"The Bombing Hillcrest Drive"
We didn't like driving to St. Charles just to skateboard, but the locals back home in Dover didn't care much for skateboarding and kind of made us do it. They always barked the same accusations of vandalism and trespass most would expect them to shout from their lawn chairs or porch swings when we rolled by. As our talent progressed, all the local borders sought new and exciting hurdles. But as we grew older a negative shroud really began to conflict our interest, pumped from the lungs of the old and bitter-minded. No one liked young kids running around, but people were really rustled when they saw 'skater punks' tearing up 'their' town - which is just a rundown collection of trailer homes and century-old Victorian houses centered around a few bars and a post office. We didn't particularly fit the image or the attitude of the stereotypical trouble-seeking skaters, but the fact that we were young males with 'four-wheeled planks' was enough to earn us some nasty looks from most onlookers. Spencer and I, as well as the other kids of all ages who liked to skate, simply left town to enjoy our sport. None of us wanted the trouble which followed us wherever we practiced in town, so we would often travel a few miles east to the larger town of St. Charles.
The scent of manure from the surrounding agriculture is a slight annoyance we have learned to live with, but there were always a few days during the summertime when the powerful stench was lifted. One particular skating trip was graced by such, and as a bonus to this rarity of days, the sky happened to be sunny and the breeze pleasantly cool. Spencer and I absorbed as much fun this jem had to offer by skateboarding very late into the evening. The skate park in St. Charles was small and had only a handful of rusty rails to grind and small black ramps to use. We practiced and refined tricks and techniques for hours, pausing briefly for a swig of warm water every now and then. It was well past dinner time when we grew bored of the usual and set out in search of new obstacles around town. Windows down, punk-rock music blasting from ripped speakers, I led the search around St. Charles. All of the appealing places to go had signs prohibiting skateboarding on the property, and after a while we came to a conclusion that we wouldn't find a decent place to skate. We whined about it for some time, and then we settled on a plan – a concept which our friends gave us.
To clarify what we settled on, you should know a little of its history. Not all of the local skate-enthusiasts left Dover, but merely changed up their approach to attain the rush we felt without catching all the negative attention. Many skaters switched to a somewhat new style to the area at the time – longboarding. I never became a huge fan of it, but I watched the others and tried it out once or twice every so often. I liked it, but it just wasn't the same as good-ol'-fashion skateboarding. With longboarding, you just roll around looking at stuff. Besides the speed which a few hills in town can provide, longboarding seemed relatively dull. With regular skating, the world suddenly becomes a massive, kick-ass playground. You gain a unique perspective on things and see the ordinary as an acrobatic (and sometimes painful) challenge. Plus, I didn't have the money to buy a longboard.
Spencer on the other hand enjoyed the simple 'cruising' outlook of longboarding, but lacked the income as well. He wasn't big on board tricks and 'the world is a playground' concept, but rather enjoyed the simplicity of how smooth he could transition from one urban obstacle to another. He never looked skillful to most, but once you've skated with the guy long enough you start to understand his style and could appreciate it.
So, after a failed search, Spencer and I agreed to go cruise down some hills like the longboarders do. Fortunately for 'Cruisers', St. Charles was built into the straying edge of the Whitewater State Park – a National-Geographic-worthy landscape which looked like a miniature, tree drowned mountain range with beautiful rock cliffs and rivers. We would swim there sometimes, or hike the trials on days we didn't feel like skating.
And so we went off in search of attractive hills. We recalled the supposedly epic locations that our friends mentioned over the summer and drove to them. We'd park at the top, jump on our skateboards, and race down each hill only to come to a stop blocks away and walk back up to our cars. We had 'bombed' some of the hills we skated that day with the longboarders earlier in the month and knew what to expect, so Spencer and I didn't find any trouble with cornering or the sparse small-town traffic.
Time nibbled the daylight away as the street lamps turned on randomly, casting their orange glow which made the streets appear entirely different. This was the first time Spencer and I had ever done a 'night run', and we loved it. It made the prospective of things challenging. Evaluating speed and understanding our positions actually took some thought for once. The air became cold and made our eyes water when we gained higher speeds. The dark of night hid the nasty little treasures on the road (little pebbles and such nicknamed 'stop-rocks') – creating a suspenseful and adrenalin-fueled vibe to each 'bombing', knowing that at any given time we could be getting a little fleshly with the blacktop. After a dozen or so runs, I was stoked for more.
"Spencer, we gotta do … um, that one street!" I remember suggesting, wide-eyed and excited after another energizing hill bomb. "The one that David wanted to do!"
He didn't look enthused in the slightest. Spencer was the one who generally kept reality in check with our spur-of-the-moment ideas. He ran a hand through his short dark hair and breathed out heavily. "That's not the best idea. David actually uses a longboard and wouldn't even attempt that hill. It's pretty late for that one, dude, too sketchy. Let's just go get some pizza, a movie too maybe. Call it a day, bro."
I just shook my head and reassured him that after all the success this day had seen, tonight would be the perfect time to try it. I asked him "What would David say if we told him we bombed his hill?" I was very persistent. We debated for a few minutes, then agreed to at least try and find this hill that David had talked about.
We drove around for a while trying to match various steep roads to David's description, but only found ourselves a little lost on the far side of town. We followed a road behind the grocery store, over the train tracks which split the town in half, and up near the local golf course. This was new territory to us, skating wise. After a few more turns and driving up some twisting streets, we still didn't find the hill our friend had been talking about.
Instead, we found Hillcrest Drive.
The road which we had followed connected us to the top of Hillcrest Drive, which seemed to drop off the edge of the world at first glance. From David's description, Hillcrest Drive was ten times more insane than his esteemed street. I instantly parked on a short, dead-end drive that lead to the top of this crazy hill and jumped out of my car. The only sound I could hear (other than Spencer's sputtering rust-bucket) was from a single street lamp which hummed noisily by the curb, teeming with bugs. Spencer pulled over in front of me and got out as well, his board in hand with a smile on his face. I figured he'd get excited once we found David's hill and would want to attempt it, so it was no surprise that he liked this hill too.
"This it?" he asked me. "David's hill?"
I shrugged, "I don't think so, but I'm doing it."
"But… it's ten-thirty, dude… "
I turned from him and started off in a run, then threw my board down and jumped onto it. The wheels beneath me roared out on the pebbled street and resonated off the surrounding homes. I glanced back quickly while I pushed my way towards the beastly hill and saw Spencer following me.
I grinned wildly and let loose a howl with my arms pumped up above my head. Spencer laughed at me and let loose an energized cry of his own while we neared the crest. When I passed it the intensity of the hill's decline impressed me again, and naturally put me into another fit of excitement. "Whoa! Hell yeah! Spencer, we're going to freakin' fly, bro!"
A half second later, he crossed the crest of the hill and shouted out in surprise as well. There was a hint of fear in his voice, but I thought nothing of it. We were just moments down the road and I already felt more speed under my feet than ever before. My skateboard was vibrating harshly and made my feet feel tingly and somewhat numb. The wind clawed at my face and yanked on my shirt behind my back. My eyes watered so much I had to wipe them to see. Up ahead there was the first bend in the road, and the cars parked along both sides of the street prevented us from gauging what lay ahead of it. We were heading in hot and blind. The fact that people actually parked their vehicles on this damn near vertical street distracted me from the more urgent fact that I was attempting the steepest hill in my life with no insight.
The bearings of my wheels were in better condition than Spencer's and allowed me to continue to speed away from him. I was the first to see the rest of Hillcrest when I reached the corner, and to realize our imminent fate.
"Spencer!" I shouted without looking back. I was too afraid to take my eyes away from the bottom of the hill. "We've got a big, big problem!"
There were two more bends that I could see, and the angle of decline became greater with each passing meter. Cars continued to border the road and street lamps were sparse, which shrunk the useable street and limited our vision greatly. Spencer said nothing in return… then I heard his skate shoes clomping loudly on the black top and the sound of his wood skateboard skittering across the black top. I looked back just in time to witness Spencer's momentum outrun his strides. He fell face first and bounced a few times, then slid to a halt less than a foot away from someone's soft, spongy front yard. He had tried to bail out of the drop and failed. I heard Spencer curse his luck as he slapped the ground angrily with a bloody palm. I wanted to stop as see how he was, but I was in a sticky situation of my own. The vibration of my board began to frighten me and my feet were literally numb up to the ankles. The wind whistled in my ears and feet virtually inexistent, I still felt determined to finish the drop. A sense of relieve wasn't what greeted me when I rounded the second corner – only dread. Somehow, as if life had calculated the creation of the road for my demise, the steepness grew impossibly harsher yet! The top of a house's roof was parallel with the base of the home previous. And if that wasn't enough, the next bend of the drive was far too sharp for my liking. I didn't want to bail out like Spencer had attempted, even if I could do it and walk away unscathed. My eyes were fixed on the street lamp at the end of road. I had set a goal and I was going to meet it. Halfway to the third bend my suppressed worries became reality. Speed wobbles.
This was inevitable during the drop, I thought, since the lack of feeling had spread upwards into my lower legs very rapidly. There was no way I would remain in complete control of my board with missing feet. My tattered skateboard began to shudder violently, pitching so hard that it seemed as if all four wheels were never on the ground simultaneously. It thrashed from side to side like it suddenly took on a life of its own - an angry spirit, spiteful of the seasons of wear and tear. The board pivoted underneath my weight and rocked left to right to left again, its course barely restricted by my lifeless limbs. Speed wobbles – when you have crossed entirely from the boundaries of talent to the realm of ill-tempered luck.
To my surprise (then and now) there were several moments when I managed to reclaim authority over my skateboard. But those moments were short and only prolonged my fight against it. The third and presumably final corner of this road conceived by hell was just ahead. I leaned far to the left, shifting my weight on top of a hardwood demon so that we, this horror circus three, could bank far enough left to avoid colliding head on into a row of parked cars on the right. Their mirrors reached out for me, desperately trying to steal a bite. Farther and farther I leaned, and despite what I expected, I managed to make it past the corner.
But just barely. It was a huge victory, but life wasn't completely entertained with my pathetic and ungraceful effort to preserve health. Indeed, I had managed to overcome the final bend of Hillcrest, a triumph by itself, but this 'punk monkey' had to dance again.
My whole goal up to this point was just to make it to the bottom, marked by a single steep lamp. I rationalized the whole way down, 'if everything went sour, at least I could say I made it to the bottom!' To the bottom I went, energy suddenly whisked away by cold realization. Just a little ways beyond the street lamp to which I had set course, Hillcrest connected with Sunset Drive and formed a 'T' intersection with a slight taper at the junction. There was no road ahead, only trees in some stranger's yard. The only option was an impossible left turn, much sharper than all others. After everything, I had come essentially to a dead end. The thought was sickening. For a brief moment I wanted to give up, let the demon break free so I could embrace the pavement to receive the punishment for my ridiculous act. But it's never been in me to quit, not without giving a situation my all. As quickly as the emotion was felt, I shoved it out of mind – I had extremely little time to devise a plan to save my sorry butt, and I wasn't going to waste it feeling sorry for myself.
My impulsive strategy was to veer far right and then proceed to take a long, hooking left turn into Sunset Drive. Still fending off speed-wobbles, I managed to get myself into position on the right side of the street. I heard a distinct 'whooshing' sound with each passing of a car – I was so close that I accidently nicked my fingers on one of the driver side mirrors. I was so scared of the turn I had to accomplish that I didn't feel a thing. When the intersection was only a couple meters ahead, time seemed to slow down a bit. The panic that had flooded my mind and saturated every decision I had made up to this point vanished. My stressed body eased as I came to accept the situation. I stopped worrying if I could make the turn, and just let physics take its course. No matter the outcome, I could be satisfied that I offered everything.
The area of conjunction between the two roads created an awkward dip between declining blacktop and horizontal pavement. From My snowboarding know-how, I understood this posed another significant, previously unforeseen problem. I descended on the conjunction as soon as I spotted the issue. Gravity strengthened immensely. My knees compressed under the newfound weight, my board groaning as the wood was tested to its limits. Acquaintance with this compressing momentum got me across the middle ground mindlessly, but not without the speed-wobbles gaining colossal strength. Everything began to convulse, even my teeth vibrated to the point of making a buzzing clatter. My vision fuzzed and my sense of orientation dissipated.
It was obvious there was no chance of me making this corner now, but I banked left anyways. Sunset Drive had vehicles lining the length of it too – and I was careening right for a little red sedan. No choice, I absolutely and to avoid it. I leaned even farther to the left, so much so that my wheels started to slide. It was very awkward and unsettling to feel the motion of a skateboard become that of a snowboard, which slides and dominates the snow to gain mobility. Skateboards do not control pavement, they do not slide to turn. If anything, skateboards slide to stop. I had asked too much of my situation; of my legs, of my board, and of my aptitude. When the wheels lost traction, I lost my ability to steer myself. My wheels were just little round erasers, burning up with a screech as they shredded themselves across the pavement. My weight shifted from the left, to backwards, and finally forward as momentum grabbed me by the collar. I had felt hope, a flitting innate notion that I might turn the situation around for the better. Before I could comprehend what to make of the sliding, I was airborne. If only I could have sprouted wings, or flapped my arms fast enough to keep myself afloat until I had reached the squishy grass out in front of me, I could have been safe. Since neither happened, although I did flap my arms spastically, I was entirely helpless and disoriented.
I was nothing more than a sack of meat, bouncing lifelessly as physics played. I hit the blacktop hip first; the friction murdered my clothes and flesh. Blood and skin were traded for distance with each rebound off the pavement. I squirmed in the air each time, disoriented and desperate for my body to just stop. It felt like it would never happen, like I'd just keep being erased on the pavement until I was nothing but a gruesome trail of stupid. Then I hit the curb, my back slamming against it. The thud was nauseating. I heard cracking, felt it too. What I didn't hear was the blow to my skull as my head met concrete.
I woke up sprawled out on my back as if I had been star-gazing all night. I had no idea why I was laying in the grass at first. Honestly, I didn't think much of anything. For a fleeting moment I simply existed and my mind was blank. Then, slowly, I began to recall the day's events until I reached the present. I didn't move, didn't feel like I needed to. I felt comfortable, relaxing in the yard. I didn't feel any pain like I ought to have, and I didn't feel scared or angry with myself. I was simply comfortable. Comfortable, until I realized that I hadn't taken a breath since I opened my eyes. On cue, my bliss was ablaze. My lungs burned, my eyes watered in pain. I flinched upright, and then quickly reverted. The quick movement was too much and I became dizzy. My head swam, my eyes followed after-images of after-images of that same street lamp I was so fixed on earlier, just a few meters away. My hands clenched the grass around me, my body writhed urgently; for the life of me I couldn't take a breath. Fear returned and festered high within my chest, pounding on my heart like hammer on anvil. When my vision started to shrink around me and everything started to become dark, I assumed that I needed to relax or I'd pass out a second time. So I laid there, unmoving, hoping my dwindling vision would leave me something.
I never appreciated pain like I did when my lungs began to function again. They burned, stung, and held truth to ever other depiction of discomfort there is. I rolled over onto my hands and knees, sucked in air loudly and coughed. The dizzy, fuzzy feeling in my head was replaced by a massive headache, which reminded me of the accident. I realized there was more to my body than just lungs and brain and was flooded with pain – more at that single moment than I could ever recall feeling before. My eyes rolled back and I feared that I'd pass out, but the thought of me blacking out twice upset me now that I could think a little. The anger helped control my reaction to everything, helped me separate myself from my body and its agony. My skateboard was in the neighboring yard under a large pine tree. I crawled over and grabbed it, then tested my balance. It took me a few tries to get to my feet, but eventually I managed to hold an upright position.
Walking back up that hill was one of the lowest points in my life. Spencer jogged down the hill and asked if I was alright once he reached me. I didn't really answer him, just sort of grunted and kept walking. The skateboard slipped out of my right hand, and after I picked it up the board clattered on the street a second time. I couldn't squeeze my hand hard enough. Spencer grabbed it as he looked me over, his face awestruck.
"You're a damn mess, Taylor." He stated softly, and kept pace with me up the hill. "You're parents are going to kill you."
"Yup," I replied, but I didn't really care.
"What happened?" he asked.
I looked at him. "Well… I fell off."
Spencer laughed a little, then stopped when he saw I wasn't laughing with him. "You hurt bad?"
I looked at him and didn't say anything for a moment. "Yeah, yeah I am."
Spencer's breathed out slow and hard, his eyes closed. I've never told people when I'm hurt, not even Spencer. He knew this, and fully understood my situation when I didn't replay with my usual "I'm feeling just fine, don't you worry." He started walking faster, I shambled after him as quick as I could. Each step put another knife in my backside. A red-hot sword, more like. My chest burned terribly, and I was very out of breath. Even talking was a struggle.
"Come under the light," he said ahead of me, standing under a street lamp. "Let's see the damage."
Under the orange light I looked to be covered in mud. My white shirt had disintegrated in many places, covered in mud. My pants were ruined, the right legging was basically ripped in half with shreds connecting my belt to the rest of the black denim halfway down my leg. I patted myself down to assess what parts of me had road rash while Spencer tried to wipe the wet mud off of me. Under the lamp, I couldn't tell if I was bleeding or not, even though I knew I should have been. I looked at Spencer, who had mud on his arms and cheek as well, and shrugged. Spencer breathed out loudly, frustrated. "This isn't working, I can't see anything. Let's get you in front of my lights."
We made our way to the top of Hillcrest Drive. Spencer unlocked his car and turned his headlights on. I stood in front of the car; my head rang with the sound of Spencer's dinging door. He came to me, leaving his door open, and gasped. I look down on myself. In the clear white light, I saw that I wasn't covered in mud.
"Holy shit," Spencer said, running his hands through his hair again and taking a step back. "This is really, really bad, dude."
I moved my right arm up to get a better look. The length of my forearm and up from my elbow was essentially skinless. Filthy blood dripped from my fingertips as I angled my elbow higher. A few grey tendons were slightly exposed in the back crook of my elbow, and looked really slimy like in the light. The sight reminded me of a time I field-dressed a deer when hunting, which I found slightly amusing. A trip to the hospital was no longer a question we held. Spencer moved around me, pulling up my shirt so he could see more of my skin. I saw he had his own situation of road rash, but he didn't pay attention to himself.
My back, hip, and legs fared no better than my arm. After pouring some water onto the wounds and discussing our new course of action, we agreed to each head home. He didn't like the idea of leaving me driving myself home, but he was extremely late and I had assured him that I'd be fine. His car sputtered to life and left. I dug my car keys out of my pocket, looked them over under the street lamp to see if they were damaged at all, and then sat down in my own car. The radio blasted 'Youth of the Nation' when I turned the ignition on. The roar felt like a grenade went off inside my skull. I slapped the radio off and shut the door slowly, still recovering from the explosion.
Driving proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. All the downtown lights played with my eyes and stole my focus. By the time I made my way to the gravel road to Dover, my head was pounding. I was unsettled by how tired I was. I coughed throughout the short drive and spat carelessly out my open window. After a few turns I was parked in my driveway and reached my front door. It was pretty late by this time, but my parents were still up – I could see them through the glass panes which edged our front door. They weren't happy to see me when I entered.
"Hey guys," I said as I entered, smiling slightly. "Skating went pretty well… up until the end."
Their jaws dropped. I could only imagine what I looked like to them. In an instant they were up on their feet and rushing me to the bathroom to clean my wounds. The bathroom lights were painful to my eyes, and the peroxide pierced deep when they poured the clear liquid over me. I coughed again, and spat into the sink. My mother gasped, her anger rising sharply.
"Take him to the hospital! Now." She ordered my father, who was dabbing at my arm with a rag. "Taylor, you really did it good this time."
I didn't reply, just stared at the blood splatter in the sink. Mother turned the sink on to rinse it away as I ran a dirty finger along my gums and counted my teeth. They were all there to my relief. In fact, they didn't hurt at all.
"Move," Father ordered. He put a guiding hand on my shoulder to steer me out of the bathroom, but quickly let go when I flinched. Father and I climbed into his white minivan and buckled up; Mother stood in the doorway and hit the garage door button. The half hour trip to Rochester felt like forever, and each bump in the road stoked the flames which charred the inside my chest. I took several Tylenol as we went, trying to dull the pain screaming from every part of my body. He spoke his mind as we drove: about his extreme distaste for skateboarding, about his disgust in my everyday recklessness, about my disregard for my upcoming football season he was so eager about. I listened, but heard none of it. I didn't care.
When we entered the emergency room the nurses rushed us into a medical room right away. I received a wide range of expressions when we passed the waiting room half full of sick and tired people. An old doctor met up with us right when we got to his room. I sat on the bench slouched over as he inspected me and ordered a nurse to tell the X-ray crew to get ready for me. My father sat down in a chair and tapped his foot.
"Son, what in the hell did you do?" the doctor asked. His hands worked themselves around my arm. I told him what happened and he laughed lightly. "Well you did a real number to yourself! I would have bet money you were hit by a car the second I saw ya. Maybe crashed a dirt bike or something…"
The X-ray technicians thought the same when they first saw me as well. By this time I was pretty doped up on the morphine that the Doctor had shot me with, and was amazed with the giant machine which took pictures of my bones and with the one cute technician who kept coming in and out of the room. The examination was painful. The table I had to lay on was metal and the crew had to take lots of images. When they were finished a nurse helped me get back into my wheel chair, then pushed me back to the Doctor's room where he and my father waited.
The Doctor told dad and I one of his childhood stories about when he crashed his sled one winter, and mentioned to my father how 'boys will be boys, just gotta hope they make it through alright.' My dad didn't find it very amusing. I laughed my butt off.
Around 3:30 a.m. the doctor disclosed everything that was damaged or broken. My right elbow was broken, but wouldn't be casted because the break wasn't too terrible and because the road rash stretched down the length of my arm. My chest burned because of the cracked ribs on my right side, and because my lung had endured impact trauma and was the source of my bloody spit. My shin bones and knee were bruised badly, as with the back of my skull. The old man advised us that I would need to sleep sitting upright, or I risked drowning. Father breathed out loudly when we learned of this, while my morphine crazed mind found the Doctor's words absolutely hysterical. The doctor shook his head with a smile and handed Dad my pain medication. He patted me on the shoulder and left.
We drove home in silence. Mother was up and met us in the living room when we walked in. I told her what my condition was. She looked sad, and motioned me downstairs where the three of us prepped a soft leather chair for me to sleep in.
That night I relived the bombing of Hillcrest over and over in my dreams. Each time I bombed Hillcrest I envisioned a different method of escape, a different outcome. Despite what I thought when I actually went down, about how I'd have no regret since I gave the situation my all, I did feel regret. I regretted causing my dad's sleepless night, how he had to go to work right away. He simply put on his work attire, got himself a huge mug of coffee and left. I regretted causing my mother's restless night as she dreamt of worse outcomes of my blunder. I regretted Spencer's wounds, thinking about how he should have never followed me down.