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A Palatine Past - Cracking Whips on Reseda

Memories of growing up in Palatine during the 70s and 80s. In 1981/. After watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark" at Woodfield, we bought whips and learned how to loudly crack them on Reseda Parkway.

I found my whip a few days ago.

Oh, come on – doesn’t everyone have a 12-foot long bullwhip tucked away in a box at home?

There’s a logical answer to your question of “Why does Krawczyk have a whip?” and the answer is: Indiana Jones.

It was the summer of 1981. I was 18, my best friend Cathy was 19, and we watching the blockbuster “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at Woodfield Theatre, back when there were only two screens. Two.

Cathy stared at the movie screen, her eyes growing wider with each crack of Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. The sharp snap of the whip sounded like a bullet being fired, and it was that very sound that ignited the lightbulb to go off above her head. She leaned towards me, her eyes never leaving the screen.

“We’re getting whips,” she whispered firmly.

My head snapped around to look at Cathy. Without even questioning her statement, I grinned. Yes, yes we would.

Why? Simply put, the whips sounded and looked cool. It was a summer of freedom, of independence and of silliness. Besides, we both had money to burn with all the hours we worked while still living at home.

A few days later we were on our way to make our grand purchase.

“Whereja say this place was?” I asked.

“The Libertyville Saddle Shop. I called over there and found out they carry leather whips. It’s not too far.”

 “How we even gonna learn how to crack those things?” I wondered aloud.

“With practice baby. Lots of practice. We can do it.”

Once inside the shop we stood in front of the display of whips, smiling. There was an assortment of lengths available though we didn’t have a clue as to what made one easier to use over the other.

“Which ones do we want?” I asked, holding one of the whips. “What size did Indy have, do you think?”

Cathy pushed aside the 8-foot-long whips and pulled out a 10-footer.

“The other ones look too short,” she mumbled, gripping the whip in her right hand. She tried flicking it, but no sound resulted. I also grabbed a 10-foot one as I tried tossing it around.

“Wait …” Cathy hesitated, then put the 10-foot whip back in the display. She pulled out another whip, her eyes lighting up. “This one.”

I looked over at her and laughed.

“Twelve feet! I’m sure!”

“No, these are perfect. Look how long they are. They definitely make more noise.” She stood there already looking like she knew what she was doing, flicking the whip across the aisle.

I quickly tossed the 10-foot whip aside and grabbed my own 12-footer. I looked at Cathy and smiled. “Let’s get ‘em.”

Standing at the register, we each plunked down 80 bucks for the purchase, thinking nothing of paying such an amount for a whip. But not just a whip -- a 12-foot-long whip.

All the way home we laughed and talked about how good we were going to become in using the whips. Neither one of us gave any thought about the fact that there was absolutely no logical point to our whip purchase. The whips just sounded cool in the movie. That’s all there was to it.

By the time we reached Cathy’s house at the end of Reseda Parkway, next to the quarry, it was already dark outside. We went to the middle of her street and stood, ready to begin cracking. Only the cracking wasn’t happening.

“*BLEEP*!” I shrieked, as the end of my whip caught me straight across my back. “My God, that hurts!”

Cathy laughed at my inability to use the whip. Holding the sleek black handle of her whip in her hand, she held her right arm behind her and quickly flung it forward and up, raising the end up the whip towards the sky and quickly brought it down, waiting to hear a crack.

“Oww!!” Cathy yelled out, no longer laughing. The whip had slapped against her entire back, forcing her to stumble in the street.

I looked at Cathy, glanced down at my whip, and then back over at Cathy. I saw the problem.

“They’re too long.”

Darn, we both thought. Should’ve gone with the 10-footers, or even the 8-footers for that matter. With the both of us standing no taller five and half feet, the 12-foot long whips were definitely much too long to handle efficiently.

“We can do this Sue! We just gotta learn the trick, that’s all.”

After a few more tries and more shouts of “*BLEEP*!” our backs were stinging, no longer making whip owning much fun.

“Here, I’ll grab us some coats,” Cathy yelled, as she ran inside her house. She returned a moment later with a couple of feather down jackets we could wear to help protect our tender, tube top-wearing summer backs.

The added padding of the coats seemed to give us more courage as we became bolder in trying to flick our whips just right without flinching. The trick, we were learning, was to slowly drag the whip along the ground before raising it in the air and then quickly snapping their arms down, forcing the whip to pop through the air.

“It’s in the wrist, Sue, it’s all in the wrist. Watch!”

Cathy demonstrated as I paid close attention. We’d both yet to actually crack the whip, but knew they were getting closer to getting the hang of it from the sounds of occasional little snaps and pops. Cathy snapped the whip down with great force.

CRA-AAAACK!!

A sound strongly resembling a bullet being shot instantly ripped through the quiet suburban night, catching both of the girls by complete surprise.

“Aiiieeeeeeeee!!!!!” we both screamed triumphantly in unison.

I immediately followed Cathy’s specific instructions and attempted to duplicate her actions. Nothing. Again. Nothing.

“The wrist Sue! Totally let your wrist relax.” Cathy cracked her whip again to demonstrate.

Hearing that sharp crack only made me more determined. Again, I raised my whip, only this time when I snapped my arm down I completely relaxed her wrist.

CRA-AAAACK!!

“Yeessssssssss!” I screamed, thrusting her arms skyward in a touchdown motion. We got it. We could crack our whips. We now both were Indiana Jones.

There we stood in the middle of Reseda Parkway, never knowing if any neighbors were even peeking out from their living room curtains to witness two 18-year-old girls — wearing down jackets in July — cracking 12-foot long whips.

We spent the next hour laughing, cracking until both our shoulders were too sore to raise the whips any longer. We’d shed the coats a while ago, having gained enough confidence to not need the padding. Sweating, we plopped down on the curb. I pulled out two cigarettes, lit them both, and handed one to Cathy.

Cathy smiled, drew on her cigarette and leaned her head back to look at the stars shining above. Exhaling, and still looking at the stars, she smiled.

“We’ve got whips.”

Without skipping a beat, I smiled back at her. “And we know how to crack ‘em.”

A couple days later in my own backyard on Whitcomb Drive, I continued practicing the finer art of whipping, determined to be able to crack my whip with expertise. Wanting to be able to do more than just simply raise the whip it crack it for noise, I wanted to be able to use it. Throwing on a jacket for padding, I headed toward the bushes in the backyard and began flicking the whip sideways in an attempt to snap off some leaves. It was working. It was helping gain more control.

“Is that your sister? What the heck is she doing?” Tom asked, peeking out from my little sister Cheryl’s bedroom window. My brother David rolled his eyes, unable to answer his friend.

“I dunno. She got that whip last week with her friend. I don’t know what she’s doing.”

My dad walked through the kitchen while my mom was getting supper ready.

Wha-accck!

“What the heck....?” Puzzled, he turned toward the sound he just heard and walked to the back door.

Wha-accck!

He watched as leaves from his bushes fluttered in the air as they were being ripped from their branches. I stood there, wearing a winter coat, flicking a long whip into the bushes.

Mumbling, he just walked out the kitchen as Mom watched him leave. She smiled and peeked out the back door at me. Shaking her head, she simply went back to preparing dinner wondering how many other mothers at this moment were making dinner to the sounds of a whip cracking in their backyard.

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