7:20:13 This Ain't California

Okay, I admit I stole this title from a documentary film about skateboarding in the late socialist German Democratic Republic, which you might see a bit of here. But "This Ain't California" points to a fundamental truth about life in the last fifty years. That is, California has exported its four-wheeled, foot-powered vehicular invention to virtually everywhere on the globe where concrete exists. Skateboards make concrete beautiful.

I'm not sure who rode the first skateboard. What is known is that the "skate" in "skateboard" is significant. The predecessor to the skateboard was the crate scooter (pictured here) cobbled together by youths who took two-by-four's and nailed halves of a roller skate front and rear and attached a crate with wooden handles and were off scootering about the sidewalks of cities. Crate scooters go back to Great Depression days or earlier.

When surfing took off in California in the late 50s, the story goes that some California surfers wanted to work on their surfing skills when ocean waves were not worth the bother.

[crate scooter]

An unknown surfer saw a crate scooter and wondered, What if I took off the crate and simply stood on that two-by-four with wheels, like a surfboard?

The old steel-wheeled skateboards (from repurposed roller skates) lasted a few years at most before manufactured, not homemade, skateboards took over. Not clunky two-by-fours, but sanded and varnished hardwood, laminated decks riding on hard clay wheels.

And when polyurethane wheels replaced clay wheels, skateboarding took a quantum leap forward: Amazing tricks were now possible with the grippy wheels. So in the 21st Century, where there's concrete, there's skateboarding.

A few years ago, I was in Helsinki, Finland and visited the Kiasma, a museum of modern art. I was somewhat surprised, but then not surprised, the Finns thought it worthwhile to exhibit skateboard decks for their artistic value.

But more importantly, I noted outside the Kiasma, on the surrounding walkways and at some curbs worthy of serious grinding, a cluster of young Finns was busy taking turns on their skateboards doing tricks. One skateboarder, in particular, in the midst of doing an ollie, stood out and left me speechless.

He had on a white T-shirt and printed on its front in large letters were the words: AMERICA AMERICA AMERICA.

America has done much in the world, for good and for less so. But for those living in "This Ain't California," making concrete beautiful is the good that has and will last.

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(click to enlarge image)

The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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