The Laws of Gravity Hill
As I hit the 10 mile-per-hour hairpin turn near the top of Lopez Canyon Road, Heart’s “Bebe Le Strange” comes blasting out from my Volvo wagon’s low-fidelity stock 1999 speakers. It was just like the old days, except I don’t have a Michelob between my legs. Oh, and I’m trying to relive a memory that I never really had. It’s a hole in my teenage Valley saga that I’ll never be able to fill, so I have to do it sober and vicariously. Damn.
I’ll cop to it. In my barely beyond-mild youth, I never aimed my ’68 Camaro toward the Valley’s creepiest place: Gravity Hill. I never went, but I often thought about it, especially after I celebrated the greatest day of my life, birthday number 16. Life truly begins when that brand-new driver’s license is burning a hole in your pocket. Suddenly, there are options: You can throw eggs or toilet paper at the houses of kids you hate, then peel out at high speed. You have instant access to Tommy’s at 3 in the morning when your stomach and mind are already about to explode from too much skunk and booze. Those car keys open a lot of doors.
Gravity Hill was a mythical place. One that I’d only heard about in cryptic, hushed tones. Suddenly it became real, just a short drive down the 210. Which made it that much weirder. ‘Course, I use the term “mythical” loosely. In this case, as a cool, scary place to get fucked up.
While the good and popular kids did their best to spit on the Valley by driving their parent’s cars on Friday nights (non-football season) to Westwood, walking like sheep up and down its WASPy streets and spending too much for movies (what was wrong with the Peppertree? The Americana?), I was either vomiting on the pool tables of friends houses in Arleta, or gingerly navigating the rocks of Chatsworth’s Stoney Point, taking my sweet time on the climb so as not to drop the six-pack I carried under one arm.
But, damn, I never made it to Gravity Hill. It was the biggest myth of all. Located above Lake View Terrace, where Lopez Canyon Road meets Kagel Canyon, the Hill has long been a late-night freak show for wasted youth.
In the daytime, it seems perfectly innocent. Driver’s education teachers schlep their students up to Gravity Hill for a long and winding challenge. But when the sun sets, it becomes a trip into the Valley’s fringe. Lopez Canyon winds up the hill and ends just past the Glen Haven cemetery. If you go north, you’ll find yourself on a dirt road with ramshackle homes and trailers: meth lab central.
But the Hill itself is located when you begin the descent down Kagel Canyon. At the appointed place, you make a u turn, park pointed north, put your car in neutral and strangely enough, the car appears to roll uphill. But that’s not the weirdest thing.
I asked some of my old Monroe High School classmates – veteranos of Gravity Hill – about what they had heard and knew about the place. Steve Shaw told me this: “If you stop in front of Glen Haven Memorial Park for too long, little men will run out of the main building with white billy clubs and pound on your car, Particularly if you’re sucking down beers or bongloads and it’s late at night.” Fair enough.
Ed Nieto, another old pal from Monroe, offered this yarn. “A bunch of little kids were killed on Gravity Hill long ago, and if you put baby powder on your bumper, you’ll see little hand prints where the kiddie ghosts allegedly pushed your car uphill. Hanging out there, drinking beer around midnight was always good spooky fun.”
And tis one, courtesy of ghosttowns.com: “There is an abandoned swing set on top. if you go at 11 pm myth has it that you will see a little girl appear rocking back and forth, you can only see her with dim car lights DO NOT HONK! if she looks at you it’s time to go. If you don’t myth says she will be riding with you home!”
I parked my Volvo at the exact spot on Gravity Hill in the middle of the day -- without a cold one between my knees and a joint dangling from my lip. I closed my eyes and visualized, really, really hard. I hoped the ghosts, the memories, would come rushing back. I turned up the volume on “Even It Up.”
Nothing. The moment had passed and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. Dreaming my imaginary memories would have to be good enough.