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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Todd Hill

The other evening, our children and grand-children were making plans to go sledding today.
Our daughter and her family are in town from Fairfax, Virginia for New Year’s (and a belated Hopkins Family Christmas),  we have about five or so inches of snow, and the Southern contingent of grand-children don’t have all that many opportunities to go sledding.
I asked our eldest Grandson, in a joking manner, if they were going to attempt Todd Hill.
I was shocked by his response: “The City has closed down Todd Hill, a few years ago.”
Todd Hill… Closed?! I was incredulous, stunned beyond intelligent reply. Allow me to give you some background….
TODD HILL! The very words strike terror in the hearts of strong people.  TODD HILL!! That giver of concussions, broken bones, and missing teeth! What initially appears as a fun-filled sled ride down a modest slope rapidly becomes a terrifying trip from Hades! Suddenly, the sled is plummeting down what seems to be a sheer 87 degree precipice! An ice covered 87 degree cliff face! The sled hurtles toward the bowels of the Earth…faster, faster….completely out of control!! The rider sits in paralyzed fear, eyes riveted upon the rapidly approaching ground.  The wind screams past the rider’s ears, their eyes are glazed by ice.  A steely grimace stretches their face in a macabre grin.
Then, as if guided by the hand of God, the nose of the sled tilts skyward. With a stomach twisting lurch, sled and rider are now airborne.  Grasping the sled in a white knuckled frenzy, the rider howls like a banshee hopped up on gas-station Cappuccinos. After logging more air time than the Wright brothers first flight, rider and sled slam upon the snow and ice covered slope. The incline is beginning to level; only the partially frozen river looms before them.
THE RIVER!  A dark, roaring gash upon the field of white waits. Assuming one survives the 20 foot drop from the embankment, the waters await, singing their icy death song! Swept away, beyond the desperate reach of frantic rescuers, they are carried. Under the highway, beneath the railroad trestle (from which a coal train once derailed), the water propels them.  Encased in their soon to be icy coffin, the hapless sledder gazes uncomprehendingly as they pass the ball fields, the rapids where fishermen ply the water for salmon and steelhead trout. They bob past the marinas, to be carried out…out… far out into an icy Lake Erie, not to be seen until Spring when their stiff, waterlogged, horrifying body is discovered upon a cold, windswept,  gravelly beach somewhere in Pennsylvania. 
The State Trooper and the County Medical Examiner poke, and pull, and turn the body while seagulls expectantly wait a polite distance away. Finally the ME stands and removes the smoldering cigar from her lips. Looking through the veil of acrid smoke which protects against any olfactory assault, she says “Yep Tom. Looks like Todd Hill claimed another one. Poor bugger…never should have tried it.”  The trooper nods his head, signaling for the waiting mortuary crew to relieve the beach of this bit of unwanted flotsam.
Yes, such is the legend of Todd Hill.
Located behind the City Hall of a neighboring town, it once provided countless hours of panic filled amusement for generations of daring souls. In my own experiences with Todd Hill, I can recall staying on the sled all the way to the end only one time.
If the launching and subsequent landing failed to unseat a sledder, they were just as likely to collide with another participant barreling down the icy slope at land speed record velocities. More than once, my Lovely Bride and I have witnessed the grinding, sliding, out-of-control mix-up of sleds and riders. Much like spectators at Daytona or Talladega, you know The Big One is going to happen; you just don’t know to whom or when it will happen.
Todd Hill also provided the local Fire Department more than ample opportunity to practice their winter response techniques. With a once daily, or more often, regularity, one would see the ambulance and rescue pickup truck pull behind City Hall.
Firefighters and EMTs would scramble out; lugging their bundles of ropes, pulleys, carabineers, rescue sled and such. They would carefully slip/slide down the slope to the unfortunate lying in the snow. Would this be a concussion? A compound fracture of the tibia awaiting tending? Perhaps, the treatment of (and searching for) several missing teeth was on today’s agenda.
The crowd would be gathered at the summit of the slope, observing the rescue. As in any group of on-lookers, some wise guy would crack a few inappropriate jokes to break the tension. Following a jab or three in the ribs, plus The Look from LB, I would cease my attempts at alleviating the stress.
Then, as the victim and first responders began to make their way up the unforgiving hill, the crowd would burst into applause and cheers. Another notch was carved into the legend of Todd Hill.
I suppose the dawning of a new safety consciousness  along with a new millennium, the increasing litigious propensity of society, and the expenditure of funds and manpower for the Fire Department responding to injuries, all worked in consort to bring about the closing of Todd Hill.
An era has closed for winter sports enthusiasts. There will never be the like of Todd Hill again.
So, today, we will trundle off to our nearby Metropark to enjoy the rather modest sledding hill.
There are no stomach lurching launches, no spine compressing landings, or death defying approaches to the Chagrin River. Perhaps, for old-time’s sake, we may be able to take out a winter hiker as they attempt to dart across the bottom of the hill.
But…. It just isn’t the same.

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