miles per hour below.
We thought the Trident was pretty cool; it was the first thing we ever rode on that scared us without sending us to the emergency room. We spent several crazy summers flying around on the Trident
Although Mr. Taylor and the Aqua Trends people didn't know it, the sun was about to set on Surf City.
A small mouse and his pals were about to wipe every amusement park, miniature golf course, and carnival off the Florida landscape.
Surf City closed and the Trident sadly stood watching over its empty paths and water flumes.
We rode past Surf City every once in awhile. Then one day Tommy Joe stopped his Schwinn and looked up at the very top of the winding tentacles.
"Gonz, how hard do you think it would be to hook a winch up at the top of the old Trident? " A sudden case of nausea hit me and I was speechless for a couple of seconds. "Umm... I think it might be impossible, TJ, to tell you the truth." I pedaled off, hoping Tommy would forget whatever insane thought lingered in his head.
"Hey man, hold on a second, Gonzo. I think you will like this idea."
These words have proceeded so many trips to the hospital that I was thinking of having them put on my head stone one day!
Saturday morning we were all holding up the bottom of the chain link fence while Tommy Joe slid the winch and battery under it and into Surf City.
Crazy Norman threw our backpacks over, and then he held our trusty Radio Flyer wagon up and we grabbed it on the other side.
We hauled everything in the wagon over to an abandoned tool shed.
Norm said he would stay with the stuff while Tommy Joe, Sammy, and I explored the park. We looked a lot like the Three Stooges on a recon mission.
Tommy looked up at the Trident's orange tentacles disappearing into the clouds.
"She looks a little taller than I remember, Gonz," he said.
And whole lot steeper, I thought to myself.
The scene was right out of Jack And The Beanstalk.
We walked over to the empty catch basin that we used to come splashing into.
I looked at the end of the Trident's run and the distance to the concrete bottom of the pool.
"Maaaaaan, you better be careful when you try and land her TJ," I said.
It was an unwritten law between the three of us that if someone mentioned your name and the source of our next catastrophe, you would just act like you wanted to be the driver anyway.
"Shoot, Gonz, the way I see it, the 33 will probably glide from the water flume tube to the bottom of the pool." Tommy said this with a little pessimism in his voice.
Sammy, of course, was already working on a tail hook/bungee cord arresting system to slow the car, and most likely save Mr. Cauldwell a hunk of change at the dentist's office.
We spent the rest of the day setting up the winch, pulley, rope, cables, bungee cords, and then met at the shed for a couple rounds of warm orange Nehi sodas.
We decided the tall skinny soapbox derby wheels and tires were not really intended for hundred mile per hour sprints down fiberglass pipe.
We fitted the 33 with low-pressure wheelbarrow tires and wheels.
This gave the little wooden race car that ever-hip low rider stance the Can Am cars all sported.
To get the racer to sit down in the tube we had to narrow the width of the axles.
Sammy had fashioned a hook from a metal yard rake; he attached it to the rear of the car and let the rake's handle extend up toward the cockpit.
The plan was to lift the rake handle as you crossed over the bungee cord, catching the bungee with the hook. Some things are easier said than done. Some things you have to see to believe.
Sammy was afraid there might be some tree limbs or debris blocking some portions of the track.
We brought a few old bowling balls with us to roll down the tubes and see if they made it to the bottom.
It never occurred to us to just hold the side of the fiber glass half pipes and slide along and inspect the whole course.
We had used the Radio Flyer wagon as a pre-runner on a few of our runs down the back of the county landfill. We thought sending it down minus a driver might save us a few scrapes and bruises.
Tommy Joe and I were at the very top of the mighty Trident. Sammy and Crazy Norman waited at the finish line waiting to catch the wagon as it shot out of the pipe.
TJ had a small whistle and so did Sammy. When I let the wagon go TJ was going to blow the whistle, and when Sammy caught it at the bottom he was to blow his.
I held the little red wagon by the rear axle and Tommy blew his whistle. A second later we saw the Flyer rounding the first bend and gaining speed.
We waited for what seemed like a half hour and we never heard Sammy's signal.
TJ said he was going to send one of the bowling balls down to see if it would knock the wagon loose and send it down to the bottom.
None of us ever knew why Norm O'Conner's parents named him Norman. Why he had the nickname Crazy Norman was self explanatory.
Sammy told us later he wasn't sure if Norman lost his patience, or if curiosity got the best of him.
Norm decided he was going to walk up the Trident' s chute from the bottom and find where the wagon was stuck.
The bowling ball was really cooking now, going around ninety or a hundred I'd guess.
The course was so steep Norm had to get on his hands and knees and pull himself along with his hands.
Norm spotted the lodged wagon about a second before the bowling ball smashed into it.
The bowling ball shot the wagon into the air and passed right under it, not losing a bit of speed.
Norm took a sixteen pound bowling ball moving a little faster than a meteor right in the chops!
This sent Crazy Norman reeling down the tube and out the bottom past an amazed Sammy Morgan. Norm splattered onto the bottom of the concrete pool. The wagon had landed back in the chute on its wheels and roared past Sammy before he could catch it.
Now I guess if you are semi conscious, standing in the bottom of an empty concrete swimming pool; and someone yells "look out!" you might confuse the words with "look up!"
Poor old Norm turned and looked up just in time to catch the Radio Flyer dead in the face!
Sammy grabbed his backpack and jumped down in the empty pool beside Crazy Norman.
Always prepared, Sammy pulled out a fresh roll of toilet paper and blotted Norman's nose and face.
A few sheets of toilet paper shoved up Norm's nose seemed to slow the bleeding.
Sammy wrapped Norman's face up like a mummy and tied the ends in a knot.
Tommy Joe looked over at me and I could tell it was now or never for the run.
We pushed the 33 Cauldwell Special into the launch tube up on the very top of the water slide.
We glanced at each other, I winked at Tommy, and he nodded his head.
We slid wheel chocks under the back tires to keep the racer from rolling away before TJ could climb aboard.
Tommy eased himself into the cramped cockpit.
He looked like a bronco buster at the rodeo getting ready for eight seconds of sheer terror.
TJ and I had been through this scenario together hundreds of times it seemed. One of us would be sitting in a cockpit of some kind with our heart pounding. The other guy would shake your hand, tap on the top of your helmet, and be glad as hell it wasn't his turn.
TJ jabbed his right hand up in the air then quickly grabbed the steering wheel; this was always our sign to go for it.
I pulled TJ and the race car backwards a couple of inches so I could yank the rope holding the tire chocks free.
I gave Tommy a quick hard shove and watched him roll off.
For some reason he didn't seem to be getting any farther away from me, then I noticed my glove was caught between the axle housing and the car's body work.
TJ and the race car picked up steam and started dragging me along behind them!
Tommy leaned into the first turn at about fifty miles per hour, I knew I had to do some thing quick or I would be pitched over the edge into the asphalt parking lot a two hundred feet below us.
I swung up onto the axle pod and held onto the back of the tiny roll bar.
I pulled my stuck glove off and held on while Tommy shot us through the first turn.
Tommy Joe had no clue that I was right behind him, clinging to the little race car.
I guess he thought it was the Grim Reaper coming to call when I tapped him on the shoulder.
He nearly jumped out of his skin!
He gave me a startled glance and then hunkered down in the Cauldwell's cockpit and tried to preserve our lives.
We were sliding along like the Jamaican Bob Sled Team on a medal run.
There were little patches of green algae on the slide at different places. The spots made Teflon seem like sandpaper. When we hit a long patch of slime going into a big left hander I could feel the tires coming unglued.
We shot up out of the "groove" and into the air. We landed upside down in the water slide chute with the ol' 33 landing on top of us. I could feel the nasty green algae sliding under me at about seventy miles per hour or so.
We came into the next turn in a kind of wad of boys, race car, and slimy green jell-o.
We were sideways and too wide to fit through the turn. We stuck like a cork in a bottle for a second, then I shot out in front of Tommy and the runaway racer!
The little car was back on its wheels and TJ had managed to climb back into the cockpit.
They were gaining on me fast and I knew TJ would think nothing of rolling over me as I lay face down sliding down the fiber glass pipe.
TJ was charging down towards me like the Red Baron. I started trying to swim down the chute in the two inch puddle of slime.
It was only a matter of time and TJ came blasting over me; I flipped over on my back and grabbed the front axle.
I was hanging on for my life staring up at the belly pan of the race car.
We continued down the track gaining speed and wiping the track clean behind us.
We came around the final turn and headed down the last drop and fastest straight.
Sammy and Norman were at the bottom watching us roar down toward them.
Sammy mentioned to Crazy Norm that he kinda wished he had his camera right about now.
We came into the shutdown area and I felt the bungee cord catch me across my neck and shoulders.
We sped forward and the Bungee cord stretched out and reached its maximum length.
TJ was unaware I was still under the car and he tried to catch the bungee cord with the modified rake brake.
He yanked the handle up and the rake slung around and slammed into my crotch!
I let go of the car's axle to grab my aching groin.
There was that tiny millisecond when the car continued forward and the bungee cord shot me back up the track.
Tommy rode the Cauldwell Special into the bottom of the splash pool like a captain going down with his ship.
I was now airborne out over the parking lot, going over a few of my favorite prayers.
I decided to try and hang onto the bungee cord while it whipped back and forth. Maybe it would slow enough for me to drop from.
The cord stretched out and shot me back down the track towards the wave pool. I guess my grip wasn't as strong as I thought it was and I let go.
Tommy was just climbing out of the scattered wreck and started to stand up.
Sammy saw me shoot by like a log and yelled to Tommy to look out
It's really hard to understand what someone is saying to you when your semi conscious standing in the bottom of a swimming pool...
For a lot more Tommy Joe, visit Banana Land.
fast times, quick cars, cosmic advice