From left, Gabriel Knepp, Lena Bontrager, Hannah Knepp and Lance Bontrager, all of Macon, stand with their RipStiks in the parking lot behind the post office Saturday a week ago. The four, who live in Macon, spent the afternoon exploring downtown Columbus. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
July 19, 2014 7:15:30 PM
It was 94 degrees in the shade, a scorcher of a Saturday afternoon. Slim Smith and I were standing in the alleyway behind The Dispatch talking about the next day's paper, taking refuge in what little shade there was. Half a block away traffic on Main was virtually non-existent. It was that time in the middle of a summer afternoon when nothing is moving that doesn't have to.
Then, as sudden as a dream, two Mennonite girls wearing long dresses rounded the corner riding what looked to be skateboards. They smiled and waved as they rumbled by, hardly an arm's length away. Close behind, two boys followed on similar conveyances. Slim and I looked at each other to confirm we had seen the same thing.
Moments later the kids, looking like four birds separated from their flock, had perched on a retaining wall under a Japanese magnolia behind the post office. One of the girls was taking selfies of the group with a lime-green smartphone.
I had to get a closer look.
"We're just hanging out and RipStiking around," explained Hannah Knepp, 18, oldest and spokesperson for the group. "We're not a gang or anything like that."
Along for the ride were Hannah's younger brother, Gabriel, 14, Lena Bontrager, 16, and her younger brother, Lance, 13, all from Macon.
A RipStik is a sort of skateboard, but instead of a single platform, the thing has two footrests with a rotating joint in between.
A manufacturer's website explains: "Catch the sensation - the carving sensation of snowboarding or surfing, now on dry land. Whether you're looking for big air, endless grinds or just a ride like no other, the RipStik doesn't disappoint."
Lena, 16, said most of the kids at her school -- Magnolia Christian School in Macon -- have RipStiks. They get them at Walmart or online, and they master their technique in the school gym, she said.
Saturdays, when their work is done, the kids take field trips. Sometimes the parents go along. They go kayaking on Bluff Lake in the Noxubee Refuge, Starkville to dine or Columbus where they park at the Riverwalk and RipStik around town, perhaps looking for "big air," whatever that might be.
I thought about growing up here, how my friends and I rode our bikes all over town, just exploring. Like these kids, we were unfettered and free to go where we liked -- though across the river with its shadowy honky tonks and curb markets selling fireworks was off-limits (a prohibition we did not always observe). For us this was a big, inexhaustible place to explore, filled with curious sights and peculiar people. I expect these kids see it the same way. Alas, though, we have no smartphone pictures of our exploits.
After they posed for pictures, I invited the kids inside for a drink of water and a dose of air conditioning. One of them said they had visited the newspaper on a school field trip. There was something wholesome about these children. Not only were they polite and appreciative, they were well-spoken and confident in the presence of an unfamiliar adult.
When they were done, I walked them to the back door. They stepped onto their RipStiks and disappeared as suddenly as they had come.
Birney Imes III is Publisher of The Dispatch.
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