‘Bomb the hill, bomb the hill!’ He scoots off.
‘What’s he saying?’ I ask the dad.
‘He’s saying he wants to bomb the hill.’
So, I had heard correctly.
‘He’s two years old and can barely say my name, but he can say ‘bomb the hill’? You need to go to parenting classes. What does it even mean?’
The child gives his own version of an answer by squealing and whooping as he rolls free of us, his wee legs propelling him on hyper-setting like an early animation cartoon, pushing on either side on his seated scooter, the back of his red helmet glistening as he tops the brow of the hill and disappears into a tunnel that dips under the railway track.
‘There you go,’ says his dad, ‘he’s a wee Sky Brown in the making.’
I’m terrified by the prospect, and his dad sees it.
‘He has his lid on,’ he says, knocking his knuckles on his head. ‘That’s what we call the helmet, and he doesn’t have far to fall if he comes off.’
I think about the video of Sky Brown that I watched yesterday, the one where she comes unglued from her board mid-air, fifteen feet up, and drops like Icarus, and the film cuts to her in a hospital bed, one eye swollen shut, a teddy bear tucked in beside her, and her squeaky little voice telling us, ‘It’s ok to fall sometimes; I’m gonna get back up and push even harder.’
At least we can still see and hear him. He’s shouting ‘echo’ now, they way all kids are taught to do when they go through a tunnel. And he has found a puddle and is scooting through it at high speed, then flipping the scooter around and going through it again and again and again until the water has breached his wellies and the knees of his trousers are soaked.
‘We watch YouTube videos of San Francisco skateboarders before bedtime. They are the ultimate hill-bombers. He loves watching them. Theses dudes wearing tee-shorts that say, ‘Bomb Hills Not Countries.’
I ask him to show me one these films and he pulls it up on his phone.
‘It’s a bit dangerous,’ he admits, as I look at an unmistakably San Francisco street scene, all hills, intersections, tramlines, and hairy men lining up on skateboards for thrills. ‘They time the lights so they can go straight through; they do it in groups so that it’s safer.’
Yeah, like that sounds safer.
It is both mesmerising and terrifying to watch. A voice, dubbed over the footage, talks about the elation beginning with the sound of the rumble on the asphalt, then down they sweep, smooth and balletic, arms stretched, giving themselves to the speed, tightrope walking on wheels, and I can feel my heart lifting as I watch them. Is it dawn or late at night, there is a low orange sun and minimal cars – but there are still cars – and they skim danger, ride on the edge of potentially awful collisions moment after moment, but they are also flying on the ground, then off the ground, then down again, fluid hips, knees bent, straight, bent, swaying as they sail through the back streets, the front streets, the main streets of San Francisco, all over-sized trousers and backpacks. Together they are poetic kinesis: wind moving through a field of wheat, the swishing of a horse’s mane.
‘Because of the inherent danger of bombing, you are forced to be present,’ says one skater – well that’s an alternative route into mindfulness. They talk about finding the pattern of the traffic lights and timing their hill bombing so they can chart a clear path through (presumably praying that no car jumps a red). I’m right there with them on the run through the urban landscape, bombing in the slipstream of cars, vaulting driveways, spinning down corkscrew exits from multi-storey car-parts (they call them ‘swirlies’) and it really is the most peaceful form of bombing I have ever seen, zen almost. This route starts at Grand View, onto Jersey, then Dolores, under the palm trees at the 33 intersection, down a swirlie onto Bush. I am transfixed.
Forget Dora the Explorer, begone Postman Pat, Tinky-Winky’s for the bin, I understand why this child is obsessed. My better judgement takes flight and I shout ahead to the child on the scooter.
‘Come on then,’ I call, ‘let’s find a better hill to bomb.’