Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gully Rules, Part 1

Save the Gully! We were so territorial about our beloved hangout you’d think we would have sabotaged the construction equipment that threatened to erase it.

In fact, we did consider putting some of the Acres vandal’s favorite fuel additive (sugar—or better yet, we said—shit) into the gas tank of the earthmover. But we did nothing, and a couple of houses went up.

Save The Gully! Bumper stickers should have been issued. And then, eight years later, when a nine-home subdivision was proposed for The Gully in 1993, neighbors objected vehemently. “I hate to see all the animal life go, said one Bellwood Road resident. She told the Springfield Union-News that she would miss the rabbits, raccoons, and opossums. But what about the other wildlife there? What about the PARTY animals?

The truth was that the indigenous species—I’m writing about yours truly and my friends—were scattered to the four winds long before. This is the story of our forced –but I guess ultimately inevitable—migration from The Gully.

The Gully was a patch of woods on Fairlawn Street, opposite the intersection of Creswell Street. WAS is the operative word here, because The Gully is gone. The site of The Gully is now 12 single-family homes encircled below. It’s a damn shame.

I drive by the Wilbraham Road side of The Gully site every day on the way to work. Sometimes, for kicks, I swing down to Fairlawn, pull up to our old hangout, and stop, and for a moment in my mind the houses disappear—as if a backdrop of trees in a theatrical production is lowered on stage and there is nothing but forest. The Gully rules!

The Gully was a good place to have a good time—in a way, it succeeded The Pothole as our teenage headquarters, because once we were old enough to drive, The Gully had some advantages over The Pothole: it was right on the road, whereas a trip to The Pothole required a short hike into the woods at a nearby pond.

The Gully was the unofficial meeting-place of the neighborhood’s partiers, roughly in the grid of nine streets from Bellamy Road to Fenway Drive, but more specifically the Bellamy to Maebeth Street half. The Gully wasn’t necessarily our destination point for the evening, but we were sure to start—and end—the night there. Scratch that. Come to think of it, The Gully tended to be our terminus when we had nowhere to go—which happened A LOT. So it was our home base on the many nights we drove aimlessly around the city—we always seemed to ultimately arrive at The Gully. You repeat ad nauseam that there is “nothing to do in Springfield” —and it was said quite often back then—but give the city its due: it’s an interesting place to cruise around, and when we needed to “refuel,” we went back to The Gully because neither the police or the neighbors asked us why we happened to be parked there.

We didn’t get into any fights at The Gully. Wait. I stand corrected. There was one: two of my friends went at it in my car one time, so I drove down Fairlawn, stopped, and let the battle spill out into The Gully. There were, however, a few almost-fights there. Once, when I was around 15, some older guys drove by in a car and one of them yelled out “What are you looking at, you pussy?” I gave them the finger. They drove away with nothing more to say—or so we thought—but they came back around the block and inquired, “Which one of you guys flipped us off?” After a pause I walked up to the car and said, “I did it. Sorry. I thought you were somebody I knew.”

The ball was in their court, and to let them know, I stuck my face through the car window. “So, who are you guys?” I asked them. “You live around here?” My question was met with silence. “So, which one of us were you calling a pussy?” I asked. They proceeded to burn rubber and took off, almost taking my head with them. The important thing was that we didn’t back down. The Gully was ours.

And then there was the time some wise-ass drove up and swerved at us when we were parked at The Gully. Stan Janek and I were sitting there having a couple of beers, and the guy missed my car by a couple of inches. We followed his piece-of-shit black Valiant (or was it a Dart?) down Sunrise Terrace and Breckwood Boulevard to see what his problem was. He ended up driving over to the AM/PM Mini Mart (now the Shell Station) on the corner of Wilbraham Road and Breckwood to get gas, so I pulled into the lot, bought a small bottle of apple juice in the store, and then I slowly drank it as I glared at him when he pumped the gas. This dirtbag was around 30—about 10 years older than I was—and he smirked at me when he got back into the car. Then he laid a ferocious patch, sending tire smoke at me, and slammed on his brakes with a screech about 15 yards away to see what I would do. I instinctively wound up to throw the bottle at his car, but I realized, as I was about to let go of the missile, that this would surely cause a fight. His car was a real beater, but it had real horsepower—the grease monkey had evidently worked on this machine feverishly, and nailing it with a bottle would have sent him into a rage. Of course, I had a baseball bat in my car, but I didn’t want it to come down to THAT.

Sensing victory, he started burning rubber again, so I did the next best thing I could think of: I had the three-inch-wide cap of the bottle in my left hand, so I switched hands and sent it sailing at the Valiant. I wish I could tell you that I connected, but the thing Frisbeed out of control, hooking to the left. In retrospect, it was a good thing it didn’t hit his car. Getting stabbed or shot over a bottle cap wasn’t what I originally had in mind, but at least I let him know of one The Gully Rules: thou shalt not come down to The Gully looking for trouble, because thou shalt find it. I know. I’m such a wimp. But the guy never came back to The Gully, did he?

It’s astounding that I actually possess a picture of the AM/PM mini-market as it existed back then, but here it is below, plucked from a shoebox in the “scary” part of my basement. We went to AM/PM so much that if they had put a monorail between The Gully and AM/PM we would have spared the atmosphere a ton of car exhaust. With our frequent trips to the store we sped up global warming by about 10 years.

Here is the entire photo: I snapped it on November 16, 1985, the day of patrolman Michael Schiavina’s funeral, when a police procession marched down Breckwood to Our Lady of the Scared Heart Church. Schiavina and his partner Alain Beauregard were gunned down on a traffic stop four days earlier in Springfield. You can see District Attorney Matty Ryan and Springfield Mayor Richard Neal on the left. Schiavina’s Bellwood Road home he grew up in actually bordered The Gully, and he spent much of his childhood playing in those woods.

Speaking of police, here’s why we had a good thing going at The Gully: the cops NEVER came there to harass us, which was remarkable, because a phenomenal amount of blatant partying took place there. That was one of the many reasons, we insisted, that The Gully rules (Note the unmistakable double-meaning of the title of this blog entry—as if I have to hit you over the head with it. Not.) We could hang out there in peace—not only in the vacant lots in the front and the woods in back, but also, more importantly, on Fairlawn Street. As long as we weren’t too loud—as long as we didn’t trash the place with trash, we were golden.

This is The Gully as it existed in this 1972 aerial shot. “C” marks Creswell St., “F” marks Fairlawn Street, and “P” marks Pineview Street. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

In 1985 a problem arose at The Gully. The younger kids who also began using the front of the lot as a meeting place were starting to leave empty beer bottles, case and six-pack holders, and assorted fast food and convenience store trash all over the Fairlawn Street side after a night out. By the summer the situation had become serious—one day we drove down Fairlawn and saw a Creswell Street neighbor picking up trash there and he shot us a dirty look as we passed him. We actually had to cruise around for a few minutes to wait until he was done before we returned to The Gully.

THIS SHIT CANNOT STAND, we declared. The cops are going to be all over the place if this keeps up. So we tried reasoning with the “Little Gully Guys.” We asked them to throw their trash somewhere else. We were polite: “You can see where we’re coming from, right? You don’t want to ruin a good thing.” But evidently they looked up this as a territorial issue and continued trashing The Gully. I don’t know, maybe we were a little condescending. I had just graduated from college, and even though I didn’t have a career job, I probably came off as a bit haughty. These kids were still in high school and it undoubtedly amused them to see all the litter. “Like, dude, we are radical party motherfuckers!” This is how their conversations probably went, and I don’t think I was too far off. After all, I was a teenager once: “Yeah, check it out! We were so fucking out-of-control last night—look at all this shit!”

And then there was this Little Gully Guy I recognized from working at a Springfield city job the previous summer. He was part of our work crew that, ironically, cleaned out vacant lots. The older city workers—the lifers—called him “Sunshine” behind his back because, I figured, he had the surfer look going with his long blond hair. But then they explained to me that he earned his nickname because he used to call in sick on rainy days. Yes, incredibly, the city made us work in the rain, and we were supplied yellow slickers and rain pants. But Sunshine only showed up for work when it was sunny. And he used to wear white chinos that he made every effort not to get dirty—which was quite an accomplishment, considering that we were hacking down vegetation with machetes, sickles, and chainsaws. In short, Sunshine was a prissy little fuck. I didn’t like him on the job, and I didn’t like him hanging out at The Gully. He didn’t even live on any of the streets that Fairlawn bisected.

One time Sunshine pulled up to The Gully, opened his trunk, and showed us all this clothing he had stolen from stores in the Eastfield Mall by wearing baggy sweats and filling them up in the dressing rooms. He wondered if we were interested in buying any of it. “No thanks,” we said. We weren’t into their mid-’80s fag fashion. Another time we went to The Gully, and there he was, holding an open-air market in front of the other Little Gully Guys, showing off more merchandise that he had lifted. Oh, this guy thought he was quite the gangster. What a pussy.

“Well, these assholes are gonna bring the cops over here for sure with all this shit,” I said. But first things first—we had to handle the litter problem, and we thought we had solved it when we saw a shopping cart in Gateway Village. Some college kid who lived in Gateway had no doubt wheeled his booze over from Big Y Liquors and left it there, so we hoisted it over the fence, rolled it up Fairlawn over to The Gully, and chained it to a tree out front with a padlock. We asked the Little Gully Guys to cooperate, and this arrangement worked out swimmingly for a couple of weeks: we put our debris—or as we put it, our PREY—in it, and every trash day we bagged it and put it out with some neighbor’s trash. The Little Gully Guys must have followed suit: there was crap in the cart that clearly wasn’t ours, and The Gully was clean. End of problem? If only. If only.

Photo: the shopping carriage tree.

We soon began finding the area strewn with garbage again, and when we ran into the offenders and asked them politely to use the shopping cart, we received blank stares and “Yeah, sure, man. Okay.” It was time to educate them—but not with threats and violence. We’ll just try to reason with the fuckers, we said, in our own special way.

One night Stan, Craig Stewart, Rick Riccardi and I were parked at The Gully and Sunshine came strolling up. I forget what he wanted—I believe he asked us to sell him a joint or something like that. These guys, the perpetual paupers and beggars that they were, NEVER had any weed of their own. I said, “Sure. Get in.”

Stan stepped out of the car and let Sunshine sit in the middle of the back seat and got back in. Now we had a “captive” audience—there was a guy on each side of him. I wouldn’t exactly call it a kidnapping, although I when locked all four doors with the flick of a button, the CLUNK sound ominously shattered the silence of the summer night, reverberating like a prison cell door slamming shut.

No, we didn’t rough him up. We just fed him with beers and we talked. I started the conversation: “What’s up with you guys trashing The Gully? Why don’t you grow the fuck up?”

When he sensed that he might just get wolfpacked, we lightened up on him, and we even began talking music. Sunshine and his friends, of course, liked the idiotic hair metal bands that we despised or at least barely tolerated because that was the only hard rock MTV was showing, as pitiful as it was: Motley Crue, Pantera, Twisted Sister, Ratt, Def Leppard, Quiet Riot—all that crap. We dismissed most of these bands, and when he asked us what we liked, we told him we were “old school.”

“You mean, like, uh, Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton and stuff?” he asked. Oh boy, was this guy an asshole.

“No,” I said. “You know, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Yes, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead—”

“Wow,” he said. “Led Zeppelin? They sucked at Live Aid.”

“I know,” said Craig. “But you should give the old stuff a listen.”

“Yeah, I heard all those bands you’re talking about,” he said. “All their songs—like, a million times. What else do you guys like?”

“Well, Jethro Tull is good,” I said, noticing that Jethro Tull was on the radio. “This is Jethro Tull.” I turned it up. The song, unfortunately, was Bungle in the Jungle.

“Bungle in the Jungle. That’s heavy man,” scoffed Sunshine. Fucking-A. How embarrassing. I didn’t have any tapes in my car that night, and what should be on the radio when I’m trying to make a point but Bungle in the Goddamn Jungle, Jethro Tull’s worst tune.

“Why don’t you guys listen to, uh, Night Ranger?” asked Sunshine. “They’re good.”

Our laughter was so hearty it could probably be heard from Indian Orchard. “Night Ranger? Oh my God! Are you serious? Sister Fucking Christian! That whore!”

Sunshine sure didn’t like that comment, but we were in agreement on bands we all liked: Ynvgwie Malmsteen and Ronnie James Dio. We all concurred that Ozzy rocked, but he didn’t agree with our contention that Ozzy rocked much less after Randy Rhoads died. Another great generational divide: we thought Van Hagar sucked—that Van Halen jumped the shark after David Lee Roth left, but Sunshine begged to differ.

Now that at least we could converse with one of the Little Gully Guys like true gentlemen, we bestowed upon Sunshine the rare privilege of taking part in our sacred Gully rituals. We took him on a “Fairlawn Cruise”—that is, we drove to the top of Fairlawn, turned off my headlights and engine, and then glided all the way down the Fairlawn hill to Bellamy Road, blowing eight straight stop signs.

Photo: The Fairlawn Cruise

If he was impressed, he didn’t show it. We then drove back up Fairlawn, around Fenway Drive and Martel Road, took a left at Donbray Road and gunned it through The Monkey Trail—a wooded path that connected Donbray Road and Lumae Street. We didn’t tell him what we were doing, so when I suddenly banged a right and blazed through the trail he blurted, “What the fuck? Holy shit! Are you nuts?” The point was to make him think that, indeed, we were a little crazy. I think that impressed the hell out of him.

Then we took him on our third ritual: The Sunrise Bump. Driving west on Sunrise Terrace, if you pick up enough speed, you can get that good old roller-coaster feeling in your stomach where Sunrise suddenly dips at Bolton Street. He was fairly amused at this antic, and we hoped that he would pass on our time-honored traditions to his Gully generation. In return for our hospitality and entertainment, I asked Sunshine for one thing: “Will you tell your friends to quit throwing your crap around The Gully? Use the shopping cart.”

“No problem,” he said.

“No, really,” said Stan. “WE don’t want the cops around here, and YOU don’t want the cops around here.”

“No problem,” he said.

It wasn’t an outlandish request. We weren’t being Gully Nazis or anything. We just wanted them to adhere to the second of The Gully Rules: don’t shit where you drink. So good night, Sunshine, you fucking fag.

We felt a lot better after that encounter. No tough talk. No intimidation. No bitch slap. And his “no problem” comment was some assurance that there was to be no more littering, right? Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

Sunshine? No: Vince Neil. Both dudes looked like a lady.

But there was a problem. The next night, there was trash everywhere: along the curb and on the street. And the shopping cart was upended. It was still chained to the tree, but its contents of Haffenreffer and Molson bottles had tumbled out, and some were broken. We theorized what could have been the motive behind this dastardly deed. We suspected that it must have occurred because we had disparaged Sunshine’s music. We had kind of forgotten that you can rank on a guy’s mother, but don’t insult his taste in rock. Well, fuck sunshine and his friends and his shitty glam metal hair bands.

Instantly, there was talk of a beating to rectify the situation. But then we knew Johnny Law might get involved because these guys would most certainly run to their mommies, who would dial 911 the minute they saw blood and bruises on their babies.

We did the next best thing, and we made such a humorous game out of our revenge that once our plot was officially launched we laughed louder than a theater full of stoners at a Cheech and Chong movie. We gave them a taste of their own medicine. We went to work, meticulously picking up all the trash, and we ceremoniously dumped it on Sunshine’s lawn. And we didn’t stop there. For the next week, every beer bottle we drained, every piece of trash we accumulated—we pitched it all on the Sunshine yard. That’s right: every wrapper and cup from our endless Taco Bell runs on Boston Road found its way to the Sunshine property. We’re talking every remnant from our prey we devoured on our AM/PM mini market stops. We went from The Gully to AM/PM to Sunshine’s yard so much were were in danger of wearing a path in the asphalt that the city would need to repave.

This tactic achieved fantastic results. These douchebags started to use the shopping cart again! I wanted to report this certified miracle to the Union-News, the New York Times, and the Vatican, because it was truly extraordinary that we got the message drilled into their cement-filled heads. I wouldn’t say we had the Little Gully Guys’ respect, because they respected no one—except for maybe Ozzy— but at least we had their attention.

I’d like to say that we reformed these little fucks, but in reality they stopped coming around because The Gully was slowly dying. The first house went up on the Fairlawn side in 1983, but we kept hanging out there. “We were here first,” was our cry. “All we have to do not create a ruckus, and the neighbors will tolerate us.” By 1986, however, two more houses were built on The Gully side of Fairlawn, completely cutting us off from our wooded oasis.

These three houses are circled below, built before the nine Lame-ass Lane (oops, I mean Lemnos Lane) houses were built in the middle.

Squeezed out, we simply moved our partying closer to the intersection of Fairlawn and Pineview. It was rather pathetic. We kept coming back to The Gully area for some fucked-up reason, like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead who stumbled to the closest shopping mall “because of some kind of instinct,” explained one of the zombie slayers in the movie, as the rotting undead pounded on the mall doors and store windows. “It’s a memory of what they used to do,” he conjectured.

Hey, those pale, spaced-out ghouls look familiar!

Frankly, we were getting a little too old for this crap. In the winter of 1986 I was still living at home, working temporary jobs, and going to The Gully, despite graduating from college the previous May. My euphoria of seeing the Patriots make the Super Bowl turned to angst when they were buried by the Bears, 46-10, and, well, I started to feel like a real loser for not being able to find a reporting or editing job at a newspaper. By spring, it was dawning on me—dawning on the partying dead—that I would be competing with yet another class of graduating college seniors. Going to The Gully—or what was left of The Gully—was less and less appealing to me.

Then, that summer, it finally happened—I was offered an editor position at a weekly newspaper chain in the Boston area. I would come off as a bit self-absorbed if I told you that The Gully died without me, because it didn’t. My friends continued to go there for a while, but not nearly as often. It’s not like they were still young enough to need a place to hide their drinking from their parents; and as for the smoking—that could be done in other places. The Gully was already on life-support, and about a year later my friends pretty much pulled the plug on it. When nine additional homes and a new street named Lemnos Lane were finally built on the Wilbraham Road side of The Gully in 2002, ENTIRELY destroying the rest of woods there, The Gully gang was long gone—by about 15 years.

Now that I’m back in the area, one of these days I’m going to have to enjoy a cold one at The Gully site with those guys—they’re all in the Springfield vicinity, and we get together now and then. I can see it now: the younger versions of ourselves, long buried in the past, becoming reanimated and forcing open our coffins, clawing and scratching at the earth, crawling out of our graves and marching down Fairlawn street to our homeland.

Okay, boys, who’s bringing the cooler?