In The Gutter, And Loving It.

Rollerblading in snow storms is not recommended, but this photo serves to illustrate my point. Rollerbladers do not get the best of the road, because even in the snow, the center is better than the gutter.

I have seen everything in the gutter. Condoms, cigarettes (butts and still burning), entire packs of cigarettes, dog poop by the ton (it's slipperier than snow and ice), I have picked up over ten dollars worth of change, a purse, a master lock (combination still stuck on the back), all kinds of tools (screwdrivers, pliers, a retractable exacto knife, a pipe cutter, pocket knife, a snow shovel, to mention some), I have found all kinds of fittings: pipe, nuts and bolts, and even pieces of bicycles, toys are prevalent, teddy bears and smashed toy trucks. But the things I have tripped over are even interesting: pieces of cars and trucks after accidents, one of those retractable long dog leashes with the dog on one end and the owner on the other, immunerable cracks in the road and debris (I call this stuff gutter clutter and rock rubble), six-pack plastic can holders, a giant wad of bubble gum, soft, just-rolled stretches of tarmac that gummed up my skate wheels beyond salvation (there was no sign, no warning), one of those tubes they lay down (no warning) to take a road count, and (my personal favorite) dead animals that are flattened out but when a rollerblade goes over them they seem to jump back to life as they wrap around the wheels and hold on for dear life like the living dead, squeezing into the wheels and bearings.

Plus, everytime I have fallen, no one stops to help. The opposite actually. All most everyone points a finger or honks their horn as if to say, "Told you so." Pedestrians will come over to help, but those people in cars hate rollerbladers, even more when we are down.

Once on the Beverly Bridge, it was Christmas morning around 10 A.M. and I was skating up to Rockport for Christmas dinner, a guy in a pickup truck sky-hooked a half empty beer bottle from the driver's side over the truck at me. It smashed on the top of the Jersey barrier between the sidewalk and the road and showered me with broken glass and beer. I could see him laughing in his rearview mirror. One of the pieces hit my glasses lens, and several hit my face. A large piece hit me in the chest. No damage. It was still a great skate. But, what was he thinking? Merry Christmas?

And, of course, there are the ubiquitous right hand turners who cut me off. Why do they do that? Coming up to a right-hand turn I always look back now, because invariably people will pass me on the left and then make a hard and immediate right turn as though after passing me I disappeared. Also, people pull out of side streets and parking lots right in front of me, after they saw me. Again, it's as if after acknowledging me they could then run me over with vindication. It was too late for me to stop once in Swampscott, and I smashed full force into the side of this lady's car with a loud crunch and scream. My crunch, her scream. She was so shaken up I thought we would have to take her to the hospital. And, then, of course, she was screamingly mad at me.

And people just don't understand how loud their horn is, from inside their sound-baffled, plush interior. A lot of older drivers, Seniors in Sedans, I have noticed, will simply honk their horn when approaching me. It generally scares the you-know-what out of me and sometimes I even lose my balance. Once after a particularly loud honk, heart pounding, scrambling to regain my footing, I looked over and this elderly person is hunched over the steering wheel, steering the car, not looking left or right staring straight ahead unblinkingly.

But the honkers and better than the screamers. I've noticed that young Bucks in Trucks are the most obnoxious of all. They roll down the window and scream obscenities in my face as they drive by as close as possible. I've heard everything, but the one that sticks in my brain is, "WHAT THE ----- IS WRONG WITH YOU?" That one sort of echoes in my mind. What IS wrong with me? I just can't stay off my skates. I love the sense of freedom and the simplicity. Like being a boy again. In-line skating is everything it's cracked up to be and the individual who invented them deserves all the money he made. Put on those skate and you're out the door. You can go fifty or sixty miles, or more, in a day if you want to. You can see things close up and you're in the weather, good or bad. It's like sailing, or running, or horseback riding; it's effortless after a while and sometimes I forget I'm even on wheels... it's like flying. It's the best, most exhilerating exercise I've ever had, other than swimming, and it leaves you with a whole body feeling of wellness because it's no impact, no stress, no jolt.

So, I love a sport that puts me out in the gutter of the road (the worse part of the road, by far) among drivers that hate me, debris that trips me, things that can kill me, people that scare me, and weather that just can't be predicted. Life in the gutter: it just doesn't get any better than this.