I no longer bounce.
Last week, I found myself intimidated in a skatepark, and my wife noticed, too.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like that before,” she said. “You were nervous.”
As dangerous as it sounds, I’ve been riding a skateboard for nearly half a century. If you can do it on a skateboard, I’ve probably done it as a kid. Standing on my hands, shooting steep hills fast enough to pass cars, skating up vertical walls to taste a momentary second of defying gravity — and then returning down to earth without crashing.
I am becoming more selective of my time in these concrete playhouses as I approach 60. Before dropping in, I generally walk around for a few minutes, exploring the caverns and inclines, charting out clean lines I can ride with minimal chance of taking an awkward fall. Because fall, I will.
Contrary to my younger years, I wear protective gear right down to a brain bucket (helmet) in the parks. My wife and even my employer insists.
In the last year, I’ve skated the country’s most famous and obscure parks. Each time before stepping in, I acknowledge I am no longer a teenager who can bend like Stretch Armstrong or bounce up again like a child’s Super Ball.
But this recent park, one in Paris, Texas, made me nervous unlike any other. Called a pump park, imagine a long circular strip of concrete or asphalt with dramatic undulations shaped like frozen-in-place ocean waves. And if you can keep moving, you can ride the loop until your legs cry for mercy. Relatively new, these require a skillset much different from riding up and down a vertical wall.
According to the description, Paris is home to the largest pump park in the United States. And, to me, the park presented a threshold I’ve not felt since a kid. For once, I could hear a little voice in my head reminding me my AARP card was sitting back in the truck.
My wife is a saint when I drag a skateboard along when we travel. Trains, planes and even an ocean-going ferry in the last year alone. Ask her, and she’ll tell you she married a boy who will never fully grow up — and I admire her for that.
Sitting inside the comfort of the air-conditioned truck, her usual spot when I visit a park, she generally steps out when she can’t see me or I’ve taken a fall and am slow to get up.
This time, my non-skating got her out of the truck.
“What are you thinking,? she asked.
“That I just might get killed,” I said.
I walked the concrete monster, looking for a stretch I could ride, take a fall and still get up. Finally, I found a short length with enough predictability I was willing to challenge the concrete gods. In I went.
Ten minutes later, I was in the truck tossing back a few ibuprofen tablets. But the bruising to my ego is forever.