It was Saturday afternoon, and like most folks with kids, I was being pulled in several directions. One kid, the swimmer, needed to be chauffeured to a swim meet at a faraway pool. Meanwhile, his big brother, the skater, reported that his skateboard, the center of his universe, needed emergency repairs.
Just as I am discovering that in the world of winter swimming all meets are 20 miles away, so I am learning that in the world of skateboarding, all repairs require immediate attention. I got out the toolbox.
A skateboard looks like a simple apparatus, wheels attached to a board. When the first skateboard rolled into our house, I thought the only breakable parts I would have to deal with would be the bones of the kid riding it. But in the year or so since, I have learned that skateboards have many parts, virtually all of them replaceable. I have become a skateboard mechanic, a grease monkey.
Now, when the skater says he is having trouble with his "trucks," or needs some new "shorties," I actually understand him.
Trucks are the metal axles that sit underneath the skateboard and hold the wheels. At first glance, each truck looks like one big piece of metal, but it is actually two pieces held together by a big bolt, or kingpin. When it breaks, the truck comes apart and you go to the neighborhood hardware store and get a replacement.
While you are there you might as well get replacement shorties, as well. These are the smaller bolts and nuts that hold the truck to the board, or "deck." Shorties have a very short life span, so I like to buy extras at the hardware store.
The skater in the family does not approve. He thinks the hardware store stuff is inferior to the "approved parts" sold in skateboarding shops and advertised in the bible of boarding, Thrasher magazine.
I contend that basically a bolt is a bolt, with the big difference being whether it is made of the tough, "case hardened" steel, not whether it comes wrapped in a graphically "cool" package, like the ones in skateboard shops.
The skater contends that these fine points are distinctions that only skaters can appreciate. And, he reminds me, I am not the skater, just the mechanic.
The major skateboard parts cannot be found at a hardware store we can walk to. The big parts require making a trip to one of several "approved" shops selling skateboard parts and paraphernalia. At these shops -- Reach for the Beach in White Marsh, the Towson Wavedancer, the Stoneleigh Cycle and Hobby on York Road, and the Slick Boy shop in Glen Burnie -- I assume the parental position, a body slumped in a corner. I watch as the skater counts his money and decides which trucks, or set of wheels, or wooden deck, will make his board whole.
Most of these shops have a back room where a wrench-wielding staffer can marry the newly purchased parts with the old board. The union holds for a while. But skateboards have a stress-filled life. I still don't know what a "nosegrinder" or a "fake ollie pivot grind kickflip" are, but I do know these maneuvers chew up skateboard parts.
That was the situation last Saturday. Somehow, a kingpin had snapped. Without it, the skater couldn't ride. And here it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, a perfect skating opportunity. And, so, in the 15 minutes I had before I absolutely had to be in the car driving the swimmer to his meet, I huddled with the skater, his broken board and my toolbox.
I wanted the kid to work with me so he could see how this repair was done. That way he could fix the next broken bolt. That is how life is supposed to work, according to the old father-teaches-son storybook.
But reality was another matter.
I was impatient, and not a very good teacher. The student had other things he would rather do. And the nuts and bolts were not cooperating with our wrenches.
I took over. I hammered out the broken bolt, hammered in a new one I had bought earlier at the hardware store. Then I connected the truck to the deck with some very stressed "shorties."
I hurried out of the basement, grabbing a sheet of printed directions telling me how to get the swimmer to the correct pool. I told the skater his board was back in service. He was elated. He spent the afternoon trying to master new moves.
The elation was short-lived. The next day, the board wasn't working right. The bearings on some of his wheels had blown. Emergency repairs were needed.