April 7, 2013

Skateboarders are taking over streets


---- — I don’t want to be the cranky old man yelling “Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!” That’s just not me.

I don’t actually care about my lawn. Walk on it all you want; as long as you pick up your dog’s mess and don’t toss cigarette butts onto it, I’ll give you a smile and a friendly wave.

The coming of spring, however, has brought out a more troublesome youthful menace, which is forcing my inner curmudgeon to the surface.

“You, skateboarders, get off my road!”

Specifically, get out of the middle of the road while I’m trying to drive on it.

I don’t have anything against skateboards in general. I had one myself as a child, back in the days when the board was a skinny plank, not a giant slab. I enjoy watching the jumps and tricks that the experts can do, and every day for the past six years I’ve re-watched Jake Brown’s epic crash in the 2007 X Games — the one where he fell 50 feet or so and his shoes exploded on impact (but he walked away with only minor injuries). Awesome.

One of my sons even has his own board — but if I ever caught him riding it in traffic, I’d break the thing into pieces.

I don’t know if the perpetrators are college kids or high-school kids — under the age of 30, they all look like kids to me now — but they show up at all hours of the day on virtually any street in the city, cruising casually down the middle of the road as if they were behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry.

Just having four wheels doesn’t make you a moving vehicle. You don’t have a bumper, a seat belt, an airbag. I’m fairly sure you don’t have collision insurance.

I’ve nearly run over at least a half-dozen skateboarders in the past couple of years, almost four of them by accident.

Not only are they in the middle of the street, where they shouldn’t be, but often they won’t move when they’re approached by a car. Though to be fair, if you’ve got headphones on, you’re texting and you’re guzzling a Red Bull, it’s hard to notice that there’s a minivan behind you.

It’s the lack of simple common courtesy that annoys me most. When I’m in a car, I’m generally on my way somewhere, and I’m most likely running a few minutes behind. I don’t need to be slowed down by your skateboard, or by having to fill out an accident report with the police.

And hey, if you’re going to cut in front of me, how about a hand signal? No, not that hand signal.

I don’t really understand the appeal of the skateboard as transportation. Yes, it’s marginally faster than walking, but it’s slower than a bicycle, and once at your destination you have to carry the board with you.

Sure, a skateboard has other uses. It can be utilized as a clubbing weapon, especially during a zombie apocalypse. It can be a portable picnic table. A shoe horn. A bridge over a very small stream. An emergency flotation device. A makeshift Lazy Susan for the Thanksgiving table.

Still, can’t skateboard use be contained to sidewalks, where they’ll only annoy pedestrians wielding nothing more dangerous than a heavy purse?

If skateboarders want the danger of near-death experiences, how about rock climbing, or ax-juggling or lion taming? Something that won’t affect the rest of us.

I know that sometimes the sidewalks can be uneven, and the city refuses to make skateboard-only lanes. They also refuse to make dog-walking lanes, unicycle lanes, horse and buggy lanes, but the rest of us find a way to make do.

Skateboarders seem unlikely to stay out of the roads in the spirit of friendship and community. In fact, the problem seems to be getting worse. Do we need to get law enforcement involved?

Since they insist on acting like motor vehicles, make the skateboarders wear license plates, so they can be more easily identified. If they break the traffic rules, haul them in. I’m not sure what the official charge would be, but perhaps 48 hours in jail with the other hardened criminals — murderers, thieves, drug dealers, serial illegal parkers — will send a message.

Police have sting operations to catch drug dealers, prostitutes and smugglers; in one sunny day they could probably round up every illegal skateboarder in the city.

If, instead, the authorities feel they should decriminalize skateboarding activity, couldn’t they institute a skateboard-buyback program? Free bus pass and a discount coupon for a handgun with every skateboard turned in?

I’m not a cranky old man. I just want these kids to get off my roads.

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