My editor has been encouraging me to ride one of the new motorized versions of a child’s kick-scooter being offered for rent all over the city, so that I can write a story about it. (Editor's note: No I haven't. Much.)
Some years ago, the same editor sent me to an abandoned farm somewhere in a rural area where I was suspended from a zip line and shipped around among the treetops like a squealing hog. (Editor's note: OK, guilty, but that was four years ago. Jim can hold a grudge.) These story ideas are a staple of American newspaper journalism, based on an old-time knee-slapper of a joke that goes like this: “Oh, look! An old person fell down!” (Editor's note: Actually, it's the squealing that gets the laughs.)
I might try it if they gave me a medallion I could wear around my neck that I could press and say, “Help, I have fallen from the children’s kick-scooter I was riding, I can’t get up, and it’s your job to come take care of me.” (Editor's note: If any readers have one to lend the Observer, please contact the editor.)
Sorry. I’m not doing it. I know that it is my duty to amuse you, and it is my job to do what my editor tells me to do. But I’m not going to kill myself. I refuse to ride a motorized kick-scooter, ever, because I am deathly afraid of dying.
First, kick-scooters are a form of transportation that, up until about two months ago, was designed for and exclusive to 4-year-olds. Putting motors on them strikes me as equivalent to putting a motorcycle engine on a bassinet. Why would you do that?
In fact, if you want to ride one, I have several questions for you. My questions fall into a few general categories. The first set have to do with why you think you are a candidate for a motorized child’s kick-scooter.
Are you more than 4 years old? Are you more 40 inches in height? If so, do you have unusual compensating physical attributes that might qualify you? Are you a ballet dancer? Are you a professional hockey player? Can you fly?
Other questions are more personal: Do you hate your face? Will you have time to stop and get off and walk when you come to a trolley track, or will you be in too big a hurry?
Are you drunk? How did you do in school? Are you familiar with Einstein's theory of tiny-wheels-big-bump?
I also have some questions at a political and social level having to do with the general phenomenon of adults riding around on motorized children’s kick-scooters: Do you consider falling off a motorized scooter and landing on your face to be society's fault?
Are you aware that City Hall, the institution that brought you the child’s motorized kick-scooter, is the same outfit that brought you the $100 million fake suspension bridge on the Trinity River that people can't walk on?
I confess I am wondering about other things that you may take as overly personal. Sorry, and you don’t have to answer, but this is what comes to mind:
Did you see the woman and the guy on TV who both had double black eyes and smashed-in teeth? Way down deep inside, why do you think you want to ride a motorized children's scooter? Could something else be wrong? Are you familiar with the phrase “cry for help”?
Do you have kids? What thoughts do you imagine may run through their minds while you are trying to explain the two black eyes and the smashed-in teeth? And then what if it’s both parents? Two smashed mouths and four black eyes sitting there where their parents used to be. Again, are you familiar with the phrase “cry for help”?
By the way, what's the plan on groceries? Have you thought about a trailer? Would you be interested in a motorized swing-set for your bedroom with a tiny carousel overhead with plush rabbits and a music box? You know, I sense we may be getting off toward something a little too dark here, so let’s pull back a bit.
I wonder about those of you who already have done it. Now that you have experienced the motorized children’s scooter for adults, how do you feel about City Hall's plan to bring the world's tallest Ferris wheel to the banks of the Trinity River? Two thoughts here: 1) Fake kayak rapids. 2) Fake suspension bridge.
Assuming the scooters are here to stay, let’s talk about ways to make riding them a better experience for all. What if the scooter companies were required to install seatbelts? Would that help?
Is there such a thing as a helmet for the buttocks? If so, should they be required? What should the penalty be for not wearing one? What would the offense be called? Is there a word we could use for people who wear them? Should people be allowed to wear them when not on a scooter, like walking around a Tom Thumb store?
Do you think federal legislation is the answer? How long will it be before scooter lawyers appear on billboards? Whose side will they be on?
When you fall, is there a way to blame it on the cops? Why isn't there insurance? Why isn't there insurance for jumping off tall buildings?
What about blaming the teachers? If the city is going to allow these things, why don't they make streets softer? When you fall, do you blame Trump? Why not?
Lastly, is it unfair that some people can zip around on scooters as if they were flying and some people really can’t? I know the answer to that one. The fair this year is from Sept. 28 to Oct. 21. Otherwise, shut up.
Several years ago, when my nephew Alton was only 4 years old, we visited his family in Brooklyn. Since then, Alton has grown to be very athletic, a gift that was already pretty evident then.
We walked to lunch on a crowded New York sidewalk, watching while Alton flew through crowds half a block ahead on a kick-scooter like an exuberant, newly fledged eaglet dive-bombing a flock of lumbering doves.
Three things struck me. First, this kid’s a jock. Second, people in New York are fazed by nothing. Third, wow, these sidewalks are really great.
The sidewalks in Dallas are terrible. So are the streets. I’m not going to ride a motorized scooter on our sidewalks or streets because I can barely walk on them already.
I’m thinking back to Brooklyn and trying to figure this out as an urban policy question. Which do you think is the better plan: 1) Fix the sidewalks, then do the scooters, or 2) Just go ahead with the scooters, worry about the sidewalks later?
Why do you think Dallas City Hall chose the latter plan? We talked about the bridge already. Kayak rapids, check. And then this: People in Dallas are fazed by everything.
For two weeks now in Dallas, adults falling off kids’ kick-scooters have been leading the nightly newscasts on every local channel. Try to imagine that in New York: “THIS JUST IN: AN OLD MAN FELL OFF A KICK-SCOOTER TODAY IN BROOKLYN! He claims his editor made him do it, but the editor says he’s never heard of the guy.”
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And then there’s Alton. Watching him fly down that Brooklyn sidewalk was just breathtaking (and heart-stopping), an experience of sheer beauty — child perfectly wedded to machine, effortlessly soaring on the thermal lift of the crowd. The way it should be.
I get the joke. Do I ever. Hey, I get the joke every time I drive downtown now. The joke is all around me. First, I see some Alton, some 20-something woman flying past me like an eagle, and I think, “That is so cool. Wouldn’t I love to be able to do that?”
And then I see me out there, all the old people, bouncing off curbs right and left like puppets whose strings have been slashed by an angry God, always with the same look of shock and utter amazement, as in, “Oh, I never knew that was what happened when you drove off a curb on a kick-scooter at 15 miles an hour!”
Now you know. You look stupid. (By the way, I know where you can sell that story.)