where the writers are
For the Skateboarders (Part 1)
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I once said to someone that one doesn’t come to New York for beauty. 

I said that’s what Paris or Iceland is for. 

I said one comes to New York to live in New York, with all its noise and trash and rats in the subway and cabs stuck in crosstown traffic jams.

I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.   

If there could be a chip implanted to track one’s vocabulary, as calories are counted with those fitness bands people go around wearing, I’m sure beautiful would be in my top 10 most-used words.  I am always saying that that’s beautiful or this is beautiful.  The thing is beauty comes in unbeautiful ways here. 

One Sunday morning a couple years back I was standing on Sixth Avenue at 18th or so waiting for a light to change when I heard what sounded like the low rumble of snow plows.  But this wasn’t winter, I thought to myself, the streets are clean, and then the light turned green and no one walked or drove through the intersection.  One couldn’t.  Sixth Avenue had been taken over by a brigade of boys on skateboards—dozens and dozens, maybe a hundred or two, I’m not sure, there might have been a girl or two too, it was all a blur.  The sound of their wheels on the street was all but drowned out by their whoops and hollers and the barking of dogs made mad by these four-wheeled paw-level intruders.  Some boys had their shirts off and waved them in the air like flags—the flags of an invading army, here to spread a message of freedom, fleetness, speed, wind, wit, youth, grace, the anarchy of pure joy, and fuck you. 

I was not the only one on the sides left open-mouthed and clapping spontaneously.  In a flash—far too soon—the skateboarders were gone, no doubt taking over downtown.  The light had turned red by then, and we were still stuck standing there on two feet on the sidewalk. 

I wondered what it was all about but never investigated.  Someone’s always selling something or someone out, and if it was for a promotion of some kind--for a brand of skateboard, let’s say--or being filmed for a music video, I didn’t want to hear about it.  The only evidence I have that it really happened and was not something I dreamed up is a cryptic message I sent to my friend Jimmy from my phone as I walked home:  “Beauty stops traffic,” I texted. 

Jimmy’s lived in New York a lot longer than me; I love how he responded:  “I know,” he texted back.