Culture clash

Walking back to my office tonight, I passed by a wide stairwell leading up to some offices. The railings are long and straight, and have no finials on them, so they’re perfect for skaters and rollerbladers. And this was demonstrated on this occasion by a) a sign posted that said “Absolutely no skateboarding or rollerblading” and b) a crowd of five or six teenage boys, all wearing rollerblades.

Walking alongside me was a tall (over six foot) gentleman, wearing a bullet-proof vest over a t-shirt and jeans, mirrorshades, holstered pistol and carrying an official-looking radio. Not a cop, necessarily, probably more like a parole officer or plainclothes officer coming back from a bust.

I was amused by the idea that the kids were actively disobeying the law in some kind of protest, so I looked at them and asked, “Is this an act of civil disobedience?” I would have actually been proud of them for it. That would have taken a lot of guts to pull off, and since both the sign and their presence was so blatant, it appeared at first glance to be their intent.

“Would have”… “appeared to be”… I should have known better.

As soon as I asked them that, they all stared at me with a blank, but faintly hostile gaze. I actually heard the gears and chains clanking in their heads as they processed the unfamiliar words I had used, came up empty, and decided that since they didn’t understand me, that I must be insulting them.

“Hey, fuck you, asshole” one of them (the “alpha”) started, and the rest of them chimed in with their own unoriginal epithets at me. I shook my head and laughed. Idiots. I might have had some respect for them. Turns out they were just some dumb kids.

Meanwhile, the official looking gent in the kevlar and weapon of individual destruction took an interest. He saw that the kids were loitering and breaking the law, and were insulting an adult (can’t have that!) so he turned away and pulled out his radio, made a call.

I kept walking, but still heard the vested mook say to the kids, “I think you should go now. The cops are on their way. I called a car. You’d better get moving” in a dull but vaguely authoritative voice. The boys sized up their opponent and most of them decided to wait it out. They weren’t going to be scared off by someone not sporting a badge.

Maybe they were actively breaking the law in order to protest it? One scrawny lad, though, found the better part of valor and hopped down off the stairs and rolled away, ahead of me. I tried to get his attention again, “Hey, kid, I wasn’t insulting you. Don’t you know what civil disobedience is?”

He just looked back at me, still as vacant as a blocked writers’ Word document, exactly as if I had been speaking Urdu, and kept skating away. I had to chuckle.