Updated: Nov 22, 2021
It happened because in-line skating made its first appearance in the Olympics that year. That’s what the old folks said. The ones that blamed every school shooting on the musician whose black clothes and lyrics they didn’t like. The mark of the beast people. Truth is, it didn’t matter what inspired kids to slip their feet into empty shoe boxes and skate down the streets. It was likely the same thing that inspired them to eat Tide PODS and make themselves faint and dance the fucking Macarena. Probably some combination of insecurity, desperation for acceptance, and desire for attention. In other words, adolescence. What inspired everyone else to watch it, well, that should be the real story.
What inspired all the millions of views of the first one, I guess, was the novelty. How else would you describe the sight of a young man wearing cardboard boxes as galoshes sliding down one of the most notorious hills east of the Mississippi? That was one video. The second showed him as he ran-slid right into the side of the Hyundai Elantra that was passing by. His body flew through the air, doing more aerial somersaults than any of the Olympians could fathom, his legs splayed because he didn’t have the athleticism or training for this acrobatic feat. He was just trying to get in on a trend for reasons we already discussed. So, when gravity finally brought him down, he didn’t just get right back up like the teenage Olympic skaters. He stayed there in that rapidly expanding blood pool.
The social networks yanked the third video of the incident real quick. That was the one that showed his head shattered, pieces of his skull littering the road like they were windshield glass, the soft pink of his brain oozing onto the sidewalk, turning redder and redder as it mingled with the blood. His dead eyes stared up at the sun. That’s where the Good Samaritan focused his camera before uploading it to the internet, doing his civic duty to keep the public informed. But, if you paid attention, you could freeze the quick pan over the legs. Not even athletes from a different Olympic sport could bend that way. His left leg was shaped like an S. The seeping, surrounding blood made it look like bubble type.
I bet the social networks would have left that video up if its engagement metrics were high enough. But the Good Samaritan just didn’t have the skill with transitions and trending music and the dead body just didn’t move or dance enough to compete with the stunt and the accidental aerial acrobatics. So, the bleeding, staring, snarled corpse wasn’t long for the internet. Now there are forums devoted to finding the original copy. Funny how that works. It just wasn’t the right fit for the platform. The medium is the message.
The best runs with the most gruesome deaths occurred in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. In the East, puritans blamed it on booze. Remember the attempts at legislating the purchase of a soft pretzel with every White Claw? That was a direct result of the shoe box panic. Blue laws don’t need much of an excuse. In the west, they blamed it on housing prices. That was the day’s cause of all the western US woes, right? While the cause-and-effect relationship may not have fit, that one incident on the Crooked Street sure made it seem like there was a connection. But more on that later. Those who retrofitted their existing agendas onto the phenomenon missed the obvious link between the two cities: Hills. Steeper hills mean wilder runs. The roads on Pittsburgh’s hills tend to be almost impossibly narrow, even further constricted by cars parked on both sides. Most folded in their mirrors, but still.
The thing about those streets you don’t notice and wouldn’t notice under any other circumstances is the cables and wires running across—so low a truck might catch them—and tied in big loops at the rotting telephone poles. You don’t notice these when you drive by and not even in the video… until the young lady hits the side view mirror on a Jetta at such an odd angle that she propels through the air and her head lodges right in that cable loop. Since her arms are limp, you can tell her neck broke with the impact. On that little phone screen, you can tell.
Somehow her friend couldn’t.
You can hear say “Taylor, are you OK, Taylor?” several times before she starts screaming, those screams that got remixed over metal guitar solos and in the 46 different hip hop songs released the following day. Good thing for all of us that amid her panic she was able to maintain damn good control of her phone. If her hands weren’t so calm, we wouldn’t have seen Taylor fall, back first, head lolling and flopping loose on its broken neck, to the metal post of the “Road Work” sign (which appeared to be ubiquitous in the Pittsburgh videos). Remember the internet sleuths working out the equation of velocity times weight times distance to find the bare minimum X value that would allow the straight, 2-centimeter-wide edge of a metal post to pierce skin? Well, Taylor’s fall was X. The impalement site was her lower back, the post jutting out her abdomen. Blood spurted first, the kind of arterial spray you think only happens in movies. The viscera and goo followed. The movies usually don’t show bursting organs.
Is that because it’s deemed too gross for most folks or just because it doesn’t happen that often? I believe the latter. The 49 million views of this video prove there is an audience for such extreme gore. Maybe that’s why movie theaters are failing. Her intestines poked out of her pierced stomach, like they were worms fighting their way free of a child’s science project. More blood gushed. If you’d been able to see the blood on a light sidewalk, I think the view count would have been even higher. It’s a shame it got lost in the black asphalt.
In San Fran it was different. The intrepid, young challenger treated it like a travelogue and took his shoe boxes for a spin down the famous Lombard Street. Or, more accurately, his shoe boxes took him for a spin—sideways, rolling him down the cobblestone street like a log. The “friend” filming couldn’t keep up, so sadly we didn’t get to see the skin ripping from his body, the hot bricks wearing pieces of it in the tatters of a Buffalo Bill suit. We didn’t get to see the left eye gouged out as he rolled over a stick that broke and punctured his ocular cavity.
The part we did get to see is what started the national conversation, the part where the skinless corpse rolled into the homeless encampment. The force of the human tornado irreparably bent tent poles and stained the fabric with blood and various bodily goos that no rainstorm can clean off. But back to the national conversation. Well, there were several. Are the homeless that dehumanized that they can be injured by rolling corpses? Why are the homeless allowed to camp at a tourist destination? Does that not appear to be human feces stuck in that open wound where the dead man’s cheek used to be, and if so, why can’t San Francisco criminalize public defecation? Should the homeless have affordable tent insurance from stupid people engaging in viral challenges?
But that’s not what you care about. You remember those conversations. They were all over the evening news. Self-proclaimed experts on everything from homelessness to drinking to that 74-year-old senator claiming to have intimate knowledge of viral challenges before asking how to open the “Coo-Coo appliance” on his phone—they all had their opinions. They all agreed the end of humanity was near. That’s never a safe prediction. But you remember all that. Maybe you’ll remember it at the next apocalypse. Maybe you won’t. But again, you’re not here for that. You’re here for the good stuff. The recordings you missed when they were free. You came to the right place.
It’ll cost you. $49.95 for the single-viewer stream. Best money you ever spent. Maybe you missed out on the challenge, were geographically eliminated by topography, didn’t get to travel to a hilly location and give it a shot and get your 15 minutes before the trend died as quickly as many of its participants. So now you can tell everyone you had that other unique experience, seeing it. And you can recite details, so people know you’re telling the truth. You can drive the conversation. You may not get the millions of views, but you’ll get the rapt attention of the ones who didn’t have the experience of watching the videos. And isn’t that the next best thing?
Lucy Leitner is an advertising writer and award-winning journalist in Pittsburgh, PA.
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Her transgressive fiction includes the novelette "Karen," available in the CALL ME HOOP: Season 1 anthology, Working Stiffs and several shorter works that appear in anthologies and Godless original series.
She co-hosts HORROR BUSINESS with S.C. Mendes - a podcast dedicated to helping authors make a career of their writing.