Brian Carter, a Skateboard and a Ski Rope

By Cliff Springs

It’s only fitting to begin this section with the title story.  It’s not even close to the best story I have to tell, but it definitely made for a nice title.  So, here goes…

It was late spring in 1981, near the end of my fifth-grade year.  Brian Carter was my best friend.  Now pardon me, if you will, but I must digress because for this story and soooooo many of other stories from my childhood and youth to make sense, you must know about Brian. 

Brian’s family moved in across the street in 1973 when I was 3–before I was old enough to know what life before Brian was all about.  They were a little red-neckish, the boys still slicked their hair back as if they grew up in the 1950s.  Brian and his brothers each had motor bikes that they rode illegally through the neighborhood to the displeasure of the local police.  Whereas my parents never knowingly let me get away with or do anything fun, Brian never seemed to get in trouble.  They were good people, but definitely different from us in many regards. 

So far, no big deal, right?  Bear with me. 

Brian was about a year-and-a-half older than me.  We were friends of varying degrees off and on over the years, but eventually cemented our “best friend” status by the time I was in fourth or fifth grade.  In the same way that Brian was 2 grades older than me, my brother, Kenny, was two years older than Brian–they were best friends before Brian and I.  I found out last year after reconnecting with Brian after some 26 years or so that he looked up to Kenny in much the same way I looked up to Brian.  Brian was older, bigger, and stronger than me, and at the time, I wanted to be like him.

It was in the late seventies that reruns of the campy TV series Batman & Robin would run everyday in the afternoon.  None of us missed an episode.  As kids, we failed to recognize the camp–we just thought Batman and Robin were cool.  Brian and Kenny wanted to be Batman and Robin.  I don’t mean that they would play games or pretend–they practiced, they trained.  It was serious business for them. 

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m just exaggerating  about a common type of childhood play.  Nope.  To give you a precursor to the type of thinking that Brian would later infect me with, I’ll simply tell you one exemplary “activity” that Brian and Kenny would engage in as part of their training regimen.  In order to be a skilled caped crusader, you needed a variety of physical skills to counteract the myriad attacks likely to come from evildoers bent on your destruction.  They ran, they jumped fences, they climbed things–pretty normal stuff, right?  Well, the ultimate test of skill required danger and the physical deftness to overcome it.

Are you ready?  Brian and my brother would stand on opposite sides of our narrow neighborhood street and throw a hatchet at each other.  Yes, that’s right:  a hatchet!  A sharp, miniature ax.  One would throw, the other would dodge.  Then the dodgee would throw and thrower would dodge.  Back and forth.  And this wasn’t a one-time exercise.

That was Brian.  I suppose I should place equal blame on my brother, but he and I never shared such stupidity.  Brian and I did–repeatedly, and in many other forms.  Brian enticed me into so many ridiculous activities, that I am truly grateful to be alive.  Once, while on a family vacation–I believe I was about 15 or 16 at the time–my brother and I decided to inform my parents of all the Brian-ish things we had done that they had never known about.  We thought it was funny.  My Mom was white as a sheet.  She has since expressed that she consistently prayed for our safety–in ways beyond what a parent might normally do for their children.  It was on this vacation that she discovered why she always felt led to do so.

The good thing about being dared daily by Brian to attempt the absurd, is that it often turned out okay–even when it shouldn’t have.  To this day, I credit those activities with purging me of the fears that many people cling to well into adulthood.  Because I survived Brian Carter, I don’t fear much these days. 

There are many, many Brian stories to tell.  As I mentioned at the outset, this is nowhere near the best, but it prompted the section title, so it gets to go first.  Back to the story… It was late spring in 1981, near the end of my fifth-grade year.  We both had skateboards.  This was years before skateboards became large and wide–or even flexible or precisioned.  Skateboards were skinny and had small, insufficient wheels.  But we were pretty good at it, and more importantly, the roads in our neighborhood had just been tarred. 

Prior to the retarring, our streets were made of cemented rocks–painful to walk on and impossible to skate on.  But the tarred roads were like rolling on silk.  Smooth, fast, and long.  Keep in mind, growing up in Charleston, there is no such thing as a hill.  Flat as a pancake.  Going fast required you to run your skateboard as fast as your one leg could push you… or you had to be mechanically enhanced. 

Now, before you go getting ahead of me, keep in mind that just because we were stupid, that didn’t mean that we could persuade an adult to facilitate our death wishes.  For us, mechanical enhancement meant “bicycle”.  And a ski rope.  Just holding directly onto the back of a bike resulted in limited movement–no zigging, no zagging, no swooping.  The rope was essential.  And because my family still owned a boat–and because we hardly used it–we had a ski rope and handle sitting in my garage pleading for someone to allow it to fulfill something close to its purpose. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We used my bike, my rope, and my skateboard.  As such, I got to ride the skateboard first.  I thought this was a good thing.  I failed to mention, that the retarring of the roads had not yet been completed.  So there didn’t yet exist a long stretch to buid up speed.  The best we had was a partial road in one direction, and a partial road that crossed it.  That meant we had to turn.  No big deal, knowing what I know now.  But I never got the chance to apply what I learned as I only did this twice in my life.

On the first attempt, Brian turned the corner and the centrifugal force swung me around the corner with exciting velocity… and right off the road into the ditch.  The rope was too long.  I was determined to experience the corner-turning speed without the ditch interruption.  But rather than cinching the rope to be a little shorter, I merely instructed Brian to hug the corner as tightly as he could so that the rope could extend fully yet allow me enough room to teeter the opposite edge of the street until I could gain control of my trajectory on the ensuing straightaway.

Brian did just as I requested.  He pedaled fast.  He hugged the corner like a race car driver.  The rope pulled me.  The breeze sliced through my hair.  The centrifugal physics were euphoric.  We rounded the corner, and the rope stretched to its fullest.  Just as I had surmised, this allowed me to venture to the very edge of the newly tarred road, but without tumbling into the ditch.  It was perfect.  We were really moving!

Then the skateboard hit a rock. 

As I stated previously, the wheels on the old-style skateboards were a poor excuse for wheels.  We regularly encountered tiny, little rocks that had the stopping power of a boulder.  You see, the tiny rocks–really nothing more than pebbles–would basically form a wedge that brought the offending wheel to an immediate–and I mean immediate–stop.

This time was no different.  Well, it was different.  The skateboard stopped exactly as it always would when striking a rock.  The difference here is that my body–with all the benefits of the bike, the rope, and the laws of physics–was going much faster than it had ever gone on a skateboard.  So when I say that the skateboard stopped–immediately, mind you–the skateboard was the only thing that stopped.  I flew!  We never went back to estimate the distance I must have covered in flight, but it was far and it was fast. 

And I crashed.  And bones snapped.  And I went into shock.  And Brian thought I was a crybaby.

I stumbled home with no color in my complexion.  My Mom opened the door and instantly knew that this was bad.  Now let me digress once further.  This would ultimately be the fourth time I had broken an arm in elementary school.  Yes, fourth.  Right arm, 1st grade.  Left arm, 2nd grade.  Right arm, 3rd grade.  And now left arm, 5th grade.  Interestingly, Brian was present–no not responsible–for all but one of my broken arms.  The lone exception being in 2nd grade when my little sister thought it would be funny to push me off the top bunk bed.  This time was definitely different.  The previous broken bones were fractures.  This was a clean break through both bones in the forearm.

We went to the doctor–they knew me well by the 5th grade–got the x-rays and confirmed it was broken.  I was used to the routine by now (or so I thought).  Because this was a clean break, the doctor informed me that he would have to reset the bones.  He asked if I wanted a shot for the pain.  I refused the shot and seem to recall making a joke about how the needle would be as bad as the arm pain. 

Misjudged that one by a mile.  I should’ve known something was up when my Mom and about 5 nurses were called over to hold me.  To the doctor’s credit, it was fast, and was over quickly.  Well, his part was over quickly.  The pain–wow!  I have never experienced instant tears like that before or since.  One second laughing about the shot, the very next second in full tearful scream.  I ended up with a cast up to my armpit.

I’ve never been one to accept failure, but unlike so many of the boneheaded things Brian and I tried more than once, we never attempted the skateboard and ski rope thing again.  And that’s a shame because it sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

–CS

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