In 1956, when I was 3 years of age, my parents moved their growing family from Germantown to a house on Wakeling Street, across the street from Frankford Stadium in the Northwood section of Frankford.
Because of that move, the Stadium always figured significantly in our lives. We used to love Frankford High School football game days in the Fall, because then we would get to hear the band parading down Wakeling Street back to the high school after victories. Then we would watch the track and field events at the Stadium in the Spring.
But, the Stadium was also a place where we got into trouble. In 1960, I was a meek kid at 7 years of age, and at that time the youngest in our crowd. One day, while grounds keepers worked at the far end of the Stadium, near the Dyre Street gates, the older kids decided that we should try to sneak around the inside the Stadium, to see if we could do so undetected. I was reluctant, but went along. There were several ways into the Stadium when it was locked. On that day we used the most dangerous — over the top of the front gates, with its pointed iron pikes.
We crept behind the walls at the front of the bleachers in the direction of the grounds keepers, and into the giant hedges behind the Dyre Street side gates. I felt very guilty about sneaking around behind adults backs like that. One of our little group whispered, “Here come the men! Duck down!” But I was frozen with fear. The grounds keepers saw us. The one in charge said, “CALL POLICE!” I burst out crying. When they heard that reaction they relented, opened the gates, and told us to never do that again. The other kids were glad that my crying had “tugged on their heartstrings” and moved the grounds keepers to let us go.
A few years later, as little boys sometimes do, I discovered fire, and I became “the kid who played with matches.” Mrs. Hughes, in the stone building on the northwest corner of Wakeling and Rutland, would see me hiding in the nook between the pine tree and bushes and the Stadium building on the corner, building little fires there, and warned me to stop or I might accidentally set the tree on fire. A few weeks later, one of my fires went out of control, and first the bushes, and then the tree, caught fire. I was horrified. I ran home and saw police and fire trucks arrive and put out the fire. I watched Mrs. Hughes talking to police, and I became sick with fear, and waited upstairs in our bedroom with a terrible bellyache for the knock at the door, which never came. Mrs. Hughes, bless her heart, lied to police, blaming the fire on “a white kid” she had “never seen before.” She said, “Peter, I lied for you. You have one more chance. Never do it again.” I promised, and, shocked at the consequences of my own bad behavior, I kept my promise.
When we were teenagers we would play a game of wall ball with the extremely irreverent name up “A**es Up,” referring to how the losing side had to bend over and let the other kids on the winning side take multiple shots at their butts with the pimple ball. With negative reinforcement like that, I only lost once!
As a teenager I began practicing tennis against the Rutland Street wall of the Stadium. The neighbors got used to seeing me out there, and would comment that I was improving.
In my late teens and early twenties jogging became a national fad, and I jogged around the stadium on the sidewalk eight circuits, or 2 miles, per day. Once, when I went to the doctor’s for a check-up, the doctor joked, “Pete, I think that your heart beats about once an hour. I can’t hear it. Do you jog?”
One night as I was jogging around the Stadium block, I was on my eighth go-round when I rounded the corner from the Rutland Street sidewalk to the Dyre Street sidewalk, toward Large Street.
Behind me I heard a motorist gunning his car’s engine and then — FLOOP-FLOOP! — the sound of his car’s tires jumping the curb behind me. I glanced back as I jogged, and saw with horror that the maniac behind the wheel was driving on the sidewalk, chasing me down the sidewalk between the Stadium wall and the utility poles. He gunned his engine again and his tires screamed as he accelerated toward me.
Though I was tired from nearly 2 miles of jogging, I suddenly learned how true it is that an adrenalin rush can turn ordinary people into supermen. Raw fear at being pursued by a mad man in a car supercharged my legs, and I think that I would have outrun a cheetah in those moments. I bolted down the sidewalk at a high speed, and stopped-at and hugged the next utility pole down the sidewalk, so that my pursuer would have to demolish his car to hit me. He pulled-off the sidewalk into the street, laughing uproariously at his little “prank” as he passed me, while my heart beat wildly.
The car pulled around the corner onto Large Street and then the roar of his car’s motor stopped, and I realized, as I ran around the corner, that he can’t have made it down Large Street out of sight in the few moments it took me to get to the corner, and that he must be one of the cars parked in the dark on Kenwyn Street. I stayed on the Edmunds Public School side of Large Street to walk home, because the sidewalk there was too narrow for a car, and there were more fences, trees and bushes for me to duck behind in case that screwball tried again.