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Gen Xers Playing On The Freeway and Other Free Range Things Before Free Range Was A Thing

Back in the 1970s and 80s, half of all Gen-Xers grew up in households headed by single moms. They didn’t call us free-range kids back then, but I suppose that’s exactly what we were. Latchkey kids that roamed the boulevards, back roads and byways of America. We dodged all kinds of dangers, both real and imagined. And we lived out our childhoods, whether rural, urban or suburban, with a level of independence that was not always in accordance with our age and development.


I love to scout out amazing pictures of Generation X. High-quality images from the 1970s are very hard to come by. I treasure the collection of 10,000+ images I’ve amassed over the years. Most of the photos were published in public forums beginning in 2002. In most cases copyright is unknown.

Playing on the Freeway

The following pictures feature two Gen Xers playing on the freeway. Actually, they’re roller skating on California State Route 118. The photos were taken in 1982, 12 years before the freeway was named for President Ronald Reagan.

Rachel lived on San Fernando Mission Boulevard and Reseda. She roller skated on SR 118 before it became busy with traffic.

Rachel lived on San Fernando Mission Boulevard and Reseda. She roller-skated on SR 118 before it became busy with traffic.

Gen Xers play on the Ronald Reagan Freeway at the Reseda Entrance, 1982.

Gen Xers play on the Ronald Reagan Freeway at the Reseda Entrance, San Fernando Valley, California, 1982.

The pictures got me to thinking about a few other photos I’ve collected of Gen-Xers doing free-range things. For example, this kid who did an Evil Knievel type jump over a row of his friends.

Boys in the San Fernando Valley of California form a human ramp over which their buddy jumps while riding a banana seat bike.

Boys in the San Fernando Valley of California form a human ramp over which their buddy jumps while riding a banana seat bike.

Or these boys skateboarding on a homemade ramp. Looks like fun…

la habra skate ramp homemade 1970s

These kids enjoyed “sanctioned” skateboarding at a place called Skatecross in Los Angeles. Good times – before everyone had a helmet and lawsuit for every little thing.

skatercross reseda blvd san fernando valley

Here are some older Gen-Xers smoking cigarettes behind their Los Angeles high school. Remember when schools let kids smoke?!

This is the Topanga Slide in Los Angeles. I remember going to a place like this as a kid and getting fiberglass and burlap burns on my arms. Again, nobody got sued and I certainly didn’t complain about my injuries. If I did, I might never get to go back!

Topanga Slide

I sure do have great memories of the nearly eight years I spent living in the San Gabriel Valley. It was so long ago, sometimes, I wonder if it was even real. I miss the concrete fences, palm trees, and all the mid-century signage on businesses. I miss that trip to Huntington Beach with my sisters and cousins and the fun times I had at Puddingstone in San Dimas wearing my bright orange Styrofoam safety bubble and trying not to drown. Mostly, I just miss the people who were in my life back then – my grandparents and my father.

What did you like most about your free-range childhood?

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Jeff Hailpern

    The photo with the kids smoking on the Gen Xers Playing on the Freeway blog page was taken behing the old Market Basket Store at Vanowen and Coldwater in North Hollywood California. Its across from Madison Junior High School and the photo was taken in 1977. We called it “The Wall”. Everyone in the photo is still alive and is between 57 to 58 years old. Most of us keep in touch. The tall guy in the middle wearing white long sleeves is Mike Parker and he still has the original photo.

    • Jennifer X

      That’s really great to hear, Jeff. Thanks for sharing. That is such an iconic picture to me.

  2. Eric Hann

    The picture with the skateboard ramp looks almost exactly like me and my older brother from that same time period (in Lakewood, Calif), and we had a ramp that looked exactly like it. Thanks for sharing these images : ) -Eric

    • Jennifer

      Hello, Eric! It’s so wild how pictures of girls during the 1970s feel like they could all be me! The subtleties in pictures – filters, backgrounds, the paper the photos were printed on, the shoes, the hair — it all forms a photo archive of our generation. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and were able to connect with it.

  3. Chloe Koffas

    These pictures are amazing, Jen. I don’t know if anyone has ever said thank you for taking the time to put together the huge Gen X photo collection you have (I didn’t realize it is already over 10,000 photos – that is incredible) so thank you for all the time you have put into this collection. Saving those photos before they disappear forever from the internet or otherwise is so important, because pictures not only ‘speak a thousand words’, but also often speak truth that doesn’t always get told in the form of text, and these images are such a vital piece of our collective history – cigarettes, roller skates, and all.

    • Jennifer

      I also started copying text of Gen X articles. One really good one published in a major paper disappeared the other day. It was the one that called Gen X financial wards of the Chinese. All those brilliant thoughts – disposed of. =( At least online…Thank you, Chloe – for your friendship and support.


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