Mack Williams column: Of skateboards and Darwin

  • Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013 1:13 a.m.

Recently, after setting the alarm at the end of the day at the old Danville train station/natural history museum, I opened the door to leave and saw the almost subliminal blur of a human form fly past, no more than a foot from my face.

My first thought was that, much to my surprise, without any announcing painful “twinge” or “spell,” I might be dying and was encountering that same phenomenon sometimes mentioned by others of seeing their whole lives pass before them at death’s threshold, before fortunately returning to tell of it.

I soon realized what I had seen was too brief to be a whole life, and that death’s door had not opened for me. What I had seen was instead brought about by my chance opening of the old train station door at the same time a skateboarder was darting by, so the only “passing” involved was the sort enabled by wheels.

The teenage skateboarder was seeking some fun with his board on the top of our museum’s entrance steps. I cautioned him about obstructing the public’s access to the building and the dangers to both an exiting patron and himself in the event of a collision. His response was very polite, saying “Yes Sir,” and he continued his fun a safe ways down from the museum’s entrance.

As I said, the youth was very polite and nice. This seems (at least to me) to be the norm for the young skateboarders whom I’ve met, or rather, who have rolled past me. They all seem to be so intent upon finding a place to experience a “good roll” (that’s probably not the correct terminology, since I am totally unfamiliar with this sport) as to be totally non-inclined to get involved in the type of activities which would run them afoul of the law.

Just the other day, I saw an example of one skateboarder displaying the fixed concentration of any other athlete. He was plying his sport on a sidewalk next to a busy city street. Half of the drivers had major portions of their attention spans attuned to their cellphones, with a decidedly less proportionate amount of attention devoted to their in-motion, 1- to 2-ton vehicles. This skateboarder’s “machine” only weighed about 10 pounds, but it was the recipient of all of its “driver’s” thought. The idea came to me that those motorists’ lack of full attention to their “rides” was likely to lead to the sort of negligence commented upon by both the policeman and the claims adjuster in their briefly penned “writings.”

For the most part, the skateboarders I have encountered are very adept at their sport. I have never observed one of them experiencing anything even remotely resembling “the agony of defeat,” but I’m sure that such perfection was only achieved through trial and error, just like the testing of rockets in the early days of the space program.

Not long ago, I saw another young skateboarder not very far from the museum’s door, and his appearance gave me cause for alarm! He was attempting to skateboard with a full cast on one arm and a partial cast on one leg. His “free” arm was being used to carry the skateboard.

When talking with the groups visiting our natural history museum, I will sometimes mention evolution and natural selection. Much is made of the fortuitousness of natural selection when it selects “for,” but there are many more non-fortuitous circumstances (especially for those so “chosen”) in which it selects “against.” We’ve all heard of the “Darwin Awards,” figuratively given (sometimes posthumously) to those who tempt fate in a very unwise manner.

I know it is laudable to try, then try again, but It seemed to me that the repeatedly injured young man, in making his attempt on the environs of a natural history museum, was, in a sense, putting the dare to Darwin on Darwin’s home turf.

I was just about to warn the double-cast adorned, determined skateboarder of this when the phone rang, necessitating my answering, so there wasn’t enough time to go into any detail with him. But I did manage to shout: “Take care!”

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