Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All In All We’re All Just Bricks In the Wall

“Jump it! Jump it!”

And with those words I found myself at the top of Park, where it turned west into Rosewood, on my bike, eyeing the rickety little ramp supported by a cinder block & the curb down the street. Growing up, my friends were all skate rats. As I have the balance (on a skateboard, at least) of a drunken sailor on shore leave with a severe inner ear infection, I gravitated toward bikes. I & my trusty Murray BMX bike were known far & wide as the fastest pedal powered thing on two wheels. We were also known to enjoy jumping.

Which, looking back now, almost got me killed on more than one occasion.

At the time, though, fear of potential broken bones & shredded skin had no place in my mind. Stuffing fear, caution & logic safely into the back of my non-helmeted head (this was back in the days when people took responsibility for their own stupidity & didn’t sue everyone else for personal lapses in judgment), I was primed to make the jump that, ultimately, would make me a celebrity on my street.

My friends, as I mentioned before, were skaters. Being such, they took every opportunity to jump things, be it benches, curbs, stairs or, as in this case, poorly constructed ramps made of rotted plywood & cinder blocks (I said they were skaters, not structural engineers). Yes, this ramp was a feat of engineering that only an idiot – or a bunch of 13 & 14 year olds – would dare attempt to jump. The construction was simple; the logic behind it was completely non-existent. Using whatever scraps we could come up with (& at Pat Fortunato & Billy Dady's houses, as well as, um...some local construction sites, there was plenty to be found), the ramp was built by simply putting a cinder block on the curb & then laying the structurally unsound piece of wood on the block. This set-up was what we called a ‘launch ramp’, as it was meant to simply jump off of on a skateboard, all the while trying to impress the others with the pulling off of different tricks (all of which looked like the rider basically flying off the skateboard) & landing safely in the grass (or, in the case of Pat’s front yard, the dirt & weeds along the side by the neighbor's driveway). Unlike a quarterpipe, there was no intention of actually landing with one’s feet on the board.

The hope was to make it over without landing on one’s head.

Being the biker of the group, I was also the one who towed the skater toward the ramp, giving them a boost of speed in a short distance, which I didn’t mind doing; the sadist in me took a little sick pleasure in watching my friends fly up in the air, limbs flailing in a vain attempt to soften the impact with the ground on the other side.

After a while of doing this, someone came up with a bright idea: why doesn’t Jay try jumping it? Of course, being the biggest, fastest 14 year old on the block (as well as, apparently, the most mentally deficient), this sounded like a fantastic idea! Inspecting the ramp to make sure nothing had shifted & judging the launch angle of the skaters (emphasis to be explained momentarily), it seemed like a perfectly sound plan. So, off I went, to the top of Park. Having raced the block many a time, I knew that Park, going south, had enough of a grade to give me the extra boost that I needed to get me & my bike airborne.

So, there I sat at the top of Park, ready to make my approach. I pushed off &, in no time flat, was probably up to between 25-30 mph. Yes, Loyal Readers, I was haulin’! I made my way down the street, nothing but the sound of my knobby tires humming on the asphalt & the pounding of my heart banging in my chest. Shifting the bike left & right to get the fullest extension of my legs, I powered down the street, toward the ramp; toward infamy.

It was when I hit the ramp that I discovered the first of many flaws in the execution of this jump into immortality. Remember when I said that I gauged the launch angle of the skaters? Well, it seemed that my skater friends & their boards weighed a wee bit less than me & my bike. You see, when my friends hit the ramp, they A) weighed less than I did, B) were hitting the ramp slower than I was going & C) were hitting the ramp at a different place on the plywood than I was about to. When they hit the ramp, they had what weight that they did have on the back of the board, meaning that they were, for all intents & purposes, riding the ramp on their back wheels. When I hit the ramp, however, I was leaning over my front tire, meaning that I had most of my weight on the front of the bike. This, much to my unmitigated disappointment, caused the ramp to bow under me, changing the launch angle from a little above 45º to a nearly vertical 90º. This, to put it mildly, was not good. Instead of launching out over a gentle arc & landing smoothly, the bike launched at a much, much sharper arc, into the mulberry tree just off to the right of the ramp.

Oh, did I forget to mention the mulberry tree? Yes, a full grown mulberry tree, with a branch radius of probably 20 feet, was located at the acme of my current trajectory. I found myself, in extreme slow-motion, flying through the tree, my waist up being battered by branches.

So, you might be thinking that that’s the worst of the story, right? Well, you’d be wrong, for, as I travelled through the tree like some teenaged George of the Jungle, I could hear one of my friends, in slow-motion, say five words that, apart, aren't so bad, but together, well...until that moment, I never realized those words could be so terrifying to hear:


I believe I may have neglected to mention earlier the cinder block wall, located a good 15 feet from the launch ramp. Yeah, my plan was a bit buggy.

As the only conscious thought going through my head at the time was just how much this was going to hurt, my mind switched to auto pilot, telling my hands to pull the brakes for all they were worth. I returned to Earth, leaving 1½ inch deep impact craters in the dirt beneath my tires. Upon touchdown, time immediately returned to normal speed & I abruptly found myself fighting to control my handlebars, which had spun around, catching my shirt in the grips. I began to endo into the wall & closed my eyes, waiting for the coming impact & then the sweet embrace of unconsciousness. Suddenly, everything stopped. Had I hit the wall so hard that I didn’t even feel the merging of my face with the bricks? Was I out? Was I dead?

As the blood rushing through my eardrums subsided, I could hear the cheering of my friends. I slowly opened my eyes…

…& found my face about an inch from the wall.

And thus, I became the coolest kid on the block.