They usually come in from the east, up high, one at a time, like a tribe of aliens insinuating itself on campus, faster and faster, hearts pumping and cool fresh air streaming over their faces. Some smile. Others concentrate. But many just seem to affect an above-it-all casual look. Once in a while velocity meets gravity. Gravity wins and the brio of youth takes a tumble.
They are the campus skateboarders on what the French smartly describe as “une planche a roulettes,” a board on little wheels.
For the past few years it’s been my pleasure, when needed, to join the faculty of New Mexico State University for a semester of teaching. The campus sprawls downward on a wide and gentle slope from mountain foothills. It’s a slope that invites the young, the agile, the athletic and the ordinary, to use it daringly. And they do.
Young Californians invented the skateboard about 50 years ago and for me the skateboard is a sure metaphor for America always finding its way back to its youthful and bold self. On a board you’re independent, you're free, and necessarily young.
The campus skateboarders aren’t showing off. They’re just university kids going to class, but with a grace and agility that’s almost poetry – and plain to see. More astounding, there’s the occasional rider munching a burger as she or he goes sailing by.
Campus skateboarders are also snobs, or seem to be. As we slow moving bipeds huff and puff our way across campus, the boarders shoot past us and above us, heads high in the air.
One day a colleague, Pete by name, came charging down the hall. He was indignant. He had just dodged a boarder in full missile launch and with no apology from the Mach II offender. So I suggested revenge. Each of us would buy a board, climb on it and turn the tables.
Zooming downhill at astonishing speed, we would amaze and alarm everyone in our path – on wheels and off.
Grace, agility, fun and daring on display – in plain sight — for all to see.“Une planche a roulettes” - a board on little wheels.
Pete declined. I should be glad he did, but I’m not.