Thursday, September 27, 2007

Instant Idiot: Just Add Wheels

Right, so. Back in the day, I used to rock the roller skates on Friday nights at Wheel-A-While, which was bar-none the place to be if you hadn't yet reached about 7th grade. It was a killer skating rink/hangout, with an arcade (complete with Galaga, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and others), foozball (but the older kids never let us play), skate rental, a little restaurant, a little store (more like a counter) where they sold quintessential 80's fare like fingerless gloves (mine were red) and spiked wrist bands (gray rubber, with black spikes). It's where anybody who was anybody went on Friday nights, and I'd frequently go there my buddy Chad (who was super cool, because he had his own skates, which were black with red wheels. Alas, I was relegated to the boring beige rentals) and, if we were lucky, meet up with the girls, including Jamie Doyle (how I loved her), who once told me that if I didn't take off my shiny red Lionel Richie tie she'd dump me. I held strong fellas. And she did dump me.

Anyway, I rocked those skates pretty well. During couple skating, when most of the losers were holding hands and skating side by side (with the disco-ball in full effect while Madonna swooned she was Crazy For Me), I'd flip around and skate backwards, my hands at my lady's waist (and God willing we wouldn't run into each other's skates...that was not super cool) with my O.P. shirt flittering in our manufactured wind and my jeans rolled just so at the ankles of my skates. Later on they'd clear the floor and have a limbo competition, and once in awhile I'd make it to the final few, though Chad seemed to always be a contender. Life was good when your hair was feathered, your skates were rolling, and the doves were crying.

I wasn't half bad at ice skating either, with an outdoor rink at my elementary school that we'd hit up on the weekends sometimes. I'd jump in and play some impromptu hockey now and then, and I could skate backwards with no effort and do those cool sideways-spraying-ice stops that the hockey players do. I did have my own skates, which my parents got for us for Christmas one year. Cool was indeed my middle name.

This was over 20 years ago. In my head, though, it's pretty fresh. So when I see people at intersections or crosswalks, waiting for the light to change while they teeter on their inline skates...then initiate 5 or 6 awkward pushes as they try and develop some momentum to cross the street, with arms flailing and legs unsure and feet going every which way, I always want to yell out the window at them. "Push with your other foot! It's not like walking you moron! ROLL! It's called a ROLLER skate you ignoramus!" Because though I'd not once in my life actually been on inline skates, I once limbo'd with the best of 'em in the 6th grade, and thus could easily be considered something of an expert.

So this weekend I went and picked up some inline skates. No helmet or knee or elbow pads - are you kidding? Those are for dolts - and as I drove back from the store imagined gliding down the street, the wind in my hair. I figured I'd have a bit of remembering to do, but c'mon. It's rollerskating. I'm sure it's like a bike - you never really forget. Yes, sure, these are 4 wheels in line rather than two-by-two, but that's just like ice skating then. In my mind I had it all worked out, how I'd privately demonstrate to all the goofballs I see on skates just how easy this is. The world, if it would, should watch and learn.

So I sat out on my curb and began wrapping the skates around my feet, these more like ski boots than the old lace-ups I remember. I had it all worked out, mentally. I knew before I even stood up how the skates would feel slippery beneath me. I pictured how I'd gain some leverage. I imagined two or three sudden push-offs, then poof! I'd be gone, slithering down the street. Just then Amy sat down in a lawn chair at the top of the driveway.

"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to watch."
"Oh. Uh. Why?"
"Because," she said, flipping a leg lazily over the other and leaning back, "I think this might be funny."

Bah. I'll show her. I stood up casually, like I've been doing this all my life. Suddenly the world slid out from underneath me and I'm somehow on one foot, my arms grasping the air in search of some kind of leverage that didn't exist. Like in a sitcom, I shouted, "Whooooaaaaa...ooohhhh....whoooaaaaa" while suddenly leaning forward, at last getting my leg back on the ground but now pitching forward. "Aaaaah crap!" I rolled forward a foot or two, bent 90 degrees at the waist with my arms straight up in the air behind me. Finally I came to a stop and, manufacturing some equilibrium, was able to stand upright. Amy was in hysterics so hard she couldn't breathe.

"Holy crap! This is hard!"
Amy caught her breath and said, "I should have grabbed the video camera."

I eyed the road suspiciously, wary that it might suddenly spin underneath me like that again, and thought to take a stride or two, get back some of my old mojo. I put one foot back to push off, but my foot disagreed with the idea and instead went forward, as one does when walking. Suddenly standing on ice again, my foot started sliding out from underneath me, so my other foot thought a great solution would be to place itself ahead of the other, as one would when taking another logical step while walking. Ah geez I look just like the idiot at the stop signs, I thought, and suddenly took 5 or 6 pitter-pattering steps in quick succession, totally against my will, as my feet tried to walk down the street and my brain tried to keep balance. I looked like a total boob.

"Seriously! This is freakin' hard!" And Amy's still over there laughing, not at me but with me, as I'm about to double over too I'm laughing so hard. This does nothing for my already precarious balance, and so suddenly my left leg is again instantaneously shooting out from underneath me, my foot suddenly straight out and waist height, my torso then leaning backwards as my arms wind around helplessly. Just as suddenly I find my composure. "Babe, you better bring me my bike helmet." A couple walking by, who for the last 3 minutes were witness to the show (though I just noticed them) were laughing at me too, and said, "and some knee pads, and wrist guards, and elbow pads...that's one dangerous sport right there!" and we all laughed at my expense as they giggled off.

While Amy retrieved my helmet I finally managed a few strides, and while my brain knew just how it wanted to go, my feet could not figure out that walking was not the order of the day. Finally convincing them of this totally unconventional thing I was attempting, they reluctantly gave in and I was able to push off and glide a bit. Not too bad!, I thought. I'd stride 10 or 15 feet, then come to a stumbling stop, carefully turn around (often while leaning completely forward...for some reason a zone of comfort), and then stride back. A few more back and forth like this, and I wasn't feeling quite so alien.

My helmet finally on, I told Amy I'd head down the block a bit and then come back - she worried that I should take my phone in case I cracked my head open. I assured her I'd be in the neighborhood and wouldn't be much for calling anyway with a cracked head, and began rolling down the street.

The thing is, inline skating is hard. It's just hard. You have all this balance to be constantly considering. You push off on one foot to glide on the other, and you have to manage balancing on the one leg while also keeping your ankle from giving way. The upper body seems to be totally disconnected from the legs, all tense and nervous. My shoulders were hunched up by my ears, my arms bent at the elbows and flapping in a weird bird imitation. None of this was going to plan. I was not cool at all. Where was my old technique? How was it possibly this hard? I thought back to the guy who used to skate by me on my old running trail in Minneapolis. He was effortless! He'd push and glide, push and glide. His arms would swing naturally from side to side. His power was impressive, his form sleek and efficent, his speed consistent. I, on the other hand, looked like a diseased partridge.

Just then two girls, not more than seven years old, bolted around the corner in front of me, both wearing pink helmets and atop their own inline skates. They flew! I was astounded. Their feet were not in argument with their legs! Their shoulders weren't touching their ears! Neither had her butt sticking way out, like some kind of rudder. Just then I'd hit the tiniest crack in the pavement, or the slightest bit of gravel, and suddenly my tideous glide would be interrupted and I'd be relegated to stumbling again, the awkward steps of a newborn. No, this was not cool.

Plus - cripes, it hurt! I turned around at the end of the block and my legs were killing me! My back was sore! I was breathing hard, I was sweating, my heart rate was up - I thought this would be easy breezy, like skating back in the day. Then it occurred to me - you know what, I bet my skates are jacked up. I bet I overtightened the wheels and I'm getting way too much resistance. Because those girls were flying down the street, and there's no way it's this difficult. So, I sat down on the curb, detached my left skate with its series of buckles and straps, and held it up, giving the wheels a spin with my hand and expecting them to turn only half a revolution or so. Instead they rolled on fluidly. Ah, shit. I really do suck this bad then.

Skate back on, then, I continued the rest of the way home and tried to focus. The key seems to be the upper body. Maybe I should've taken lessons first? Do they even have lessons for inline skating? I'm sure they do. Didn't Erin or CoS or somebody at dinner the other night say something about the adult courses you can take for twenty bucks? I wonder if they have an inline skating course. Computers 101, Photography For Beginners, Quilt Making for Housewives, Inline Skating for Idiots. Where do 7-year old girls learn it? Ah crap, a cute girl running with her dog. Try to look cool, like you've done this before. Please don't fall please don't fall please don't fall. Don't smile you idiot, just look straight ahead! Okay, whew. And I stumbled my way mostly from parked car to parked car, grabbing their bumpers like life preservers. The last half block or so was the best, when I figured that relaxing my shoulders and arms, attempting to look somewhat natural, made the rest of me relax and I could then go a little more efficiently.

The next day my back was sore, my legs were sore, my feet were sore, and I considered that a good thing - it meant I was working out new muscles - but it was totally unexpected. I made a stop by the sports store and picked up a new helmet (bike helmets are only meant to withstand a single impact, and no sense ruining my expensive hat when I inevitably fall on my head) and all the pads and guards they sold. No question that I am going to make friends with the cement if I continue this pursuit, so I better be prepared. Turns out if the pads and stuff are for dolts, I am their king.

Yesterday, then, I headed out for my second foray and it was a thousand percent improved. I was able to glide longer and with more consistency, and did a lot less of the weebly teetering that was most of my ride a few days earlier. The key is to lean forward a little bit, but not too much; no need having one's ass three feet behind him. Also, relax the upper body. All that tension just throws off the balance. In fact, I was feeling pretty good when I got to the end of the block and thought I'd continue on down my normal running route. Here I was happy to find myself doing a crossover turn on accident, some of the old technique coming back just a little bit. I started cheerufully humming Lionel Richie's "Hello", which was mine and Jamie's song, the forlorn anthem of sixth graders in love. Reminiscing just a bit, relaxing my mind, enjoying the crisp weather. I imagined I wasn't looking like quite the imbecile I did a few days ago, and would nod or wave at passers-by like just one more casual skater. How come everybody else I see on skates is least 10 years younger than me. Is there an age limit to this sport? Hmmm. it me you're looking for...The helmet I just bought, it has somebody's name on it. Like, somebody apparently famous, or well known or something. I've never heard of him. something something something, or is someone loving you... Did I just buy a teenager helmet? Good Lord I think I did. Do they make non-teenager helmets? ...I can see it in your eyes...but I haven't got a clue...something something something...I love you... Can I push a stroller with inline skates on? Geez, did I just ask that? I bet I'm instantly uncool if I even have to ask that question. I wonder if I'll be a total embarrassment to my daughter before she even understands the concept.

Just then I reached the end of the sidewalk, and it tapered down into the slightest decline before meeting the street. I noticed a bit of mud where the curb met the street, so angled for a narrow section that was most clean. I bent my knees a bit, picturing myself smoothly crossing where the sidewalk met the street and continuing with my stride. All around me cars were stopping at the intersection, all moving parallel to me. I coasted down the decline, leaning slightly forward. Then when I hit the street, my weight was too far foward and I was pitching ahead. In an effort to recover I suddenly leaned way back, and that old left foot again thought it woud be fun to be airborne and kick out to my waist, like a Rockett at Radio City. I stood there, balancing on one foot with my leg straight out in front of me and my arms pinwheeling madly around me, my cool-kid shiny black helmet endorsed by a name I didn't recognize perched atop my head, weird body-armorish knee and elbow pads wobbling away as my limbs tried to sort themselves out, and in slow motion promptly fell backwards right on my ass. I sat down hard with a thud, and was laughing out loud before I opened my eyes. When I did, I saw all the drivers in the cars stopped at the signs around me were laughing me, not with me. Whaaaaat an idiot! Get a load a this guy!" Shaking their heads and wiping their eyes, they drove through the intersection on their way to tell thier husbands and wives about the moron they saw rollerskating down the street. Meanwhile, I attempted to get back up; no easy task with legs sliding away independently of each other while I resorted to that old familiar position of bent 90 degrees at the waist, waiting for the world to stop spinning around underneath me for just two seconds.

I managed three miles, though, which I was pretty happy about. When I got home I told Amy how excited I was that it went so much better, though I'd fallen smack on my ass. I mentioned to her that maybe somebody I'll do an inline skating marathon! She looked at me, her head tilting annoyingly to the side and her shoulders falling in a gesture of are you kidding me? before she said, "Let's just try for awhile to not fall down, hmm?"


Team Brazo said...

Very, very funny -- I live in the same hometown -- next time you'll need to notify us to come watch. I'll have to keep your info in mind if my "Next Thing" happens to be inline skating -- hopefully not!

TZilla said...

I would have cleaned out my savings to see this, hilarious!

How did you make it down your driveway? That is one steep SOB!

Karl On Sea said...

So very, very funny! I too used to skate - up to 15 hours a week on the ice when I was in my mid teens. Since then I've learned to ski . . . and when I took my daughter to our local rink I wore my old and very cool hockey skates (complete with a rocker profile to the blades). The trouble was that my muscle memory had converted to skis, and was expecting 3 ft of plank sticking out in front and behind me. The consequences were . . . amusing for all concerned.

CznE said...

Hey- I'll go with you. I had my rollerblades in my trunk for the longest time, but I'll put them back in there so we can go.