Being on a roll is good, unless you’re skating downhill

image It’s been more than 250 years since John Joseph Merlin invented the roller skate. Considering that there were no cement sidewalks, asphalt streets or concrete half-pipes in 1760, then one can only assume Mr. Merlin’s intention was to commit suicide.

Hmmm, running myself into a wall at full speed probably won’t do the me in. But maybe if I was rolling down a hill..?!?

I thought about this during a recent trip to Eugene, which is the closest big city to us and home to many University of Oregon students who roller skate through downtown. They do this as a way to leave a smaller carbon footprint, which is ironic considering I go through twice as much carbon in my brake pads by trying to avoid hitting them in traffic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a roller-skate prude shaking his fist at a generation of whippersnappers with their fancy moves and ibuprofen-free flexibility. In fact, it wasn’t long ago (Okay, 10 years *cough cough*) I was lacing up my own skates in a show of dexterity rivaling any speed-skating Olympian suffering a leg cramp at 40 mph.

In this instance, a friend had asked for my help with a skate party for his daughter — a sweet, thoughtful seven-year-old whose vocabulary didn’t yet include terms like “compound fracture” or “hip replacement.”

After getting skates for ourselves and her friends, we discovered that the rink also had skates small enough to fit my then two-year-old son, transforming him into what was essentially a human bowling ball. With a little practice, he became an effective tool for humbling even the most accomplished skater.

However, as we feared, my friend and I were eventually asked to stop rolling my son like a smart missile and actually go out onto the skating area — something that, at first, resembled a pair of blindfolded chimps searching for bananas along the walls of the rink. To our surprise, we quickly discovered that roller skating is just like riding a bike: Once you’ve learned how, the more likely it is you’ll get cocky and run into a post. Which isn’t to say that we weren’t able to regain at least some of our former skating prowess. At one point, I began free skating in an impressive display of grace and speed that left my friend in awe.

Unfortunately, it also left a group of small children too frightened to return to the rink, and scarred by the image of a faceless man grabbing at them in order to maintain his balance.

Naturally, it was about this time I realized my son needed a diaper change.

If you’ve never performed a diaper change in roller skates, you’re missing out on one of life’s great experiences, just like riding your bike into a parked car or almost making your victory leap over a tennis net. That’s because aside from the normal challenges that accompany changing a squirmy child, there is the fact that, at any second, you could find yourself under the changing table doing the splits — something that, as far as I know, has only been attempted by Jackie Chan.

The fact that I’m here to tell you the story proves I was successful; the fact that I went from singing baritone to soprano should tell you to which degree. For example, a decade later my wife knows when I’ve had one too many drinks because I start involuntarily doing the splits during conversation.

I also can’t watch any kind of Olympic skating event without a bag of cold peas on my lap.

Does that mean I regret some of the riskier things I’ve done? Or continue to do as a volunteer firefighter?

Of course not.

Sometimes to get the most out of life you have to stretch yourself.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

56 thoughts on “Being on a roll is good, unless you’re skating downhill”

  1. When I learned to roller skate there were four wheels on each skate, so when in my 30’s and I attempted learning again, well there were only two wheels on each. The only way I could figure out how to stop was to purposely skate onto the grass and fall. Eventually I learned it was far better to just grab my husband who would help me stop, so to change a diaper, that would not happen.

  2. Ha ha ha, another rolling, rollicking episode of good fun. Now, that we’ve established your vocal range, will you please, please, please sing us a round of Walk Like a Man?

    I’ll send you a frozen bag of peas for after.

          1. I just went and saw Jersey Boys last night and kept looking for someone who was cinching up his shorts to hit the high notes. What an amazing voice!! I bet HE never thought of frozen peas.

  3. My thoughts re:changing the diaper led immediately to what would happen if you had the diaper in hand when the wheels went out from under you. Geeze I just don’t want to think about that. But I can’t stop thinking about it.


    The comments between you and twindaddy were just as hilarious.

  4. Haha. Very funny piece. What I hate about skating, is we all hold onto each other for balance, and none of us can skate, so if one loses balance, we all go down like a stack of dominos!!!

  5. Brilliant as usual. Have you been anywhere in Aus cause I’m sure I’ve seen you round the place, skates and diaper (nappy!!!) in hand.

  6. Oh the memories this post brought back. The times when I would spend the whole of each Saturday wearing skates as I did classes, helped teach classes and skated through sessions. We’d even skate up to the local McDonalds to get lunch. However the pain of stuffed knees (I mean who falls on their knees and not their backsides?) is enough to put me off lacing up those things once more.

    1. I wouldn’t rule out skating one more time, but I’d probably wear diapers on my knees and an adult diaper. You know, to absorb the impact. Or whatever.

    1. Haha! I went skateboarding with my 14-year-old son the other day because he just got a new longboard. It was fun, but I kept thinking “Well, if I hit a rock, at least I have life insurance.”

      1. “You got the wings of heaven on your shoes
        You’re a dancing man and just can’t lose”

        (Yes, I googled the lyrics to find something that would fit the conversation as well as a pair of uncomfortable roller blades)

  7. I admire your bravery. I’ve never dared to try roller skates nor change a diaper. As for skates, I find ice-skating much safer having a murder weapon on each foot. And as for diapers, it just feels too weird to ask strangers if I could changer a diaper on their baby for the lack of my own test subject.

  8. I took my son rollerskating today, and I wouldn’t don skates at all, much less diaper in them. Two seems awfully young to teach skating. It’s good that you lived to tell. You are often flirting with your mortality, I think…

    1. I wouldn’t exactly say I was “teaching” my son to skate. It was more like how to hunch over and act like a bowling ball.

      And yeah, I suppose I get a bit flirty with my mortality. Just this morning, in fact, I had coffee with a creamer I’d never tried before…

  9. I’ve got a story or two to tell about ice-skating which is kind of weird, considering I’m from South Africa and you’re from way up there where all the snow comes from, telling a roller skate story.

    Yes, I know the sun also shines there. Sometimes.

  10. Was your son also wearing his skates while you changed his diaper? You could have had a nasty collision with tender parts of your anatomy & a flailing roller skate!

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