Hopping Cars: Lawrence – My Hometown
Hopping cars is what we called it. I don’t know how it started or how we got the idea but it was a dandy.
Hopping cars was a winter time sport and it required snow. There had to be a good amount of snow and it was better if it was packed down. Ice was OK but slush was bad. It was not an organized sport, but it was very sporting.
We would hide behind parked cars and as an auto passed we would scurry out and grab onto the bumper. Then the challenge was how long could a child hang on and how far could he “ski” behind the vehicle before he had to release his hold on the bumper and go sliding along on his face.
Some auto operators, if they spotted you sneaking out from behind a parked car, would stop and make you get off. But there were others who thought it was funny.
We had one neighborhood clown, who was half adult and half moron, who would purposely slow down as he passed a group of stupid little kids like us to lure us onto his bumper. Of course, it always worked. Three or four of us would crouch down, like we were getting away with something, and scoot out into the road and hook onto his bumper. Once the local moron knew he hooked us, he would tromp on the gas. His car would skid from one side of the road to the other as we all hung on for our lives. Sometimes our feet would slip out from under us, and then Murray the Moron would drag us to the next corner or stop sign. Sometimes we would let go of the bumper and go sliding across the road and into a snow bank — or a parked car. It wasn’t a sport for the faint of heart.
Everybody who was old enough to drive a car knew what we were up to. The sensible ones watched and stopped if they felt one of us nitwits had made it to their bumper but we were pretty sneaky.
We could spend a whole afternoon hopping cars — and on the same street. We usually hopped a car going one way and then waited and caught another going the other way.
If you were able to ski behind a car for one complete block, that was pretty good — two blocks was phenomenal.
We did most of our car hopping on Center Street and its tributaries. It was somewhat dangerous to be hopping cars up on Lawrence St. You could get tumbled out in front of an oncoming car or dropped off and get crushed by a following car. You wanted to find a single car operating on a side street with not too much traffic. A ride up Willow St. or Exchange St. going towards the Howard Playground was good.
I remember one time Bobby Papparlardo lost one of his gloves. He fell off and his glove stuck to the guy’s bumper.
Hopping cars bare-handed was rugged — too cold and a wet, bare hand could stick to a cold frosty bumper. But Bobby toughed out the afternoon one-handed. Then the two of us hopped this car several hours later and Bobby screamed, “Hey, there’s my glove!” And sure enough, there it was stuck to the bumper just where he had left it earlier.
On another occasion we spotted this lady driver. We especially liked lady drivers. They didn’t go too fast and they never stopped the car, ran around the back and booted any of us up the ass, like some of the male drivers were prone to do.
She was a younger lady, rather pretty and she was driving a little red Volkswagen. She was waiting at the corner of Exchange St. and Lawrence St. She lived up Birchwood Rd. We decided to hop a ride across Lawrence St. and then drop off halfway up the hill on Birchwood Rd. We crouched down and tucked in behind some parked cars. Just as the traffic cleared, about five of us scooted out and snuggled onto her bumper. She gave it the gas and off we did NOT go. Exchange St. was on a slight incline at the top and with five of us hanging onto the bumper of that tiny Volkswagen, nobody was going anywhere.
The young lady couldn’t figure out what was happening. After several attempts and the wheels just spinning in place, she put the emergency brake on and climbed out of the Bug. Us little morons were all still hanging there in a row. She looked down at us, put one hand on her hip and said, “Come on guys, how about giving a working girl a break.” The jig was up. We didn’t get a ride from the pretty young lady, but we did get to push her out of the little trenches she had dug for herself under each tire because of us.
I don’t have to wonder if this little sport is still going on. I’m sure the kids in Lawrence are not any brighter than when I was there, but fortunately cars no longer have bumpers.
[Editor’s note: This essay is presented as a remembrance of times past and does NOT endorse car hopping, even for historical, research purposes.]