My Adolescent Jackassery Can Be Summed Up in Two Words: Tree Riding
How boredom and booze created an outlaw sport best left alone
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Over the course of my professional life, I’ve heard the maxim “Success happens when preparation and opportunity collide” more than a couple of times. It usually accompanies a big-hearted “Congrats!” when I leave one job for the next “adventure,” as we pretend jobs are on LinkedIn. A motivational-speaker guy named Zig Ziglar popularized that nugget, the live-laugh-love of the corporate world, although the internet tells me it was derived from something that Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, once said.
Anyway, Zig, bless his soul, seemed like a nice fella. And I do agree with him to an extent, as a forty-something father now, with my own troops to rally. Plus, like me, he grew up in Mississippi, and we mostly stick up for each other here—outside of SEC football rivalries. I don’t mean to besmirch Zig’s legacy of motivational books and whatnot. But for the sake of this story, I’ll instead say that “Tree riding happens when boredom and booze collide.” Or maybe just “Tree riding happens when boredom and boys collide.”
We’ll get to tree riding. But first we’re going to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, a small, postcard-pretty town along the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean Springs is best known as the laid-back home of the late watercolorist and naturalist Walter Anderson, an eccentric who would row his skiff to uninhabited Horn Island, a dozen miles offshore, to paint landscapes and wildlife. Before Ocean Springs became a destination for artsy types and vacationers staying at casinos on the other side of Biloxi Bay—all drawn by a downtown lined with shops and bars and restaurants—it was a quiet place intermittently interrupted by kids like me and my friends on skateboards and BMX bikes.
Faced with a lack of real oppression in our own Mayberry, we excelled at creative recreation in our teenage years. Occasionally that meant flouting authority by leaping off bridges, jumping out of speeding boats, maybe knocking down mailboxes, if the statute of limitations on that has passed—you know, gingerly riding the line between mischief and delinquency but mostly staying out of trouble. We were feral nineties kids, the last generation to roam neighborhood streets and wooded lots until the streetlights came on, and we have the scars to prove it.