A few months back, I was walking down an airport concourse when I saw a little girl glide by me. At first I thought she had mastered some form of dark sorcery. Upon further observation, though, I saw that she could accomplish this feat of apparent levitation because she had small wheels in the soles of her shoes. What a clever idea, I thought.
A few weeks later, I was walking through the downtown Des Moines skywalk. I was very tired that day when I came upon a hallway that sloped gently downhill. The floor was a perfectly smooth surface, gleaming beautifully in the sunlight that shone through the window. At that moment, I had an epiphany of nearly religious proportions. Humanity was evolving in new ways. Why should we continue to slog around in the same old tired ways, with one foot plodding slowly in front of the other? We could all be gliding across the planet on wheels! I now knew beyond any doubt that I wanted—no needed—shoes with wheels. I would transcend to a new superior form of human!
I did a web search and discovered that the shoes I had seen the little girl wearing in the airport were called Heelys. I read that they could be purchased at your typical shopping mall, so one night I found myself walking through a dreaded mall and peeking surreptitiously into shoe stores. I must have aroused some suspicion because Jess asked me what I was looking for.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
She pressed, and I revealed (with some embarrassment) that I was looking for shoes with wheels. You know, like the ones that kids wear in airports.
“OK…” was all she said. To her credit, she is getting used to my particular brand of…er…unconventional genius, and so she didn’t laugh out loud. We walked on.
A few days later, I had forgotten about Heelys altogether. Christmas arrived, and I tore the wrapping paper off a shoe box-sized present. To my extreme surprise the box contained a pair of black Heelys shoes in my size! If that isn’t a testament to her love for me, then I don’t know what is.
I put on the shoes and stepped onto the hardwood floor in our kitchen. I attemped to glide across the floor. Nothing. I attempted again, this time hanging onto the counter to keep myself balanced on the wheels in the heel. I rolled about two feet. Let’s just say that Heelys take a bit of skill to master.
The first few hours in Heelys are filled with very precarious short rolls across the floor, each of which can quickly oscillate from grace to a very painful impact with the ground. The next day, I actually fell straight backwards, both feet flying up into the air. Fortunately a few million years of evolution kicked in autonomously and, in the five milliseconds available, my brain stem was able to turn my body to the side in midair to prevent a lethal blow to the back of my head. (It all happened without a single command from my extremely slow conscious mind. I love you, brain stem!)
After about five hours of practice in the mall, grocery store, and downtown skywalk, I had mastered rolling across the floor at distances exceeding 30 meters. I can turn up to 45 degrees while rolling, and can even slow down by braking a little bit with the rear sole. I have fallen only once more, which taught me to avoid the cracks separating sections of the sidewalk. It’s a good demonstration of Newton’s first law of motion when your wheels come to an immediate stop but your body doesn’t, and Newton’s second law of motion when gravity slams your 61 kilogram body quickly onto the pavement at 9.8 meters per second squared. The resulting force of 600 newtons is enough to rip your jeans and draw a little blood.
Today is January 1st, 2007, and I am gliding effortlessly across Concourse B in the Denver International Airport. I run up the escalator, across the carpet, and then glide effortlessly across the smooth terrazzo floor. I weave in and out of the stream of travelers, flying past those rushing to make their flights. They watch me in confusion or disdain, incapable of truly appreciating my magnificence. A young girl in a pair of pink and white Heelys shoes passes me going the other direction. The airport is full or travelers, but she and I are travelling through the future!