Entry 8.0 "Rocketship Playground"
I’m fairly certain there was a fine pat on the back awarded to the head of the subcommittee of risk assessment who recommended the removal of the last Space Race era playground on Earth.
First hailed as “in tune with the times” and able to elicit “any game an imaginative child might think up,” space-themed playgrounds were installed in hundreds of American neighborhoods by the mid to late 20th century. Lofty radar towers, Saturn Climbers, and spinning satellite dishes set the stage for adventurous, carefree play while encouraging exploration and patriotism.
I can imagine the after-school sun, bright but beginning to bow, shining through red-painted iron and casting stretched shadows onto dirt, packed tightly by years of play. How many young minds were inspired by the iconic space-themed imagery and its unspoken subtextual theme of reaching long for the stars? How many future astronauts exited their first “spaceships” from too-hot stainless-steel slides?
Like many of the best things in life that are ruined by those destined for a cause, Space Race era playgrounds began to be classified as hazardous, spurring their mass dismantling. Most “upgrades” were met with strong community opposition from those who felt nostalgia for the classic equipment and the fond memories it provided over its years of service. But after a swift smack from their ruling “betters,” sturdy iron was replaced by cheap plastic, and slides were rarely approved over five or six feet. The most significant change, however, was the too-soon retirement of my favorite relic of bygone days, the rocketship slide.
I was treated to my first glimpse of a rocketship slide as a child when my Grandfather showed me old family holos from his most idealized periods in history. I remember feeling a sharp pang of disappointment when I realized I would never be able to play on such a magnificent structure. In fact, for much of my childhood, play was relegated to the virtual realm with any genuine thrill taken completely out of the equation by way of padded, hyper-sanitized Virtual Recreation Cubes, or VR³s.
To avoid conflict with real-world peers, most gameplay and competition pitted kids against intuitive algorithms. Please don’t be shocked by this. What did you think the end result of centuries of overregulated play mixed with exponential government overreach would be?
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that a major shift occurred, and popular thought circled back to recognizing the importance of play, independent thinking, physical interaction, and healthy competition for children and young adults. Recreation Cubes fell out of favor as kids were encouraged to play outside with their friends and to foster real-world relationships. Please forgive my oversimplification of a revolutionary change in modern thinking; it’s just ironic that the ideas were “modern” a few hundred years ago when the kids knew to come home when the streetlights came on.
All the thoughts I just mentioned, though less articulate at the time, were going through my head as I stood in the casted shade of what was the summation of so many heretofore ungranted childhood wishes; there it was, towering between me and the pastel twilight of an alien world, an enormous rocketship slide!
Multicolored fins and a central pole, which appeared to be buried deep in the ground and extended the length of the rocket like an iron spine, stabilized the skeletal metal frame. A winding staircase and whimsical twisted railing ascended from the entry (gotten to, by way of a paint-chipped ladder) all the way through 3 levels, separated by circular platforms. The fourth and top level, likely reserved for the bravest kids, looked like it was at least 35 feet from the ground, not including the red-coned apex and ornamental antenna. A slide, that I could tell was once bright Caribbean blue, was mounted between the rocket’s fins and set unapologetically at a fast pitch.
As I was in the company of not only most of my crew, but at least three agents from Through Estates (who had been temporarily reassigned as our tour guides) I had to suppress my excitement and natural instincts to sprint straight for the rocket and start climbing.
Our overdressed guides explained to us that Thane Kellar, Through Estate’s CEO and developer of thousands of acres of real estate on the planet Agricolia, was a collector of physical representations of risk and reward throughout history. Apparently, he had strong opinions about the advantages of playing in the dirt, feeling the dizzying sensations of climbing too high, and brushing the tears away after earning the battle scar of a skinned knee. He had the authentic Cold War era playground installed on his personal property in the Crystallin Valley as both an exhibit and a place for his daughter Ellicia to play with her friends while she was growing up far away from Earth.
I remember being interested in meeting the eccentric trillionaire himself despite proving to myself again and again that I was no good at social interactions with obscenely powerful people. My selective social anxiety also extended to law enforcement officers, politicians, and all doctors.
Looking past the playground and beyond a glowing chrysotile canyon, I could just barely make out Thane’s mansion set 800 feet in the sky. It rested cloud-high atop a mineral-formed Kingspire that I could tell favored the color green. Just the fact that I could see Thane’s home from where I stood revealed its exorbitant grandeur, but it still failed to compare to the natural beauty that was so abundant on Agricolia.
Complex lighting, due to the quick rotation of multiple planets and moons, changed the hue of two monument sized translucent crystals in real time. Jutting proudly from auburn soil just beyond the playground, the twin crystals created the perfect natural boundary for the playground and (depending on house rules) may have provided a tempting surface to play on as well. It was hard to imagine a more breathtaking view; I could see why this particular spot had been selected by our guides to inspire our collective artistic vision.
The following morning, I took my Skycle back out to Crystallin Valley, sketchpad in hand. I went alone, because there was something that I needed to do that didn’t need an audience. First reverently touching the well-worn ladder, then testing it with my weight, I took a step up, then another until I was sitting at the highest level of the rocketship slide. Tracing fading stars, I thought about what it would’ve been like to play here when I was a kid and how far I’d come from my Recreation Cube. I let myself wallow briefly into melancholy, then let it fade and pass away with every step I took down the spiraling stairs. When I got to the appropriate platform, I couldn’t help myself, and didn’t try.
Hands high in the air, I slid.