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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Friday, June 28, 2019


David Swain at the Ann Arbor Skate Park,  September 2014

When my family moved to the new Westaire Terrace subdivision near Haisley School in 1958, Vet's (Veteran's Memorial) Park was still known as the fairgrounds (it had replaced Burns Park in the 1920s as the site for the county fair). A few old buildings still stood on the high ground near Jackson Road where where the fire station, pool and ice rink are now.

There weren't any softball or baseball diamonds yet on the northern, lower area. In their place stood an old harness-racing oval track, though it hadn't been used for a few years. My older sister (who was quite the horse-fancier) was rather disappointed that there had been plenty of equestrian activity in the area, but we got there too late (we had moved from the Burns Park neighborhood, but we didn't know at the time about the relationship between Burns Park and Vet's (you can still see the outline of the track from the way the trees were planted at Burns Park).

I was never any good at most sports, but while still at Haisley School, I decided to try playing golf. My father also took up the game and for many years, we enjoyed playing together about once a week. After my father died in 2014 at age 90 (he scored his last birdie at age 89), I couldn't afford to keep up the membership at Radrick Farms, so I needed to find an alternative sport/activity.

My dad had been living at Hillside Terrace on Jackson Road for a few years and I was nearby in the Hollywood Park subdivision near Abbot School, so I would drive by Vet's Park quite often. The Ann Arbor Skate Park was under construction and would open on the first day of summer in 2014. My first contact with skateboarding (or "sidewalk surfing" as it was then known) was in 1963 when our family took a trip out west in our 1959 2-cycle, 3-cylinder SAAB.

I got a skateboard two years later from Beaver's Bike and Hobby on Church Street (where the Brown Jug back room is now). When M-14 (then called "Northbelt") was first built, a friend and I rode from by the Newport bridge down to the river before it was open to traffic. Coming home, we skated down Wines Drive where my erstwhile sixth-grade teacher, Bill Browning (Mr. B) saw me and remarked on how graceful I was on the skateboard, in contrast to any other physical activities that I had ever engaged in.

I continued to skate through the years. There is a brief film clip of me skateboarding in the legendary Ozone Parade (probably the second one [1973?]) streaming a big American flag behind me. I broke my elbow in 1992 rolling around during a break at my band's gig.

I had never even seen a skate park before one was built right in my neighborhood.

On opening day, I was down there with my bike helmet, garden kneepads, thick-soled Reeboks and my 20 year old skateboard (my "new" one). One of the many great things about the AASP is that no matter what your ability level, there are things you can do there. After going down a few of the gentler ramps, I got the courage to try one of the swimming-pool shaped bowls. I figured (incorrectly) that the more westerly pool (the "kidney bowl") was better for beginners because it had steps going down into it.

I descended the steps and got on my board and gingerly pushed off. The board (and I) accelerated down into the depths and when I got going as fast as was comfortable, I stepped off by kicking the board backwards out of the way. I stood and thought to myself "This is great! So far so good."

Skateboarding isn't rocket science. But it does share some characteristics with NASA including ballistics, and Newtonian physics. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Also, what goes up, must come down. Unbeknownst to me, my board had rolled up the concrete surface, paused ever so briefly, and then reversed its direction. Like the movie shark bent on revenge, the board silently and with ever increasing speed homed in on its target.

In Homer's "The Illiad," Achillles was the very personification of youthful strength, beauty, and valor. He was killed by Paris's arrow that struck him in the heel of his foot, his only vulnerable part. The tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone is called Achiles tendon. The term "Achilles heel" refers to a person's weak spot.

So, I'm standing in the bowl, savoring my modest success, when suddenly I collapse in a heap with a searing pain in my ankle. The board ricocheted off me, rolled up and back again, then nuzzled up against my prostrate form, like a beloved pet trying to console me.

In an example of hope over experience, I look forward to having that pain go away sometime in the future.

Posted by John Hilton at 12:37 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


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