Monday, December 05, 2005

Blade Runner

A tight knot of teens and pre-teens has gathered out in front of the mall. They are slouched together in that self-consciously arrogant kind of way that proclaims to the rest of the world that in the Darwinian scheme of things, they are already on the next rung of the evolutionary ladder. If only all those totally un-cool old people would just get out of the way, the next generation would finally be able to make the world run properly - free X-boxes for everyone!
And there is this to be said for a new world order where kids rule: we'd all be better dressed. These kids are dressed in clothes that a humble hack such as yours truly can only dream about. With a tailoring and shopping savvy usually associated only with the upper echelons of society, these youngsters saunter through the day with the studied indifference of the fashionably homeless.
Anyway, what these tremendously cool and beautiful young people don't realize as they cluster together, shielding themselves from the rest of the world in their hormonal fog, is that while they are busy being cool and beautiful out in front of the mall, they are also in real danger of colliding with the older generation.
Because here I come: a middle-aged ex-hippie and former member in proud good standing of the post Second World War you-can't-trust-anyone-over-thirty generation of revolutionaries, with an attitude...
...on my brand new, in-line Rollerblades.
Rollerblades, for those of you who have been living in a shelter for the tragically un-hip for the past couple of years, are genetically engineered skates which look just like regular hockey skates - only on wheels. The effect of strapping on a pair of roller blades and moving over a paved surface is that of skating on very slippery ice without the benefit of padded winter clothing.
The skates are new. In fact, I bought them earlier in the day, and I am trying them out for the first time. At the insistence of the young sales clerk - officially known as "sales dude" in the common parlance of the pre-pubescent - I also bought all the necessary appurtenances of the sport: gloves, elbow and knee pads, helmet and shin guards, with the result that I look like some ageing, out-of-control road warrior, bent on self-destruction.
As I come down the hill and through the underpass by the Canadian Tire store, I am approaching a speed of Mach II, and it feels great! The skates are humming; the wind is whistling in my helmet straps. And I think: this is easy!
"More power, Scotty! We need more power!"
"The engines won't stand for it, Captain. We'll lose the ship!!"
"I don't care! Bones, go help Scotty. We need warp nine!"
"Damn it, Jim. I'm a simple country doctor, not a warp coil engineer..."
Then, coming around the corner of the Canadian Tire, I see that I am targeting the group of kids, and I suddenly realize that there is no way to stop a pair of in-line skates - at least none that I have found. I begin a frantic search for some place to touch down that won't involve an extended stay in hospital. Roaring through the underpass like a runaway freight train, I catch a glimpse of some graffiti spray-painted on the limestone: “Jesus Saves!” It says. I sure hope so.
The kids hear me before they see me. Somehow the sound of my run-away train has managed to penetrate the icy fog of self-absorption shrouding the kids, and they look around with the puzzled expressions of a flock of ducks hearing the sound of shotguns being loaded.
Then they part before me like slender willows bending before the onslaught of a flash flood, leaning gracefully out of harm's way as I go careening down the side walk, arms wind-milling, skates smoking, eyes shut, mouth open. And as I burst through the group, my performance is rated by the experts: "Awesome," is the verdict. "Totally out of control!" which is intended as a compliment, but which is also an accurate description of my condition. Whatever else they say is lost in the growing distance between me and them, but they are clearly impressed.
Fortunately, the side walk has a slight upward slope before petering out at the mall parking lot, and I manage a safe, if not very graceful, landing on a small patch of grass.
Later, soaking in a bath of Epsom salts, I reflect that all in all, it has been a pretty good day. I gained a fundamental understanding of a new sport (learn how to stop), and I had a brief but meaningful interchange with members of the normally uncommunicative younger generation.
The moral of the story seems to be that there may not be as much of a difference between generations as we are sometimes led to believe, and that the difference may be in how we go about living our lives. Learning how to roller-blade may not get me a better job or establish me as some kind of pillar of the community, but it surely does make the heart beat a little faster, and it reminds me that the characterization "crazy" can sometimes be a compliment.
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