I am ambivalent about visiting the Franklin Skate Plaza for one main reason: age.
By the standards of skateboarding I am positively hoary, decrepit, Paleolithic.
I am, sigh, 31… in the autumn of my life, at that advanced age of lighter sleep and more limited bladder control.
The afternoon I do decide to “man up”—and finally honor this personal vow to finally visit the Franklin Skate Plaza, located in nearby Jim Warren park—I note sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. As I pace inside our kitchen while drinking blueberry Kefir directly from the bottle, a Pandora’s Box of unpleasant images spills open in the mind.
“Get out of here, kook,” the youth of our leafy, but spiritually brutal suburban settlement will say upon my appearance at the skate park. “What are you, a molester?” their suspicious glances will impertinently ask.
“Hey you guuuuuuuys! How about Eminem huh? They’re bangin’, wouldn’t you agree? After this do you want to tweet Blackalicious on MySpace?” I will say to underage skaters in an attempt at rapport building.
It will end in an altercation.
“Hey what are you doing with my skateboard ??! No, please don’t! NO!” I will beseech the indifferent sky as I suffer untold violence.
Spouse will not want to be woken from her nap by a call from a health care provider. She will be decidedly nonplussed to learn of her husband’s age-inappropriate behavior and subsequent injury. “What were you thinking?” spouse will say. “Couldn’t you confine your 360 flips and shove-its to the garage? Can’t you more gracefully come to terms with your waning powers of nollie-kickflip?” she will add remonstratively.
Oh, it would not be pretty at the skate park. They don’t react kindly to interlopers there.
Still, there you are, at the helm of a red Honda Odyssey minivan, driving to the skate plaza on a late afternoon. As is your habit when rolling in the minivan, you are blaring a compact disc of thoroughly hoary hip-hop—in this case, the springy 2004 single “How We Do by The Game.”
Look at you. You’re pathetic.
Though it’s only a three or four minute drive, it feels like an eternity. You pass manicured lawns, subdivisions with evocative names such as Forest Crossing and The Carlyle, a Shell station, CORPORATE WOODS OFFICE PARK. Upon turning left off of TN-96 W and entering Jim Warren Park you espy a man-made pond featuring a lone fountain spewing in its center. The water is the color of diluted green copper, a weather-beaten penny.
From the distance, the skate plaza itself appears ominous. You see skaters coasting atop concrete blocks only to fall.
You put your sick whip in park.
I’m going to shine homey until my heart stops, Mr. Cent exhorts.
Used to see 5-0 throw the crack by the bench, Mr. Game adds.
Time to face your fears, grapple with your inner-demons, go on a blind date with destiny.
Or is it?
Do it, man. Murder that skate plaza. I will be there, if only in spirit, 50 seems to implore.
Cold comfort, Curtis. Cold comfort indeed.
The author rolls tentatively, ever so furtively, into the skate plaza. There’s about 10-15 adolescents. Some are congregating on a concrete block; a few are engaged in the athletic activity for which the plaza is designed. None are showing signs of intoxication, or perceptibly carrying semi-automatic firearms. There is even a pre-teen on a pink Razor scooter.
It’s all so anodyne. So not hardcore.
In fact, the author’s presence in the sparsely populated park goes unremarked. (Though, is it your paranoia, or did one of those kids cough and say, “molester” as he skated behind you?)
Where is the anti-authoritarianism? The non-conformity? The nihilism? Jim Greco’s neck tattoo, Geoff Rowley’s incandescent determination to destroy handrails, Mike Carroll’s insouciance?
Still, it feels good to be back here amid the stairs, the handrail, the concrete bowl carved into the hill like a chamber of the heart. This is why you decided to come, and you are glad you came. This is you, returning to yourself, making peace with your unrequited love. Indeed, whenever you see skateboarders in the distance, or are near skateboarding again after an extended absence, you always think of the hauntingly beautiful opening scene of John Updike’s Rabbit Run, in which the 26-year-old former high school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, while walking home from work, comes upon young basketball players in an alley and, on a whim, decides to join them. Returning to the game, Rabbit feels, in Updike’s elegant phrasing, as though he is reaching, “through the years to touch this tautness.”
But this was to be a short-lived skate session indeed. You had hardly even gotten in two ollies and only one feeble attempt at a nose manual when, just minutes after your arrival, a custodian appears to lock up.
The skate plaza, stated a clearly posted sign, closes at sunset.
That’s what you get for having put this off.
The adolescents begin departing in droves, leaving just two persons behind—a mother and a small child in extensive protective equipment. Helmet. Kneepads. Wrist guards. Elbow pads. The works. He can’t be more than seven, if that.
“You were very brave today,” she assures her son as she helps gather his skateboard.
The three of you begin walking to your respective vehicles. “What are you doing?” the small child asks. With some mutual embarrassment you make awkward eye-contact with the mother. “Just reliving my youth,” you say to her slightly sheepishly. It is precisely at this point that her son formally requests an interview with your intrepid author. “Hey, talk to me,” he says.
SMALL CHILD: What kind of skateboard is that?
AUTHOR: It’s an Anti-Hero skateboard. That’s the brand.
SMALL CHILD: Mine is green…
SMALL CHILD’S MOTHER: It’s a Shrek board.
SMALL CHILD: My brother has a G&S skateboard. It’s big like yours.
AUTHOR: That’s a good one.
SMALL CHILD: What time do you skateboard?
AUTHOR: Oh, I haven’t in awhile. Around this time.
SMALL CHILD: Tomorrow we could skateboard together.
AUTHOR: Maybe. Alright, well, keep it up.
Getting into the Odyssey, you think: You know what? I was brave today. I was very brave.