7-25-2007 If you build it, they will sue

A couple of days ago, I listened to James Gidosh and Mike Valentukanis, both members of the NEPA Free Skate Park Association, on WILK’s Sue Henry Show making it sound as if a “free” skate park is a total no-brainer.

According to them, the City of Wilkes-Barre should build a skate park at Coal Street, a concrete park that would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000, and consume anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet.

Interestingly, when I was fast approaching 30-years-old, as the skate park advocates are, I was managing a business that brought in a couple of million dollars a year. I also had me a wife, and 3 kids and a car and a house and a dog and a cat and absolutely no time for skateboarding. Oh, how times must have changed.

I steadfastly maintain that the great majority of skateboarders are unemployed, or underemployed slackers that belong to overly permissive parents. And what better proof do I need than kids going the way of civil disobedience to bring attention to their “sport.” Want my support? Yeah, so start by obeying the laws. It works for me.

Laws? Obeying the law is a participatory thing, hayna? And some choose not to participate. Actually, most.

Note how Sue’s interview got going.

Sue: “Why are you personally so interested?”

James Gidosh: “Uh, for me, I’ve been, it’s a life-long dream of mine since I was a little kid designing skate board parks on my Legos or a, anything, you know, uh, goin’ down the street and stealing wood from construction sites to build ramps, you know.”

So, we’ve got damage to public property, staging protests without a permit, and now trespassing, vandalism and theft.

No, no, no Mark. These skate board types are good kids through and through. You were a kid once, too.

Yeah, I was. And never once did I feel free to steal from construction sites.

Sounds to me like daddy didn’t flog them near enough when they were supposed to be growing up. Hey, it’s never too late.

According to the “experts” from the NEPA Free Skate Park Association, liability would not be an issue for the city, if it’d just make the skate park a “self-policed” sort of affair. That means we’d just put up signs such as “Compound Fracture Yourself At Your Own Risk,” and then none of the folks maiming themselves could dare sue the city. Isn’t that simple? We just need to plunk down $500,000, put up a warning sign, and then all of the slackers that find it so completely easy to run afoul of the existing laws would self-police themselves. It sounds very similar to some of the bullspit Scott Binsack was trying to sell us a couple of Sundays ago.

Now, let me get this straight. Skateboarding is soooo popular, after the city pours the concrete, puts up the signs and then runs away from the place so as to not be associated with it in case of death or disfigurement, the hundreds upon hundreds of nomad-like kids and immature adults using it every day will behave…they will police themselves? Yeah, and imported rubber dogsh*t can make you rich!

Oh, but there’s monstrously more to this liability issue than first meets the eye. To stave off liability claims, city employees cannot supervise the goings-on at the “free” skate park. So, what happens when scores of BMX riders show up and trample the skateboarders under their tire treads? Am I supposed to believe that the injured kid’s parents won’t call their attorney and request that he finds some loophole in the “self-policing” policy? And let’s not forget about the miniature scooter riders. I’m sure some of those lawless idiots will make an appearance.

The argument has been made that our state legislature could do what California did back in1997 by declaring skateboarding a hazardous recreational activity (HRA) thereby alleviating skate parks of liability for injuries sustained by skateboarders age 14 or older. With proper warning signs posted, skate parks were granted a measure of immunity from liability for injuries resulting from failure of a skateboarder to exercise proper caution.

But what happens when a 8-year-old splits his head wide open? We’re right back to the clever attorney bit. Why didn’t the city see to it that small children weren’t run over by older, larger skateboarders, in-line skaters, BMX riders, scooter jerks, or anyone else on wheels of some newfangled sort? If you think a “self-policed” skate park won’t eventually leave the city open to liability claims and protracted legal engagements, you might have fallen on your head a few too many times when you were a kid.

Have you ever seen a kid impaled by a bicycle’s kick stand? I have. And guess how that happened? By having skateboarders and bicycle riders performing stunts side-by-side. And wouldn’t it be neat to get good and skulled by handlebars after a bicycle reaches it’s apogee and then hurtles back towards Earth?

Helmets? Knee pads? Wrist braces? Yeah, they don’t wear them now, while performing their “tricks” on Public Square. In other words, they are not policing themselves as we speak. So, if we pour some concrete and promise not to watch, then they’ll get all safety conscious on us? One dirty little secret is that wrist braces limit their ability to catch their airborne boards, so, you can count those out. And tell me, when was the last time you saw a single skateboarder wearing a helmet? Yeah, we’ll limit our liability by allowing them to police themselves. Yeah, and let’s rehab alcoholics by locking them in a liquor store.

With thrill-seeking comes risk. And where there’s risk, there’s usually injuries. And where there’s injuries, there’s usually some blood-sucking personal injury attorney lurking with seven figures hovering before his eyes. Sorry, but “Skate At Your Own Risk” is a million-dollar lawsuit just waiting to happen.

Here’s a scenario that has already been played out. Little Johnny fractures his skull and dies before making it to the emergency room. Why did he have to die? Well, according to the clever attorney, his death was the direct result of a design flaw? That’s the ticket. The city signed-off on the final design, the city build it, so the city must be liable. Whoopee! Sure, little Johnny is dead, and that sucks. But we’re going to Disneyland!

And then we’re being told that since the “free” skate park will be constructed primarily of concrete, the maintenance costs will be negligible, if not, nonexistent. Nothing could be farther from the truth, if, as we discussed, bicycles and scooters end up gouging the heck out of the concrete surfaces. Surfaces that need to be curved, smoothed and not like anything the winning low bidder will have poured before.

So, again, when little Johnny makes three pieces of his skull, the clever attorney hired by his distraught parents will demand to see maintenance records. And if he’s really good, he’ll make an issue of the pounds-per-square-foot of concrete issue that the NEPA Skate Park Association probably hasn’t even heard of before. Proper density of concrete, and proper steel-edge coping? What’s that?

So, if we want to avoid expensive liability issues, our “free” skate park would need to be properly designed and properly constructed, and the city would need to document a rigorous maintenance program. So, with a typical 15,000 square-foot skate park costing around $500,000, you can add to that the cost of the rigorous maintenance program the city would need to implement.

You know, it’s scary to see how many adults are so quick to jump on board with this proposed project after having done exactly zero research. Skateboarding is designated as being an “extreme sport.” Or as they designated it in California, a high risk activity. And to protect ourselves from liability, we should build a skate park and then put the kids in charge of it? We should turn our back to it? So, when one of ‘em shows us how his bone is protruding out from underneath his skin, we’ll point to the sign and say, you were warned, so piss off?

I have a message for the 3 slackers who are the NEPA Free Skate Park Association. If skateboarding is as popular as you guys are making it out to be, and if countless millions are poised and ready to flock to this concrete Mecca of yours, then why don’t you guys secure a $500,000 loan and become ultra successful entrepreneurs?

Hell, the way you guys tell it, it’s far more difficult to replace the ink cartridge in a Papermate pen than it is financing, building and managing a “free” skate park. Stratego is harder than this. Right? All you need is a concrete truck or two, a couple of warning signs and it’s X Games forever more. And if anyone ends up crippled, what’s to worry about? They saw the signs. If anyone snaps their brain stem, hey, they were warned.

Liability schmiability.

Give us the money or we’ll ruin those new benches on the square some more.

Remember what they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And what these kids are telling us is that there are no liability concerns, no maintenance costs and no need to police the hundreds that might show up day-in and day-out. The place will be jam-packed, nothing bad will ever come about and nobody would ever even think of suing anyone else. And if you’re buying that, I want you to try this cure for cancer I just cooked up all on my own.

Sue Henry seemed to be receptive to the idea. And, true to form, Corbett was, literally, shouting his encouragement. He even went on to say, that, in his opinion, mayoral hopeful Linda Stets would be all for the idea. I’m thinking he’s right, which gives me yet another reason to vote against her.

Steve…boy oh boy, it’s really rankling your fat ass that Tom Leighton will not return your repeated calls, isn’t it? I love it. I do love it. Yet another good reason to reelect him.

There’s really no need to be responding to mentally emaciated loudmouths, is there?

Wow, that ought to set him off. He’ll be bashing Wilkes-Barre for a solid week. More screaming audio. More hyperventilating.

In conclusion, if you build it, they will sue.

Sooner or later, they will sue.

And the next time those skateboarders show up looking for a sympathetic ear, hand them job applications instead. Or, how about telling them to visit the local military recruiter’s office. I can’t even imagine being thirty-years-old and whining about having no place to skate, or having “nothing to do.” Embarrassed, I’d be.

When I was much, much, much younger, I always had something to do. Know why? Because I had a full-time job and tons of disposable income. Guys & Dolls immediately comes to mind. The Forty Fort Theatre. The Wilkes-Barre Drive-in. Whatever. The unemployed kids, the broke kids were the ones sitting around and complaining about having nothing to do.

Then again, I didn’t blow all of my money on drugs, like they do today. But, that’s what you get when the parents themselves are habitual drug users, they condone their kids following their destructive lead. When Bethel, New York means more to your flagging generation than Arlington National Cemetery, or Yankee Stadium, or the Bronx Zoo; it’s no wonder that your kids are complete slackers.

30-years-old and they want their “free” skate part?

Man, it must be me.

It must be me.