We turned left from Peck onto the “shaded” stretch of Brookhurst, just outside my neighborhood, avoiding the orangey-brown straw-like needles fallen from the sparse, irregular pine trees, pedaling our skateboards toward the busiest intersection in Huntington Beach. It was either a Tuesday or a Thursday, around four in the afternoon – the beginning of rush hour. The distinctive sounds of China Bones Steel Bearings and urethane wheels produced a constant click-clack like tiny, unstable trains as we passed over the joints in the sidewalk. To our right cars, SUVs, trucks and minivans roared by, some heading South, toward the beach, or home, or the soccer fields just down the road, some heading North, to the freeway, or “fast food row”, or wherever the endless stream of steel and humanity might finally settle. Most likely it was home – flying out of John Wayne airport, one would see miles of houses, packed tightly into tracts taking up entire blocks, continuous from the grassy dunes overlooking the ocean until they finally careened up against the foothills.
We were on our way to see Kristen Cameron, a plain but still pretty girl with freckles on her cheeks and nose, an athletic tan, and straight chestnut hair that gently turned blond toward the ends as it passed her shoulders. I don’t remember the color of her eyes, perhaps they were hazel or blue, but I do remember they were like watching a candle flicker through a window on a dark night, quiet but cheerful. She was an aide for my PE teacher, who also coached one of her soccer teams, so I knew her a little, had talked with her a few times, and flirted with her by stealing the ball from her when she joined in while our class played soccer. Ryan must have had a class with her, or met her through Mike, but either way, this was his idea.
We had seen her the past weekend at the “Family Fun Center” – a beat up, poorly managed miniature golf course, with a go-kart track, outdated arcade, batting cages surrounded by faded green netting, bumper boats in stale water, and a comically undersized Ferris wheel. She had spent about five minutes straight covering her smile with both hands while staring at her feet and giggling as she rode the Ferris wheel alone. We had her as our captive audience, waiting in the walkway on the other side of the simple green metal fence, watching as she popped into view twenty feet up in the air, glided down in a gentle arc, and finally receded into the red, yellow, green and blue lights, only to emerge from the top again in another ten seconds. Every revolution, she heard shouts of, “Will you go out with me?” from Ryan, who was half joking and half not, or, “OK, if not him, what about me?” from me, mostly to keep up the embarrassment. I guess she’d turned Ryan down for real earlier in the week, and that was his revenge. Her face was pretty red.
Besides Kristen, we were also hoping to see her neighbor Michelle Landry – a thin blond girl with piercing blue eyes, high cheekbones, a long neck and a jawline like a fashion model. She was a year younger than us, but she easily could have passed as two years older, and as a result, every guy at our school knew her. In our early pubescence, we couldn’t help but to notice that she was a bit more grown up than most girls around our age. She and Kristen were friends, and I suppose they spent time doing girl things like tanning by their pools.
We spent most of our time skateboarding – skateboarding to where we planned to skateboard, skateboarding back home, skateboarding to each other’s houses, watching skateboarding videos, and getting rides to skateboard shops – so we were pretty fast about it. The sidewalk was wide, but in the early fall covered with the curled, dried, simple pointed ovals of leaves from the many plants hanging over the boring grey-beige sandstone wall that separated the neighborhood from the sidewalk and the noisy, sun-cracked six lane road. Staying in the foot-and-bike-swept center of the sidewalk, we could watch out for seams between the sections. Whoever had decided to plant those pines trees along the sidewalk must not have realized that the trees’ roots were fat and greedy, unable to go much further down into the rocky light brown soil than two or three feet. As a result, we had ramps where the sidewalk had been heaved upward by the roots, which were fun, and cracks and splits that would easily swallow our skateboards’ small wheels like concrete bear traps. I had been flung to the ground on this stretch several times before, left to tenderly brush the small rocks kicked onto the sidewalk by cars off my palms and forearms, examine my baggy, worn pants for holes, and sheepishly check over my shoulders to see if anyone had noticed.
We soon passed the last of the sidewalk pines, where the lifeless, rough wall peeled away, and the only vegetation left was the short desert shrubs and towering palm trees on the median. Everything else was either pavement or a concrete building, sans style. With hardly anything overhead, save for palm fronds and power lines, the sky seemed to extend forever without reaching the horizon – like the Earth had been pounded flat by a construction crew so all the tiles could line up properly inside the Target to our left. Around the intersection there were also two banks, an old, depressing Stater Brothers with sea-green fluorescent lights, a Shell with a middle-aged man, sleeves rolled up and tie pulled loose, filling his tank while washing his windows with water dirtier than the windows, a Mervyn’s, a Smart and Final bulk goods store (Fart and Smile, as we called it), and a Rite-Aid that smelled like old slippers and vapor rub. There was no shade around the intersection, except for the skinny shadow left by a splintered wooden telephone pole with a wreath of white carnations hung on it.
Ryan noticed that our Jewish, punk rocker friend who always got straight A’s, Brent, was in the dark green Subaru next to us at the corner. Even though we were less than a mile from each of our houses, I found it necessary to wave, complete with a dumb tooth-and-gum smile. Distracted, I heard the familiar chirp of the handicapped-friendly crossing signal coming from my right. With three quick strides, I let my board down on the rough, faded asphalt with my left hand and jumped on, still sweeping my right leg to quickly skate across Brookhurst. Halfway across, I noticed that I heard only the garbling sound of my skateboard – Ryan wasn’t crossing this way. I looked forward to see the authoritarian red hand not even flashing, simply beaming continuously, waiting for me to realize I was skating in front of a boiling, impatient mass of cars now five lanes wide and staring at a green light. For some reason, though, none of the cars were moving. I made it across the street and nearly dove onto the sidewalk, and as if a dam burst the cars flowed across the intersection. I looked diagonally across to Ryan, who was laughing, then back to Brent, whose distinctive squinty smile peered back from under his brown mop. Then I looked across Adams Avenue to the empty corner, the chirping blue-grey cone faced diagonally to the corner I had just so ignorantly left. My face felt hot, and my cheeks were red enough to say “do not walk.” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and pressed the crosswalk button, this time content to wait until I saw the safe, lime green man with one foot in front of the other.
Copyright 2010 Andrew Whiting