Adventures in Rollerblading (March 2010)

I’ve had some pretty winning ideas in my time. There were the light-blocking curtains that kept the sun from casting death rays on mine and Ashley’s token sleep-in Saturdays back in the old apartment. There was my brilliant plan to arrange my books by genre rather than author on my shelves, and of course the two-for-one tonic of ginger ale and orange juice to provide both carbonation and vitamin C during cold and flu season. Sometimes good ideas come in great revelations (alphabetized books) and sometimes they are the result of trial and error (it took a while to find the right curtains). Sometimes an idea can sound exceedingly promising and then descend into something entirely different. It is in the spirit of such descents that I recount the events of the last hour.

The citizens of Broome County and the surroundings areas, differences aside, can all agree that the arrival of spring to our formerly frozen tundra is cause for celebration. Determined to make the most of the sunshine and reacquaint myself with the great outdoors, I decided to go search for my rollerblades. Since moving to the city of Binghamton last year, I have become a happy resident in a neighborhood with sidewalks and street corners, something I had not had in a long time. Enamored with the quaint streets of the West Side, I decided to take the ‘blades out for a spin for the first time since the lion of winter melted into the sweet and mild lamb of springtime.

Having considered myself a season roller blader from my happy afternoons at the rail trail last summer, I thought nothing of the endeavor. I soon realized a slab of blacktop stretching for two miles does not necessarily equal two miles of thin sidewalk complete with unevenly spread concrete, cars protruding from driveways, dog walkers and telephone polls that seemed to close in as I barreled erratically down Matthews Street. As I narrowed my eyes to the path ahead, I realized I was now faced with either embarking on a downhill journey toward Leroy or having to make a right-hand turn at the stop sign. I winced, trying to lean back in an effort to slow down and prolong the impossible choice. Crossing one wheeled foot over the other and trying not to close my eyes, I managed the turn and breathed a sigh of relief.

That was when I saw the little girl on the bike.

I love children. So plowing her over was not an option. This was broad daylight. I leaned back on the treads and felt myself slowing down, but not quite slow enough. I also realized I was going to need to manage another turn. Suddenly it felt as though the world was closing in and all of my choices were being taken away, at least all the ones I would have preferred. I grasped my iPod and clicked pause.
“Can I pass you?” I asked, but no sooner had the word left my mouth that the little girl stopped riding and went over to the side to allow me my wish. Barely muttering a thank-you, I maneuvered the next turn in one fluid moment and suddenly felt ten feet tall. But my pride was short lived as I now realized that I had turn on to a slightly declining street and was gathering momentum. A purple car was sticking out of the driveway a good twenty feet away…now ten…now five…
Breathless and wide-eyed, I chose the most manicured-looking lawn to the right and threw myself on to it. Relief mixed with an immediate itch from the prickly grass came over me in great wave, and I inched back on to my feet, carefully navigating the rest of the way to the road’s end, making a mental catalogue of all the people I would not want driving by at this very moment to see me rolling along without even the illusion of steadiness.

It was smooth sailing after that for a while. I looked at the picturesque scene before me houses, the elderly gentleman hosing his lawn, the people who apparently thought garbage was picked up on Saturdays, the too-young girls prowling the streets in halter tops. Maybe not all of it was picturesque…but either way, I was enjoying my afternoon adventure that had in all reality unfolded with no real bodily injury. I began playing a little game in my head “Is that a pine cone or dog poop? Pine cone or poop? Pine cone or…

The next thing I knew, the very concrete beneath my feet was coming closer and closer as I felt my legs flail into the air behind me. I lifted my arm in an effort to save my iPod from any damage just in time to meet the ground with the rest of my body. “How can this be?” Thought I, “I am but a few strides from home…”

That of course meant that the people outside who all saw this all but graceful descent to the earth were of course my most immediate neighbors, all of which stopped to inquire whether or not I was all right.

My long-held instinct to at least be the first to laugh at my own failures had already kicked in and I rose from the sidewalk in hysterics. “I think that’s all, folks,” I announced to upper Crary “I’m going home now.” And with that, I rolled up the street and left to my abode, now having replaced the “Pine Cone vs Poop” game with the “Exactly How Severely Am I Bleeding?” game.
Life is a series of good ideas and bad ones with the occasional notion that morphs before your very eyes. But despite a scratch and what appears to be a quickly swelling calf bruise, I am not ready to declare my afternoon activity to be a misadventure. Time, hydrogen peroxide and laughter has a way of healing most wounds, leaving me with perspective and wisdom which I hope will not fade in time.
For instance, I now have a valuable checklist by which I will evaluate potential roller blading locations. Is this an evenly paved street? Is there an incline? Is there a soft bed of grass on to which I can throw myself when things get rough? What is the probability of small biking girls? There are things to take into consideration.

I am always thankful for the opportunity to exercise my discerning mental muscles, and would encourage all my reader to do the same in moments of success or failure and the murky places where it could go either way. There is, of course, always something to learn no matter what the circumstance.
Rollerblading, like skydiving, pastry baking, and woodworking, is an activity that is location-sensitive. It is with that that I declare my return to the rail trail for all further blading endeavors. West Side, I’ll see you on a jog.

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