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Collision Course 

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On a clear, balmy spring afternoon, I called the Park District office to make sure the Burnham Skate Park was open. They said it was, so I loaded Skyler, my 15-year-old son, who was visiting from Wisconsin, into the car and headed into the city. We found about a dozen skateboarders already there. One of them looked like Vin Diesel, only younger and with tattoos. The gate was locked, but the skaters had jumped over it. Skyler did, too, and dropped right in.

I unpacked my lunch. A few minutes later a groundskeeper came along, unlocked the gate, and began picking up bits of trash. Then a Park District police car cruised past. The officer stared at the skaters. He came back and got out of his car. "The park is closed," he shouted.

A couple of teenagers dejectedly began packing up in the manner of skateboarders everywhere who are told to move along. "The park is closed," the cop said again. "You're not supposed to be in here." He said the park wasn't scheduled to open for another few weeks.

"Dude, how are we supposed to know it's closed?" somebody asked.

"You know it's closed when the gate is locked and you have to jump over it to get inside," the cop said.

"But it's not locked," another kid said.

The cop shouted at the groundskeeper, "What did you unlock this for?" She looked up from her work, scowled at him, and said something I, and I bet he, couldn't hear. "You all have to get out," the cop said.

The guy who looked like Vin Diesel skated over. The others were standing around, boards under their arms.

"Dude," Vin Diesel said. "I moved here for this skate park. It's a beautiful day. Come on."

"Somebody got in here a few weeks ago and broke his arm and now he's suing us," the cop said. The kids looked at each other. No one seemed to know what this meant in the context of the present situation.

The cop said, "I'm just doing what I'm told. The park is closed."

"I know you've got a radio in that car, and you could call and talk to your supervisor," Vin Diesel said. "It's a beautiful day and this is a very peaceful, nice thing happening here."

The cop said, "I'm just doing what I'm told."

Vin Diesel shook his head and stayed on his skateboard, behind the gate.

"Just doing what you're told," he said. "Man." I didn't hear what he said next--we were walking away--but the cop said something back. Then the cop said, "Yeah, I remember you. I was there the day you got arrested."

The other kids perked up at this. Several who had been wandering off returned. We did, too.

"You know," Vin Diesel said, "the guy who designed this skate park has been at odds with the Chicago Park District from day one. I'm writing an article about this very thing for the Reader."

"You all have to go," the cop said. "The park is closed."

"I called the Park District office this morning, and the lady said the skate park was open," I said.

He turned to me. "Who did you talk to?"

"I don't know," I said. "I didn't ask her name, because I didn't think, when I talked to her, I'd have to report her to the police later."

Suddenly I felt like Vin Diesel. Skyler edged closer to me.

"Well, they're giving out the wrong information," the cop said.

I nodded. Wrong information. Of course. I looked at Vin Diesel.

"Dude, in another hour there's going to be 30 more people here," he told the cop. He must have meant after school let out. The cop said something I didn't hear. It ended with the word "education."

"Oh, right," Vin Diesel said, advancing toward the gate. "I'm a skateboarder so I don't have any education."

"You said it, I didn't," the cop said.

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