When I finished up writing this I didn’t know what to do with it. It was half memoir and half teenage diary. I purposely tried to write it in a voice that was my age at the time, although it meanders around. I just wanted to capture a decade in my life and share it with people who also lived these stories all over the world, with skateboarding close to their hearts.
Playing war in the woods, riding my bike and destroying my toys with fire took up most of my free time as a child. I liked to go fishing but never owned a fishing pole. I liked to play football on dirt but never stepped on a field for a team. My older brother and two sisters were always active; they were lifeguards in the summer and were involved in all kinds of extracurricular school activities and sports. My brother played football and basketball for the school teams, one sister played trumpet the other played the flute. I never had any interest in pursuing any of these things. These things were all so stringent. You had to register ahead of time, go to practices, and then go to a designated place to participate. Rules and schedules had never been my thing. I was a floater. I was the daydreamer kid in those old cartoons. Sitting at his desk daydreaming of one adventure after the other, never having any real world plans. Adrift. I don’t know if I found skateboarding or if it found me. It had no registration or practice, no teams or teammates, no halls or stadiums. You didn’t need a field to play on, a bunch of equipment or a uniform. You didn’t need to be big or small; you couldn’t be too fat or too skinny. Skateboarding never kicked you off the team for a bad attitude. Skateboarding could be anywhere and anything you wanted, twenty four hours a day seven days a week. I lived and breathed it for some of the best years of my life. These are my stories of how my crew of friends and I came up skateboarding in Alabama.
I wore a Members Only jacket every day. I spent my time riding a ten speed bike to the creek to shoot my BB gun. Ronald Reagan was President. It was the time of the year to go back to school shopping at the Postal Exchange. The P.X. as it is known to military families is a small department store located on military bases for families to do their shopping. It is tax free and discounted, kind of like a Sears, all the basics. The P.X. was where my wardrobe came from when I finally got out of wearing hand me downs from my brother. I had made it to the big leagues. I was going to start high school this year. My father had recently been transferred to Huntsville Alabama from Fairfax Virginia by the Army. We had lived in Virginia for three years, which was our usual assignment. A couple years would pass and then it was time to move again. That was my life as an Army brat. Pack up your things and say goodbye to all your friends. It was all I knew, and I was used to it. I had figured out the best way to assimilate into my new surroundings whenever our family got transferred was to blend in like a chameleon. The key to being a chameleon was being on the top of the current local fashion trends. I was on a mission that day of shopping for the holy grail of high school fashion in 1985. I knew a Vuarnet Sunglasses shirt was just a dream, but I could see a rack of the next best thing: Ocean Pacific Surf Shirts. All I needed was a long sleeved Ocean Pacific surfer t shirt. A long sleeved t shirt with the logo screen printed on a breast pocket, a surf scene on the back and the words Ocean Pacific running down the arms. It made no difference that the real ocean was four hundred miles away. It was the skin I would need to blend into my new environment. It would get me in with the cool crowd and then everything would fall right into place. I would finally get the attention of the girls, and be popular, and then class president, and then prom king. There was only one problem, it was expensive. One Ocean Pacific would blow my whole shirt budget. My parents were very diplomatic with allowances and spending considering they had four kids. I could get three generic short sleeve surf t shirts, or one Ocean Pacific long sleeved. My Lightning Bolt surf shirt was tattered and torn, and it was a short sleeve, how lame. I needed that O.P. surf shirt as much as I needed air to breathe. I could remember only one thing in my life that I needed so much before this. It was three years prior, and of equal if not greater value. It was my Members Only jacket. That jacket had transitioned me back stateside from South Korea into middle school in Northern Virginia. Thank God we were stationed in Korea. Korea had the best bootleg clothing right outside the gates of our military base. Adidas, Nike, whatever, they had it. I was able to buy a perfect copy of a Members Only jacket at a fraction of its stateside price. I mean, in terms of bootlegs, this thing was a master piece. It didn’t even have a typo on the label. 1985 was a new start for me. A time for long sleeved surf shirts on a fat kid who never saw the ocean. It was Alabama. I can see my Mother asking me if I was sure about my choice of that one shirt, like it was yesterday. Of course I took the O.P. What says cool kid more than a husky boy with bowl cut hair who wears the same shirt everyday to school? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I would mix it up with my fake Members Only jacket over the O.P. shirt. It worked. It worked almost too well. I blended right into S.R. Butler High School home of the Rebels.
The only thing I knew about S.R. Butler High School was it had made national headlines for the Ku Klux Klan escorting white students in its halls after a racial flare up. I don’t mean in the 1960’s. I mean the year before we moved to Alabama. Shit, I was scared to death. Their mascot was a Confederate soldier. He looked kind of like Colonel Sanders, but with a cane and wearing green. The military base where we were stationed was zoned to Butler, so I had no choice. In terms of geography Butler was almost dead center in Huntsville Alabama. It had a more integrated student body than the rest of schools in town. The other schools in Huntsville were either almost all black or almost all white. Located directly next to a low income housing project and also zoned for a few working class neighborhoods next to Space Camp, it may have been the most diverse of the five high schools in Huntsville both economically and ethnically. The city of Huntsville was a bit of an anomaly for the South Eastern United States. It was home to Redstone Arsenal, a former chemical weapons facility for the U.S. Army. Its size and rural location made it the perfect home for hiding the Nazi rocket scientists in post WWII America. Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, U.S. Missile Command and last but not least Space Camp. Huntsville was and still is the only bastion of technology in the Deep South. This was a city full of Engineers and a few Nazis dropped into a cotton field, literally. Right in the middle was S.R. Butler High School. Because of Butler’s location in Huntsville there were always racial and socioeconomic tensions. I look back now and I would never change a thing about my high school years. It taught me a lot, but coming home the first day from school, I cried like a baby. Going to school there quickly educated me about the harshness of life, racism, violence and most importantly the fact that sometimes things in life are not fair. I saw teachers get beaten up by students. I saw a kid thrown into glass trophy case and taken away in ambulance. At the start of junior year a kid was stabbed in my homeroom. There was a spray of blood across the calendar on the wall. All year I sat there and looked at those blood stains. I don’t know if no one else noticed or they just didn’t care. There was the time I was sitting on the bus after school watching a kid walk around with a rolled up newspaper under his arm. When he passed his unsuspecting victim, he pulled out a pipe and started beating the guy over the head. It was like a prison yard attack but it was high school. Now that I think about it, Butler was a prison. It may sound hard to believe, but S.R. Butler High School had no windows. It was built by a modernist architect who saw it as a way to keep students focused. Cinderblock walls and endless corridors, steel benched lunch tables with correction officers that were called vice principals stationed at every corner to keep the peace. My first week of freshman year, I was walking down the stairs to lunch and a milkshake dropped on me. Luckily most of it missed me and the cup glanced off my shoulder, but it did get a little on my Members Only jacket! I looked up and saw this goofy skinny redneck Opie kid laughing through his crooked teeth. I was filled with rage and chased him down the hall until I cornered him in a dead end locker room. I realized I was being followed by a mob of blood thirsty students who wanted to see a fight. He was terrified and he kept apologizing to me. The chant of, “Fight, Fight, Fight”, echoed in the hall. I couldn’t do it; the adrenaline subsided and had turned into fear. The last time I was in a fight in seventh grade I smashed a kids head into a locker and he cut his ear. When the coach separated us there was blood coming out of this kid’s ear and it freaked me out. I thought I had killed him, and I swore off fighting. I walked away from Opie the milkshake thrower. As I walked by a baseball player pulled me aside and said, “You fucked up, you should have kicked his ass, you are new and people would have respected that, now you look like a Pussy”. That’s when I understood, this place was Prison. I was going to have to do four years hard time here. I needed to lay low. When I had physical education class I walked what we called The Gauntlet. The Gauntlet was a hall of trophy cases that connected the auditorium to the school and the gymnasium. It was lined with the biggest meanest bullies in the school. As you walked by, they would do a thing called thump’n. Thump’n was a fast and hard thump to the back of your ear. It had a sharp sting to your ear and a sharper sting to your manhood. You learned quickly, to never ever stop. If you did, you would get stomped by The Gauntlet. One day, I saw my friend Nathan with the worst black eye shiner. His eye wasn’t just black, but yellow, pink and green. I asked him who gave him the rainbow eye. He smiled and said, The Gauntlet. All 5 foot 5, 130 pounds of Nathan had enough that one day, so he turned around and punched a bully in the face in The Gauntlet. I was so excited that Nathan had stood his ground. I asked him if he won. He laughed and said, “Are you kidding? Look at me, they beat the shit out of me and I missed a day of school.” Nathan was definitely a guy who could reach a breaking point. Nathan’s dad was prototype for The Great Santini, a tough son of bitch, a Vietnam Vet combat pilot that was hard as nails on Nathan. Nathan was a skateboarder and his Dad hated it. Nathan later became a Sniper in the Army Rangers and was deployed to Iraq. Anyway, that was Butler on a daily basis. It was kind of exciting and terrifying at the same time. It certainly kept high school interesting. Getting out unscathed was an accomplishment within itself.
I transitioned smoothly in as freshman at Butler High. I was so nondescript, benign, and quiet that the majority of people didn’t even notice me or my O.P. surf shirt. That year came and went in a flash. I kept to myself, kept my head down and stayed clear of trouble. I look back now and it was like it never even happened. I can’t remember a thing. I was daydreaming my way through each day to the next. I would go home and ride my ten speed bike around the neighborhood and stay up late watching David Letterman. I returned for my sophomore year with no real plans of changing that drift. It would be great to have a social life or meet a girl, but I was shy pile of plain. One day under the cold fluorescent light of the cafeteria, I saw my reflection in rectangular slice of greasy yellow pizza starring up at me from its green plastic tray. I realized that I was alone. I didn’t fit in with any of the cliques neatly divided up into their territorial tables. There were the jocks over there, and the Preps next to them. The black kids were split up into their cliques. The band kids and the nerds were over there. I looked at the nerds and said to myself, shit, at least they have an identity. I was nothing but chocolate milk and pizza.
It was the fall and I was sitting in English class daydreaming again. It was there I found an ally, named Steve. He and I had something in common; we didn’t have any friends in that class. We proceeded to make fun of everyone, quietly to ourselves, that is. Steve didn’t wear long sleeved surf shirts to class. He wore the exact opposite. He wore his shirts with the sleeves ripped off completely. They usually had a skull or logo and were bright florescent colors. Steve also wore these old black canvas basketball shoes, like greasers wore in the 1950’s, Converse Chuck Taylors. I couldn’t figure out where he got his fashion sense from. Nobody else wore what he wore. The most important thing to me in high school was to blend in. I didn’t want to stick out from the crowd. I wanted to look like the popular guys, the guys who got the girls. I really thought that having the cool clothes would disguise the fact that I was a social misfit. Steve’s clothes, to me, were social suicide. His clothes showed he was a social misfit to everyone. Nothing he wore had any labels on them that I had ever heard of. Stuff like Bones and Thunder. What the hell was Bones or Thunder? One day in class, a sorority girl (yes my high school had sororities) asked Steve why he wore clown shoes. She pointed at his Chuck Taylor’s and laughed. The ironic thing is, by the end of the year, every girl in that sorority was wearing matching red Chuck Taylor’s because of a Levis 501s ad made them cool. I love how that shit happens. I admired Steve’s courage to be different. Things like the shoe incident showed me that Steve was always ahead of the curve. It was a boring November day in 1986 that Steve told me something that would forever change my life. It seemed to come out of nowhere. He looked at me and said, “You Need A Skateboard.” I didn’t think much of it. I had ridden plastic banana boards in the past, but never thought of buying a skateboard. One thing I knew was that Steve had an independence and confidence that I wanted, and that maybe skateboarding was how I would get it.
Steve’s father ran one of the few independent restaurants in Huntsville’s suburban wasteland of chains and franchises. It was a hole in the wall pizzeria called Big Ed’s. His dad wasn’t Big Ed, but rather Big Steve. He was on the young side for most of my friend’s dads. Big Steve had long hair and drove a red Firebird. I never had a friend with a dad like that before. He was more a friend than father to Steve, which I thought was very cool. The pizza shop was on the Northside of Huntsville. That’s how things were referenced in Huntsville. There was the Northside and the Southside. The Northside was more blue collar workers and racially diverse, while the Southside was the typical white professional suburban sprawl. The Northside had Big Ed’s pizza run by Big Steve. Since they both had the same name and Big Steve was a fan of 1950s rock n roll, he had nicknamed his son Dion. So from here forward my friend and mentor became known to me as Dion. Big Ed’s Pizzeria happened to be located next door to a comic book shop. I am not sure which came first to this strip mall, the comics or the pizza, but they paired perfectly. Dion was an avid comic book collector by proximity. The comic shop was run by a young couple, Lydia and Allen. They were a few years older than me but not long out of high school. The shop was Lydia’s dream; Tattooed Lady Comics and Collectables. Her boyfriend Allen was a Ramone’s punk rocker. Shit, he may as well have been named Allen Ramone. He had been part of the Dogtown Era of skateboarding. During the Dogtown Days, Huntsville had one of the top concrete skateparks in the world. It was known as The Getaway. Long since bulldozed and buried like a dinosaur, The Getaway and its disciples influenced the Tattooed Lady Comic Shop to also have a skateboards for sale. Huntsville’s skateboard scene was so small it couldn’t support much more than a small glass display case full stickers, videos, a few wheels and trucks. They never had more than a couple decks hanging on the wall. The skateboard part of the shop was a small corner, but it was enough to have gained Dion’s interest and get him into skateboarding a few years prior. The shop was run with a punk rock, indie ethos that was all new to me and would soon have a new convert. The idea of being outside the box wasn’t something I saw much of as a child of the military. These two shops that were next door neighbors happened to be the embodiment of the American entrepreneurial spirit and punk rock independence. The pizza shop was in fact, just a pizza shop, but in a town of chains and franchises it was rare to find a place that did things its own way and they did them really well. The Tattooed Lady Comic shop had more of a punk spirit. It was Lydia and Allen saying, “Hey, this is what we like and this is what we will sell, Comics and Skateboards period.” They knew it would never make them any money. What it would do, is make them happy. Comic book shops attract comic book collectors, who by nature are unusual, to say the least. It was meeting these comic freaks that I began to see there was more out in the world than the status quo. That was an important lesson for a kid looking for an identity of his own. Not that I ever bought into comics, but the idea that these collectors had an underground world of their own, independent of the one I lived in. They were in it and they were happy to be there. I wanted to find my Underground.
Fifty dollars was the asking price for a used Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp skateboard deck, Venture trucks and Alva Kaos wheels from Dion. Not a word of this meant a thing to me. All I knew was fifty dollars was a fortune to me. I had recently quit my paper route after I calculated my hourly earnings and saw I was being exploited. I knew I didn’t want to get exploited again. I knew that I could buy a complete skateboard at the toy store for less than fifty dollars and it would be brand new. I voiced my concerns to Dion and he said, “You have answered your own question. The new board available at a toy store is exactly that; A Toy.” What Dion was offering to sell me was a piece of professional level equipment, not some shoddy toy. It was a real professional skateboard, for someone who is going to be serious about skateboarding. It was a turquoise blue dip paint job with day glow green wheels and silver polished trucks. The tail was worn and looked like Gumby’s head, the trucks ground and the wheels coned. At the time I had no idea what to look for on a skateboard. This thing, this object, this weapon for the streets, was so beautiful. It had a weight to it, a strength to it, and most important it had an identity. An identity stronger than any surf shirts, or jackets I had owned in the past. A slab of seven ply laminated hard rock Canadian maple veneer, screen printed with paint, covered in a sheet of black grip tape, mounted to sand cast aluminum trucks to which cored urethane wheels with precision 608 bearings were bolted. It was a badge of who I was to become, not only to myself but to everyone in that godforsaken prison of a high school in Alabama. If I was not going to fit in with any of the lunch room cliques, I would start my own. I carried it down the halls and onto the bus for everyone to see. I was proud. I had my talisman.
At the time, my best friend Ray was also an Army brat. He rode the Army bus with me, to and from school. That olive drab army bus was an automatic sign to everyone at Butler High that you were an outsider. Not to say that you couldn’t be in with the cool crowd if you rode the bus, but it was a marker you had to overcome. In the coming years Ray did become one of the cool guys, but he never abandoned my friendship. He was one of the most non judgmental guys I have ever met and he didn’t compartmentalize his friendships. For those first years Ray and I were quite content on being kings of the army bus of outsiders. If we had no power at school at least we ran that bus. The back seats were always left open for us and we ruled with our insults, jokes and banter. We would always back the other up. It was nothing to be proud of, more pathetic than anything else. We were the bullies of the green nerd bus. One afternoon a girl boarded the bus home with an oversized 80s flash dance sweatshirt covered in Chinese characters. She already hated Ray and I, so we always returned the favor. I immediately said, “How the hell do you know what your shirt says?” In a quip she responded, “It says Fuck Off and Die!” The bus fell silent and all eyes were on me, a low rumble of, “Oooh burn”, could be heard. I had been challenged and I had to put her in her place. I had to do it fast. I looked her up and down and said, “Oh, It must be a gift from your parents?” “Ahhh Haaa Haa,” the bus erupted, once again I could hold my head high as king of the army bus. Ray laughed the whole ride home. It was like the skateboard had already started to empower me. When we reached my bus stop Ray noticed the skateboard. “What are you going to do with that?” Ray asked. I replied with all the confidence I could muster, “Ride it!” What I should have said was, “Learn to ride it.” Ray told me he would go home and get his ten speed bike and meet me for my inaugural ride down Ripley hill. That was our vehicle of choice, the ten speed bike. Nothing said dorks like a ten speed bike, and we rode ours everywhere. We thought we were the Cutters from the movie Breaking Free. He asked me where to meet and I shouted, “At the top of Ripley Drive Hill”. The hill was the tallest in our neighborhood. We would ride down it on our bikes and feel like real bad asses. In all reality it was a small hill that had some slow turns. As I walked up the hill, my balls and my confidence shrank up inside me. I had only ridden a skateboard a few times before. Plastic banana boards up and down driveways. This was a professional skateboard I was carrying under my arm. It was implicit that a professional skateboard would perform at a professional level, and I was less than amateur, I was less than a novice, I was a virgin. I approached the half way intersection of Ripley Drive Hill and decided it would be high enough. The only advice Dion had given me on learning to skate was to go out and ride it. “Just ride it” echoed in my head. Ray had biked up next to me and was already laughing at the prospect of my attempt at the hill. I stepped onto the board and it was a very slow start. Ray literally rode circles around me. I started to gain speed and it wasn’t long before Ray and I were coasting at a matched speed. Then I started to gain speed over him. Ray began to pedal to keep up with my speed. Our eyes met and the fear in his eyes was mirrored in mine. It was about this time that I began to access the situation at hand. There was a major part of this equation that I had overlooked: Stopping. The roar of the wheels grew exponentially with my speed. My heart climbed into my throat. At that very moment of complete fear and exhilaration was the epiphany, I loved skateboarding. I see now that very moment was the purest skateboarding I would ever experience. Never again would I ride a skateboard without any expectations of myself. I would never return to this moment, the beginning and end in one moment. It was perfect.
There is a phenomenon in skateboarding that I will do my best to explain scientifically and psychologically. It has its roots in physics, but it is also rooted in pure evil. It strikes fear deep in the heart of any skateboarder. You will never forget your first confrontation with this evil force of nature. It is known as Speed Wobbles. It is exactly what it is called, and can strike down the best of skateboarders and the worst. It comes on fast, and sometimes is unstoppable until it stops you. It is the stuff of nightmares. You can ask any skateboarder about Speed Wobbles and he will have one of two stories. How he almost ate shit or how he ate shit trying to ride out Speed Wobbles. In my case the story is always the same, how I ate shit. What this demon is, I would best describe as resonance. In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at maximum amplitude at certain frequencies, known as the system’s resonance frequencies. At these frequencies, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude vibrations, because the system stores vibrational energy. Well that’s what the internet says. Most people have seen the black and white film of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse from resonance, that old movie of the bridge vibrating itself into self destruction. Every object has a resonate frequency that can cause its’ self destruction. I believe that Speed Wobbles are when you reach a certain speed or resonance on your skateboard and then you loose stability and self destruct. It begins with a slight shift of weight on the long axis of the skateboard and you try to compensate for that shift by counter balancing. You do that by moving your center of gravity off center. The mistake comes when you overcompensate to one side and then have to shift back to the other side to equalize it. Soon this back and forth motion turns into uncontrollable wobbles. The result is either your wheel comes in contact with the board and you are thrown off, or you can no longer maintain your balance and your face comes in contact with the asphalt. The final result is always the same. You eat shit. There are those few gifted skateboarders out there that have the unique ability to let there lower body completely loose and ride out Speed Wobbles. *See Julien Stranger.
Most of Ripley Drive Hill was still in front of me when I passed Ray who was pedaling furiously on his bicycle. Not knowing what to do, my first instinct was to squat down and grab my board frontside to try and forcefully stop the wobbling. What I did not know was that the act of lowering your body while bombing a hill makes you gain more speed. I knew that eventually the hill flattened out. I had not taken into consideration the asphalt patch across the base of Ripley Hill from a recent water main repair. That disruption in the pavement was virtually unnoticeable on a bike with 26 inch wheel, but to a skateboard, it was like the Grand Canyon. So in almost perfect synchronicity my Speed Wobbles reached critical mass and I hit the asphalt trench. Call it beginners luck or dumb luck, but I executed a front tuck and roll. This is a safety roll that stuntmen and martial artists teach when you are thrown forward with momentum, and have to dissipate the energy to remain intact. I had no clue what I was doing but I knew if I didn’t bail, I was going to die, actually die. I dropped low, tucked into a ball and did a forward roll onto my left shoulder. The entire motion went seamlessly. The energy was dissipated into the ground; I rolled completely over once and was slingshotted back onto my feet and was suddenly running. Ray was next to me by this time. He looked at me and said, “Man that was cool!” I had done it. I was finally COOL! The road rash started on my left pinky finger, up my forearm, elbow, shoulder and ended on my left temple. My white t shirt was covered in dirt and gravel. The left shoulder of my shirt was blood stained. I was stoked. By the time Monday came around I had scabs all over me. I couldn’t wait to go to school to show off my wounds. It was that fast. I owned a skateboard for two days and now I was officially a skater. When the class bell rang I couldn’t wait to tell Dion the story. He laughed the second he saw the road rash. He asked me if I was going to quit. It had never entered my mind. Why would I quit? Shit, I was now cool. Wow was I wrong.
A few weeks later Dion brought me a cassette tape of a band he thought I should listen to. He made it clear that along with my skateboard purchase, he had some life coaching to do for me. The first being music. The title of the tape was scribbled in ballpoint pen on the white sticker label. I read it over and over, but knew I had to be reading it wrong. I asked him what it said. A little perplexed he responded, “The Dead Kennedys.” I was shocked. It was what I though it said. It really said the words, The Dead Kennedys. I shoved it into my pockets in fear someone might see me with it. My current record collection consisted of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar and Men at Work. And by record collection, I do mean records, flat round pieces of black vinyl. I ran home from the bus and put the tape into the double cassette deck. This was the most horrible music I had ever heard. His voice was a prepubescent nasal shrill and the music was mutated heavy metal played way too fast. I had no way to describe it because I had never heard anything like this. His lyrics, ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ What? I just didn’t get it. I wanted to get it. Dion was cool and all, but man I hated this music. It sounded like the kind of music Doctor Demento would play on his novelty radio show. I went back to school a little discouraged about my life coach.
Dion told me that skaters listened to punk rock. Punk Rock? The only thing I knew about punk rock was that it was made in England. I knew this for a fact because all the postcards my friends had brought back from England, they always had Punk Rockers on them. The other thing I knew about punk rock was; it was Not cool. I started to do the math. If skateboarding is punk rock, and punk rock is not cool, then wait a second… I am a skateboarder and… I am Not cool. So there it was in all its truth. It’s 1986 in Huntsville Alabama. I am a skateboarder and along with Dion, my high school has officially 2 skateboarders. This fact was reinforced by two new Butler High students. One guy named Chris who had moved from Florida and the other was Luke who had moved from California. The first day they were at school they dressed like skateboarders: frosted bangs, skate shirts, pegged pants and skate sneakers. I asked Dion about them and he told me they were just Posers. I had never heard that term before. He explained that they pretend to skate because they think it’s cool, at least for where they came from. He had seen it before, and he was right. They had both come from beach culture areas of the country where skateboarders were cool, and girls liked them. Chris and Luke were quick to see that was not the case in Alabama. They changed their clothes in a hurry. In less than a week they dropped all signs of being skaters. Chris quickly joined the tennis team and Luke got himself a 4×4 Jeep. I see now that these guys had it down to a science and knew how to get cool fast. I should have traded in my skateboard for a tennis racket or a jeep.
More important than selling skateboard hard goods, The Tattooed Lady had skateboard videos for rent. I don’t know of any other activity that relied so heavily on this format for disseminating information to its participants. That’s not saying much because skateboarding was all I knew. I still think it’s true of skateboarding today. The Mecca of skateboarding was California. There were magazines, but still pictures couldn’t capture the kinetics of skateboarding. The ability to watch hours of skateboarders on video gave us the blueprint on not only how to ride a skateboard, but how to be a skateboarder. Clothes, language and music were transmitted across the nation on hour long VHS tapes. The culture of what being a skateboarder was deep in those tapes.
Like a football coach after a big game Dion would analyze skate videos. He was always at the shop and he would always have the newest tapes. Big Steve had two VHS decks so we could dub everything. Dion would watch a video over and over picking apart tricks and techniques. Being his friend I was second in line to all his knowledge. One video in particular captured his attention. It was a street skating competition video. It had all the top street skaters like Natas and the Gonz. I went to his house after school and he eagerly played it for me. During each of their runs the skaters would do a trick on the flat ground. Dion would say, “Did you see that, Did you see it?” but I didn’t. I didn’t have his eye. “We have to learn to Ollie, We have to learn to Ollie!” he told me. I didn’t even see it on the video until he pointed it out. There in each of their runs they would pop the tail of the skateboard and it would jump off the ground somehow. I didn’t understand, they would jump up and the board would follow. Over and over we watched it. When first viewed by the virgin eye, a clean Ollie is like magic. The skateboard seems to levitate upwards, attached magnetically to the skateboarder’s feet. The Ollie has become synonymous with modern skateboarding, but it wasn’t the case in 1986 in Alabama. First invented in the seventies by Allen Ollie Gelfand, the hands free aerial had long been established as a vertical skateboard maneuver but was not applied to the street. It’s hard to imagine a time without the Ollie in street skateboarding. It was a dark brutal age when a trick called the boneless was the only way to get your board off the street. It consisted of manually grabbing your board with one hand picking it up and then leaping back onto it. If a Boneless sounds archaic, it looked even worse. Today almost every skateboard trick starts with an Ollie. It took vision and foresight to see this in Alabama in the early 1980’s. But like I said earlier, Dion had a knack for being ahead of the curve and I was always just behind him. We focused our eyes on the slow motion blur of a VHS tape played too many times that it had stretched the tape. We learned the Ollie by optical osmosis. First you snap down with your back foot at the very tip of the tail end of the skateboard. This is called the pop. Simultaneously you jump upward and unweight yourself from the deck. While this is all happening you drag your front foot up the length of the board and level the board out into the air. It all happens in about one second. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. When executed correctly the Ollie is a smooth graceful extension of the skater, and looks effortless. It took me years of agonizing effort to make my Ollie effortless. I think it took me about a month to Ollie my board a ½ inch off the ground standing still and not fall on my ass. I was a pitiful sight. It took Dion about half a week to be able to Ollie up a curb while rolling. That was the difference between us, he learned incredibly fast. I think I was able to accomplish the same Ollie up a curb about 6 months later. More often than not my Ollies resulted in Pete Rose belly slides and picking gravel from my palms. I wasn’t into this progression stuff.
Its 1986 and hardcore companies like JFA and Skull Skates have advertisements opposite glossy mall types like Town & Country on the newsprint pages of Thrasher magazine. Names like Blender, Hosoi and Gator are second only to the Bones Brigade in the almost exclusive vertical coverage of Transworld Skateboarding magazine. Skateboarders are wearing the bright pink, green and yellow colors from a new brand of clothing called Vision Street Wear. There’s a movie in theaters called Thrashin’ about skateboard jousting in the drainage ditches of Los Angeles. Street skating mostly consists of jump ramps and street plants, bad hair and berets. A must for every street contest is a junked car. Skaters everywhere are trading in their Vans and Chuck Taylors for a new shoe called the Air Jordan. My first new skateboard is a Vision Psycho stick. I cover it with green grip tape and draw bad graffiti with a paint pen all over it.
Dion was right about music being important. It went hand in hand with skateboarding. But it wasn’t going to be the Dead Kennedys for me. I soon discovered my own musical tastes with a little help from a local record shop and my older brothers mixed tape mailings from Chicago. There wasn’t much to offer in terms of exposure to independent music in Alabama in the early 80’s. My brother had always been an influence on me, exposing me to things like RUN DMC and Minor Threat when we lived in the suburbs of DC. One band he was into in Chicago was The Replacements. When I moved to Alabama I wanted to pick up their latest album, but had a hard time finding it. On my drive to school we passed a small record shop called Sunburst. I could see posters in the window and one was for The Replacements. I decided to stick my head in and see what it was all about. It was small cinder block shop in an old strip mall next to an undertaker. When you walked in you were hit in the face by the smell of smoke and beer. The walls were covered with glossy seventies posters and Xerox copied punk rock flyers. There were racks overflowing with used records, new records, seven inches and cassettes. It looked like the living room tower scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
My Brother would mail me mixed tapes from Chicago where he was in college. I would listen to a mix tape from my brother then I would then find my way down to Sunburst where the bearded classic rock owner Jay would somehow rummage through the racks of records and find what I sought. I had to start slow coming off Springsteen, John Cougar and Men at Work. Between Jay and my brother I was well on my way to weaning myself off radio rock. Soon I learned to rummage for myself and I found plenty of my own punk rock favorites buried in the racks of Sunburst. I would always be able to find the bands off of the soundtracks to the latest skate videos at Sunburst. I started hanging out at Sunburst Records rummaging for the latest SST records release. If I wasn’t at Sunburst I was just a few miles away at the strip mall of Big Ed’s. The Tattooed Lady Comic Shop and Big Ed’s Pizza were side by side in a strip mall that had a relatively smooth parking lot to skateboard in. There was endless pizza at Big Ed’s and skateboard magazines to read in the comic shop. Dion and I would build ramps from scraps of wood and snap our boards in half off them, then drown our sorrows in Coca Cola and pizza. It was my little slice of heaven.
Dion was also a guide into an underground world of disenchanted youth. There were always new faces in and out the door of Sunburst records. I was interested in the female ones. Where were these girls with pink hair and black lipstick coming from and going to? I often pondered to myself. They weren’t at my high school. I would have never discovered the small scene of suburban punks had it not been for skateboarding and its culture. The first time Dion took me out beyond skateboarding the parking lot of Big Ed’s pizza was to downtown Huntsville. I didn’t even know it existed. We stopped by a place called The Dock. The Dock was an old loading dock diagonally across the intersection from an ice cream parlor. Populated with the familiar faces from Sunburst records, it was where the local punk rock scene showed off their Doc Martin boots and motorcycle jackets. I was never tough enough or had enough money to afford these fashions, so I made due with a plaid trench coat from the thrift store and my fathers Vietnam boots. Their membership badge was a circle ‘A’ Anarchy button. The Dock was a place for us to loiter. Like most downtowns it was dead on weekends and made the perfect refuge for us. Void of anyone except punks and skaters it was a live and let live situation with the local police. From 5pm on Friday until Monday morning, downtown belonged to us. That first night downtown I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was stunned to see other skateboarders. Most of all, I was excited there were girls with pink hair and black lipstick. Up until this point it was just Dion and I, and as far as I knew we may have been the only skateboarders in town.
That night we met the other Big Steve. I know Big Steve is Dion’s dad who owns the pizza place, but there were two Big Steves. Get used to it, it’s Alabama. Big Steve was an air traffic controller stationed on the same military base that I lived on with my parents. When he heard my father was an officer he almost shit his pants. He made me promise I would never tell my Dad he was in the Army. On weekends Big Steve would usually ‘borrow’ an army van so he could go skateboarding off base. It was a white panel van with U.S. Government plates, and a stencil that read, ‘For Official Government Use Only’. It also said ‘US Army’ on the doors. It was the perfect cover. No cop would ever suspect it was full of skateboarders, a case of Milwaukee’s Best and a load of trouble. Big Steve would trade in his uniform for some skate clothes and take the van. He would pick me up and drive us to concrete drainage ditches, backyard ramps and endless parking garage spirals. We would skate all night sometimes. It was like we were a tactical assault team in that van, rolling up on unsuspecting parking garages and storming out the back door.
When it was the dead of winter and we needed to warm ourselves we would drive to a local grocery store that was open all night. A guy named Lee was a night stocker there. He was a skateboarder. We would walk in and say hi to Lee and he would follow us saying, “Come on guys, you gotta leave, you’re gonna get me fired, come on guys” We would walk up the isles grabbing bags of pink frosted animal cookies and head straight for the break room. The store had one of those hot chocolate machines that made a whizzing sound. It was 15 cents! There we were, a bunch of dirty ass skaters drinking hot chocolate in the break room, scarfing on cookies with Lee saying over and over, “Come on guys; Leave, Please Leave.” One night Lee had a bandage on his hand and we asked him what happened. He had cut off the very tip of his finger while slicing some ham for a customer. He handed her a blood soaked ½ pound of ham before he knew what was happening. I said, “shit Lee, if you haven’t been fired for that, we are cool.” Lee was a skateboarder. Lee later became the doorman for a strip club.
The Army barracks where Big Steve was stationed had Coke machines full of beer. Yes, let me say it again, coke machines full of beer. It was so 18 year old military guys could get access to beer without hassle. When Lee found out about the machines he would drive out to the barracks with a cooler and a couple rolls of quarters. I think he found a certain enjoyment in consuming government subsidized beers. When we couldn’t get beer from there, the other easy source was a raid on the pizza shop. It would always start with a long drawn out argument with Big Steve and Dion. Big Steve would say, “Hey lets go make some pizza and shoot pool at your Dad’s shop.” Dion would say “No way.” Big Steve had a habit wrecking the pizza shop after hours. He would make a pizza mess, get drunk and leave. Big Steve would swear to Dion that this time would be different, it never was. Before we left the pizza kitchen a mess we always took some beer to go. To avoid being caught in low inventory there was only one way to steal beer. It was getting it from the tap. We would go to the corner store and buy a gallon of water for 99 cents, and dump it out. Each of us then armed with an empty gallon jug would fill it with tap beer at the pizza shop. That was our trade mark, the guys with the gallon jugs of warm beer.
One night Dion and I had sunk ourselves into a broken couch by the door at a house party. The living room was still a little smoky from lawn mower exhaust, and chopped carpet, someone had just mowed the living room rug. We were insulting people as they walked in the door just like we did in English class, and just like English class, we were being ignored. I was sitting on a couch chugging warm beer out of a milk jug, knowing that momentarily I would puke, as I always did. I was only two gulps into my jug and I was about to puke. My head was pounding, my face was beet red, and veins throbbed from my forehead and neck. I looked around everyone was having such a good time drinking. I just wanted to die. I could see that the beer didn’t work the same for me. It was that night that I realized I couldn’t drink alcohol anymore. Years later I found out I actually had a physical allergy to alcohol. So not by choice I went forward, a naturally born straight edge skateboarder.
Eventually Big Steve got his orders to ship out from the Army. He was being transferred to Alaska to be an air traffic controller. At the time there was this guy Warren who sold skateboards out of the trunk of his car and would undercut The Tattooed Lady Shop. So Big Steve decided to order some gear and tell him he would pay him when his check came in. It took a long time for Warren to believe us when we would all laugh and say, “Steve’s in Alaska.” More on Warren later.
After Big Steve and the Army van left town, our destination more often was downtown. It was safety in numbers and all the punks and skateboarders would gravitate there. At the time in Alabama punks and skaters were a brotherhood because there were so few of us. Being downtown in the dirty empty parking lots and garages gave me a place to belong. It gave me my Undergound to belong in. To be a teenager and have a personal territory in the generic suburban sprawl meant something. To some it was just an empty concrete bench or island in a parking deck, but to us it was a place to meet friends and spend the countless hours of boredom that are crippling at that age. Instead of drugs or alcohol, we had something to do. We would skateboard all night moving from spot to spot until it was the next day and do it again. The ironic thing was, the reputation of skateboarders has always been the party kids, and I can say that at least in our scene, we were the clean ones.
Downtown was a home base to us, it was a place where we could hang out with skaters and Punk Rockers all night. What that also meant was rednecks and jocks knew where to find us. I had been lucky so far and hadn’t experienced any harassment but that soon changed. No different than us, teenage jocks and rednecks were bored. When we were downtown we always had to keep an eye out for eggs or bottles flying through the air. On occasion a car would pull up full of guys looking for a fight. I was never the aggressive type and would relinquish the pugilism to the older Punk Rockers. Everyone called them the Coolies, and as long as the Coolies were around you knew you were safe. You knew the Coolies would regulate.
One night a Coolie named Joe pulled up on a brand new crotch rocket motorcycle with an AK 47 assault rifle strapped to his back. He pulled off his helmet and calmly stated, “I finally sold my house, so I bought this bike and a machine gun.” Most of the Coolies grew up on the Northside. The Northside was a little rougher than the Southside. The thing about the Coolies is they didn’t hesitate to throw a fist in someone’s face, I can tell you that. On a hot summer night Dion and I were downtown in the park skating by ourselves. There were a few punks hanging out in the park. We heard some yelling and skated over to see what the noise was all about. Usually no one walked through downtown that didn’t skate or wear an anarchy pin, but this night was the exception. A group of drunken jocks from the local high school had wondered their way into downtown. A jock grabbed a light post and shook it until it fell and shattered its glass globe. When one of the Coolies saw this, He knew he had to regulate. He asked the drunken jock why he thought it was OK to come downtown and ruin our scene by vandalizing the light and leaving the punks for the blame. I knew it was coming but that poor jock sure didn’t. The answer was going to be a combat boot to the face. There were three other jocks with him but I don’t think they had ever seen a guy just open up and beat the shit out of a dude with no warning. These jocks were used to a lot of chest bumping and at least ten minutes of “you got a problem?” before any fists were thrown. They were stunned. After he felt satisfied that his lesson was taught the Coolie stopped beating the jocks face into a bloody pulp. The poor drunk jock was lifted up by his friends. The beaten jock began to cry and bawl like a child, repeatedly saying, “you didn’t have to do that.” Dion and I skated over to the back area of the park while everyone else who had witnessed the beat down left in fear the police would soon arrive. About a half hour later a few other punks started to show up. For the second time that night we heard some yelling and skated over to see what the noise was all about. As we approached we could see it was a bad scene. The jocks had returned with what looked like an entire football team. The punks jumped into the canal and stood in the waste deep water just to get away. Knowing they were outnumbered and not having any clue of the previous fight the punks sat in the canal waiting for the jocks to leave. I still can see Larry and Bill standing waste deep in the canal. Stupefied the jocks just jumped back into their cars, but not without saying they would return the next Saturday night. What a mistake. The anger that these jocks had tapped into was something they had no idea of. Years of being bullied by jocks and rednecks was about to have its day of reckoning. The punks and skaters had enough. It was now a week later and dusk was settling on the downtown park. The families feeding ducks and carp their bread crumbs were now packing up into their minivans and going home to barbeque. Their parking spots were being filled with carloads of Punk Rockers from a hundred mile radius. What the jocks didn’t know was payback was in full effect and the word had been sent out for an army. Drawing from all five local high schools, the county and neighboring towns, an army of a hundred Punk Rockers armed with baseball bats and bottles waited in hiding. It was like something out of a 1950s gang rumble film when it all went down. About four or five carloads of jocks pulled into the park. They rushed the park thinking they would have the easy pickings of their last attack. Instead, like the battle of Little Big Horn the Mohawked Punk Rockers surrounded and destroyed not only the jocks but every car they drove in. With the fury that was unleashed, I still can not believe that no one was killed. It’s my guess that some poor family didn’t get their van packed up in time and witnessed this crazed scene because although the police didn’t get there in time to arrest anyone, they closed the park at night for the rest of the month. We could still sneak down there to skate but we were the only ones, and it was kind of calm and nice.
Sometimes the bullying came from us. Another favorite activity of the Coolies was to crash parties. I was not aware of this when I told Dion about a party in my neighborhood. Before I knew it Dion had rallied about eight guys to go crash the party. There was no longer anything I could do to stop it, the ball was rolling. I was in a state of fear and dread. I lived on an Army base for God sakes. We pulled up to the house and could see the kids through a bay window on the center of the house. They could see us too. As we walked to the front door the curtains were drawn and the door locked. We ran over to the carport where a boat was parked, and the door was slammed shut. One of the Coolies named John was about six two and with his Mohawk spiked I would say six seven. He was always a little bit off his rocker. When John was young, he was run over on his motorcycle by a truck. His parents took the settlement money and sent his brother to college. John was an angry guy. He was a Thrower. Anyone who skates knows at least one Thrower. It was something you would always have to be on guard for. At any moment John could snap and throw his skateboard. Usually triggered by not landing a trick, a Thrower the hurls his board into the air. Sometimes it would be straight down, sometimes straight up. Straight up was the one you had to watch for.
John took us around to the back of the house party, where he had opened the glass patio door. We marched right in. We walked into the kitchen where, in a panic, the kids had pushed the refrigerator in front of the door to stop us. It was funny because for a good second or two they didn’t know we were standing behind them. They were holding the refrigerator against the door yelling, “You guys need to leave!” Standing behind them we asked, “Who are guys trying to keep out?” John would have been a lot nicer on them had they not tried so hard to keep him out. John pulled out a box cutter (tool of the trade, he was a grocery store stocker) and threatened some people. The other guys went straight to the fridge and took all the beer. That’s what it was all about, stealing their beer. The beer was confiscated. Mission Accomplished. We were out the door. When I walked out through the carport, Dion was standing on the hub of the boat trailer, filling the boat with piss. John kicked Dion in his ass when he walked by and Dion crushed his balls on the side of the boat. We all piled into the car, Dion limping in severe pain. We left as fast as we got there. On Monday two days later it was time for me to go to school and face the music. It dawned on me that I had changed from the victim to the bully. I had a lot of complaints about jocks and bullies and now I had become one of them. I had to go to school and face these guys whose party I had ruined. Worse than that, they had a lot of big friends that would really love to beat my ass, and John the Coolie wouldn’t be there to save me. At least, so I thought. When the lunch bell rang and I took my seat at the designated skater table of the lunch room, I could feel the glares burning my back. The jocks were pissed and wanted to kick my ass, but for some reason, nothing ever happened beyond evil glares. On the bus home my friend Ray who was now fully into the jock scene told me the truth of the situation. All the jocks wanted to kick my ass, but were so afraid of the repercussions from my gang of Mohawked punk friends, that they wouldn’t touch me. From that day on, No One at S.R. Butler High ever fucked with me again, I was protected by the Coolies. I was untouchable.
I decided to embrace this new identity for safety sake by getting a Mohawk myself. Hopefully this would engrain the jocks to never fuck with me again. I had recently watched a movie called Vision Quest and it had a character who was supposed to be a Native American. He had this wide but short crew cut Mohawk. Since I wasn’t a real punk rocker I thought it would be perfect. I went to the JC Penny’s hair salon and handed the hairstylist a drawing I had made. I thought I was so bad ass, wearing my Dad’s army boots and a thrift store trench coat. It was crazy enough for Huntsville Alabama. Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club shamefully comes to mind. So like a rooster, I strutted my new hairstyle into school. Karma has away of keeping these things in check though. Unknown to me there was a professional football player with the exact same haircut, his name was Brian Bosworth. He was in all the papers and on the news at the time. I had no clue. I didn’t watch pro football. Also unknown to me, the football team captain at Butler High, a guy named Casey had gotten a Brian Bosworth haircut that very same weekend. The haircut was called the ‘Boz’. So there I was with a ‘Boz’. Me and the football team captain with the same haircut. What a bunch of assholes! All three of us. Me, Casey and The Boz. I shaved my head as soon as I got home.
The initial crew of guys had already begun to change, with Lee working at the strip club and Big Steve in Alaska. Dion and I continued to skate with an older guy in college nicknamed Wighat. His real name was Wyatt but someone had once misspelled it Wighat and he liked it. Wighat was everything cool about skateboarding in 1986. He played bass in a band, published the local skate and music zine, he had a real girlfriend and last but not least, he had a car. A ford escort that took the place of the army van for our skate excursions.
Wighat’s skate zine was called Writings for Readers. It did its best to cover the small skate and music scene we had going. In a time before cell phones and internet, it was where you found out about contests and shows. I started to contribute sketches and skate stories. It gave me a sense of doing something, creating and being part of a scene. I even got a few skate pics in them. I carried a copy in my pocket at all times. My history teacher held me late after class one day because she had taken up one of Wighats zines from me. It just happened that this issue had something about the Misfits in it. She told me she was afraid for my soul and that the zine was Satanic recruiting material. I laughed until I saw that she was serious. She refused to give it back to me and treated me like Damien from that day on. It was my first introduction to the common misconception in the eighties that skateboarding somehow had ties to Satan worship. Oh well, all hail Satan.
Late one night Wighat, Dion and I piled into the Escort and headed to a South Eastern comic book convention. Dion had known about it through the Tattooed Lady. It was your typical comic convention where a big hotel had been taken over for guest speakers, autographs and swap meets. There was a costume ball and party scheduled for Saturday night and we knew we had to check it out. We had been skating ramp all day and drove straight to the hotel. Since we had no costumes, we all put on our Protec helmets and walked in to the lobby. For those of you that have never experienced a comic book convention, it is one crazy scene of freaks, geeks and collectors. As soon as we entered we were questioned about out costumes, and we replied, “Yes that’s us, we are the guys from Tron.” We made our way as fast as we could over to the crowded elevators and joined a group of costumed conventioneers. For some reason Batman and Superman were a lot fatter than I remembered. We got out on the floor when everyone else did. Caped crusaders crowded the halls. Dion started walking into any open door he could find. It didn’t take long for him to find a room with a bath tub full of ice and liquor. When he was filling his arms up as many bottles as he could carry, the guy walked in. I think the guy thought we were going to rob him, he freaked out. Dion put the bottles back in the tub, smiled and said, “Ill just take one.” I can still hear the words in the hall as we ran, “Hey stop those Tron guys!”
Dion had a job at a seafood fast food restaurant. Sometimes we would pick him up straight up from work. We would take all the left over food they had. The manager would let us take it because she felt sorry for us and thought we were all hungry, but we had other plans. It was the nastiest cold French fries, hush puppies, shrimp, and fish filets. We would go out driving and throw that mess at anyone or anything that tickled our fancy. Usually it was launched out the window at high speed in a nonchalant sideways toss. This would immediately be followed by uncontrollable hyperventilating laughter. This can only be explained by the fact that we were bored out of our minds and complete juvenile delinquents. A second late night activity would come when we finished skateboarding at a large parking lot. One of us would spot it, alone in the distance, separated from the heard, a single lost shopping cart. It unknowingly was about to be ‘run’. I am not sure who came up with ‘running carts’, but this definitely was well before Jackass and MTV. Approaching at an almost silent crawl we would drive up behind the lone cart. Centering in on the front bumper, and then when contact was made we would floor the accelerator. Bringing the shopping cart up to speed, if we were lucky and the lot was big enough, this would mean 50 to 60mph. Then we would lock up the brakes sending the cart into a curb, wall or loading dock. It would explode in sparks as would the laughter in the car. I would love to say this was some anti consumerist activism, but it was just bored teenage angst.
It is 1987 and Santa Cruz Speed Wheels have released the Bullet 66mm wheel. The first skater artist graphics I notice are by Neil Blender on a Joe Lopes BBQ deck. There are two major contests in neighboring Georgia. The Savannah Slammer is a huge street contest, the center obstacle is still a junked car. The second contest is a Vert competition in Atlanta, held by Vision. Vision has released its own skate shoe, which is a rip off of the Adidas shell toe, and is available in colors like pink suede. I have a pair. Police Academy 4 is in the theaters with Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk doing stunt skateboarding for the film. The video game arcades now have a skate game called 720. Powell Peralta releases their classic video ‘The Search for Animal Chin’. They also release a composite skateboard called Boneite, which was soft poplar wood and tar paper instead of the industry standard hard rock maple. I totally believed the hype and I buy a Boneite Lance Mountain Future Primitive deck. I break it immediately.
What pain I avoided from school bullies, I began to inflict on myself. I was at the Tattooed Lady skateshop watching a video of Mark Gonzales slide a parking block frontside and it looked so cool. I decided to go out and learn it. I approached the block with a good amount of speed and turned onto it. I leaned way past my center of gravity and the board flew out from under me. I started to fall on my ass but put my hand back underneath me. It hurt. It was a pain I never felt before, a nervous pain. I had never been in shock before, so that’s what it felt like, a nervous pain. I looked at my hand and it was shaking, and I couldn’t control it. I could move it, but it wouldn’t stop shaking. I went into Big Eds pizza shop and they gave me a towel and ice to wrap it. I sat for a while and drank a coke. The waitress came over and said, “let’s have a look.” My hand looked like a balloon cartoon. She calmly said, “Your hand is broken, go to the hospital.” I was in denial. It hurt, but not like I imagined my first broken bone would hurt. I thought I would have heard it snap and I would be crying like a baby. But it was just numb. They called my father and we went to the military hospital. They gave me a u shaped splint cast that made me look deformed. They left my index finger and thumb out so I could still write for school. Thanks a lot. The kids at school called it the elephant hand.
With the elephant hand in full effect I headed to my first professional competition, as a spectator mutant. It was my first overnight road trip on my own with friends. With a warn out tape of The Replacements blasting, Me, Dion and a guy named Trevor squeezed into his Honda CVCC clown car and were off to Atlanta Georgia for Visions’ Ramp N’ Rage vert contest. The Honda was stick shift and Dion and I couldn’t drive it. I was mostly invited to pay for gas, but hey, at least I got to go. When we arrived I couldn’t believe the crowd or the vert ramp size. The whole thing was chaos. Since I arrived late I had a shitty view. A guy from the crew asked me about my arm and took me around the back of the ramp inside the fence. I couldn’t believe it. I was front and center. The pros had to walk by me, and they all kept handing me stickers. I had stickers coming out my ears. It was like heaven. I don’t even remember who won because I became obsessed with the stickers, like a fiend. The placing went: 1st Hawk, 2nd Hosoi, 3rd Gator, 4th Kasai, 5th Magnusson. After the contest was the ritual of the product toss. Pro skaters would throw boards and wheels into the screaming crowds inciting small riots. One Pro took a set of wheels and threw them into a stagnant cesspool that smelled like sewage. A few kids jumped in after them. It was sad and disgusting, not the cesspool, or the kids, but the Pro. When I eventually found my friends it was time to leave. We had a long drive ahead, and Trevor thought he could make it. He couldn’t stay awake so we stopped a motel in the middle of Alabama that was twenty bucks. Yes, it was only twenty bucks for a double. You get what you pay for. Trevor being the driver and older, took one bed, so Dion and I shared the other. Trevor immediately scanned the television for porn. He found it and watched it all night. The next morning he drove us home a zombie. We barley made it on gas and had no food. My parents could tell I was wrecked and asked me how it was. I emptied my pockets of hundreds of stickers. It was all I cared about. I was brainwashed. Trevor was a skateboarder. I lost track of Trevor, a few years later he killed himself.
Wighat and Dion slowly grew out of skateboarding as I grew into it. It became the overwhelming force in my life. It gave me a pacifier for my lack of girlfriends and an excuse for me as to why I didn’t have one. It occupied my time and kept me sane. It was all I cared about. Dion started playing tennis and paint ball. One of the last times I went to Dion’s house, there were what looked like bullet holes in the walls. I asked Dion what the hell happened? and he smirked. He pulled out his new paint ball pistol and a box of Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobbstoppers. He loaded the gun with gobbstoppers. When his brother Darryl walked in, he shot him in the ass. It was cruel. Darryl screamed and ran. He locked himself into his room and yelled out that Dion was a dead man. We left in a hurry. I went to a party with Wighat and Dion and I could tell something had changed between us. Wighat and I had a chat. He said, “Hey man, I am a guy who skateboards, not a skateboarder.” What he was trying to tell me was that you can be into something, but it doesn’t have to be everything. He was into music, college and dating, he had a well rounded life. I can look back and totally understand it, but at the time it felt like a rejection of something that had become my religion. I was like, “Fuck that, I am skateboarder.” We stopped hanging out. Dion runs Big Eds Pizza. Wighat was a guy who skateboarded. Wighat is in Information Technology, he still skateboards to this day.
By then skateboarding had risen back into popular culture and I noticed other kids had picked it up in school. I met a few guys that had been skating as long as me but kept it a secret until now because they didn’t want to get picked on at school. By a secret, I mean they didn’t dress the part. They looked like normal guys. I have to respect that. Those guys were pure. They didn’t skate for other people to know, they did it because they liked it. Unlike me, who wanted everyone to know that I was a skateboarder all the time. I think what those guys had what I lacked. It would be called maturity.
What also came with the popularity of skateboarding in the late eighties were girls. The skate slang of the time was Betties. There were a few Betties that would hang out with us at lunch in 1988 and that was more than zero the year before. I had crushes on every single one at one point or another, although I only had the courage to go on one date in high school. I may have had a crush but I was also crushed with shyness during all of high school. We went to a movie and then looked at some Christmas trees or something. It was a very long silent evening out. I didn’t even try to kiss her. At the end of senior year she asked me why I never called. I told her that I thought she had a horrible date with me, and the whole thing seemed like a disaster. Turns out she was into me, I was such a swamp dick.
One of the guys who didn’t dress like a skateboarder was Matt. He was a huge Rush fan. Matt had every single Rush album on tape. He was a strange guy. I went shopping for clothes with Matt and his Mom once. He tried on a one pair of jeans and got his size and then he, said “Ill take six more.” That’s how he bought clothes, he found one that fit and bought seven of it, exactly the same. Anyway, he loved Rush, even had a denim jacket with a back patch. Matt kept all his tapes in a shoebox in his closet. He also had an open sub woofer in his room. So one day his Mom was cleaning his room and she puts the sub woofer in the tape box. The magnet on the subwoofer erased all they tapes. I thought he was going to kill his Mom. But it was strange, kind of like he wanted to be set free of this ‘Rush guy’ thing but couldn’t do it on his own. I said how are you going to replace all those tapes? Matt said, “I’m not. I’m not going to listen to Rush anymore.” Matt also had a fucked up eye because his friend shot him with a BB gun when they were kids. Matt and I made homemade bombs for a while until we started a brush fire and almost burned down a neighborhood. Matt was a skateboarder. He later joined the Marines. He was almost deployed to the Gulf War but instead they sat him in the woods guarding missile warheads for two years. A few guys he worked with blew out their brains, but Matt survived.
One night we were skating a block from Matt’s house. It was a bank with an ATM, so people would pull up at night and we wouldn’t think anything of it. A 1980’s thunderbird pulled up. I will never forget that ugly grill. Three rednecks got out and walked up behind us. They decided to grab me first. They grabbed my arms behind my back. I had my board in one hand. One guy punched me in the face and kicked me in the stomach. It hurt, but when adrenaline is dumping into your blood stream you don’t feel much. It took me a good second to realize, that #1. I was being assaulted, and #2. my friends had abandoned me. When I came to my senses I also realized they were grabbing my skateboard. When I let go, they let me go. I ran for my life. I got to my car and drove to the Tattooed Lady Skateshop. I didn’t know where else to go. My shirt was torn, and my nose bloodied. I was still in shock. I walked in and Allen asked, “What happened!?”. I told him and he pulled out a semiautomatic Colt pistol, cocked the slide and walked out the door. He just left the store. I was standing there with a few customers staring. It was crazy like that John Goodman character from Big Lebowski. He even had the same 1911 Colt 45. Luckily for everyone involved, he didn’t find them. A week later I saw a kid skating my stolen deck. It was a Schmitt Stix Caution deck that I had stripped and painted myself with new R.E.M. graphics on the bottom, I knew there was only one out there. I asked him where he got it and he said he bought it for five bucks from these redneck brothers up the street. I pulled out a fiver and gave it to him and he gave me my deck, no hassle. He then told me the guys who jumped me were in and out of jail all the time. I decided it best to let it go. I had gotten away unscathed unlike many of fellow skaters. I specifically remember some skaters getting jumped in a drainage ditch and hospitalized. The only thing that saved them was a good Samaritan pulled over ran off the attackers with a gun.
Its 1988 and Mark Gonzales starts doing his own skateboard graphics, following in the footsteps of Neil Blender. Tony Alva runs the now infamous leather jackets and dreadlocks black and white team picture in Thrasher. My brother sends me an Alva Bill Danforth deck that has the skull graphics. For the first time I see a link between lifestyle and what deck you skate. I trade the Alva Danforth deck for a Gonz. Public Enemy and NWA release albums that skateboarders relate to. Hip Hop is now taking over the role that punk played in skateboarding. Powell Peralta releases Public Domain and Mike Vallely, the man, the myth, the legend is introduced. Mike Vallely starts work on his reputation by beating up security guards. Skateboarding has become so popular that Swatch Watch launches an arena tour with with Gator, Phillips, Miller and Staab. Steve Rocco starts his own skateboard company called SMA Rocco Division and runs advertising in Transworld. Last but not least Paul Schmitt puts out a Chris Miller with an up turned nose, every body hates it.
I didn’t really hang with Matt after my assault went down. A new army kid had moved in up the street from me on base. Brian had a skateboard but wasn’t into skating anymore. I didn’t even know he skateboarded until Ray told me. It didn’t take long before I had turned Brian back into a skateboarder. Brian’s Mom was like Mrs. Cleaver. She made us hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches. She would always vibe me though, and it took Ray to explain it. She didn’t like Brian skateboarding, and didn’t like me because I wasn’t a Christian. What was ironic was Ray was the trouble maker and I got the label because of the skateboard. Brian’s Dad was a salty Vietnam vet with one leg. It was our senior prom night and Brian’s parents asked us why we were not going to prom. Brian said because we were going skateboarding. His Dad called us faggots to our faces, not in a mean way, but in a salty Vietnam Vet way.
There was one weekend when Ray’s parents were out of town and Brian stayed the night. In typical high school fashion, a house party was held. Brian lied to his parents and said he was sleeping over somewhere else, since Ray lived right up the street. Although I hadn’t been at the party I stopped by Ray’s house that Sunday morning and helped him and Brian load four bags of empty beer cans into his jeep. We got into the jeep and started driving to the dump. While we were driving Brian’s dad passed us on his way to church and looked Brian right in the face. We looked in the mirror and he had pulled u turn. Not only did we have Brian in the car, but also four bags of empty beer cans that stunk. His Dad was driving a beater Volvo four banger and we were in a V8 jeep. It wasn’t much of a chase, but it gave us a good rush. We all denied it was us. Brian’s Dad was too embarrassed about getting dusted, so he didn’t push it either. Brian was a skateboarder. Brian is into Jesus now teaches creationism and still skateboards to this day.
That year I got my first real job loading fertilizer into cars at the P.X. garden shop. I shoveled shit, but it gave me pocket change. I worked with a huge bodybuilder named Hardiss. Hardiss was in training to be a Police officer. He would later arrest me for skateboarding and pretend he didn’t know me in front of his fellow officers, then whisper an apology to me. Around that same time I inherited my sister’s car. I was now mobile and employed. It opened up the entire city to me. I wasn’t confined to the Northside anymore. Warren, the guy who had sold skateboards from his trunk for years, now had a shop and a Skate Park. He was business savvy enough to open where the money was, and that was the Southside. The first Underground Skate Park was an old carpet warehouse. It opened a few hundred yards from the Pedaler Bike Shop, which also sold skateboards. So along with the Tattooed Lady, Huntsville now had three skate shops vying for our dollars. The Pedaler put together a street contest that summer on its cracked shitty parking lot. It was the first time there was contest in town since I started skating and I figured I would give it a shot. I ended up taking second overall even though I felt sick to my stomach skating in front of all those people. I was very happy with second, since I knew most of the other skaters I always thought they were better than me. The owner Paul later told me I would have taken first but they had to give it to a shop sponsored skater. That is when it dawned on me that contests didn’t mean shit. There were so many factors involved and it was arbitrary on what could be judged best. I was called up to get my prize and I was excited, at least I was going to get some product. Paul the shop owner handed me a pair of Rector shin guards. I didn’t even know they made shin guards. They were made out of red spandex. I was so pissed I went into the shop threw them on the counter and walked out. Later I would find out that Paul really liked that I did that. I decided to never enter a contest in skateboarding again.
Its 1989 and the last of the great concrete Skate Parks Upland and Pipeline are destroyed. A major pro contest in Hawaii is held on a mini ramp, where vert and street pros compete against each other. The torch is passed from vert to street in Hawaii when Jeff Phillips has to boneless the ten foot gap that Mark Gonzales ollies. Etnies is the first skateboard shoe company to have a professional signature shoe for Natas Kaupas a street skater. Powell Peralta turns Ray Barbee pro for street with the departure of Mike Vallely to SMA Rocco Division. SMA Rocco also sponsors new street phenom Jason Lee. Movie theaters show Gleaming the Cube, staring Christian Slater as a skateboarder rebel. Videos like Speed Freaks from Santa Cruz and Ban This from Powell Peralta showcase Neil Blender’s creative jester antics. In the G&S video Footage, Neil Blender openly makes fun of Santa Cruz skateboards continued use of Skull graphics on decks. A new band from Washington D.C. called Fugazi release their first album.
I don’t know if the Underground skate warehouse even lasted a year before it closed its doors to make way for the bigger better Underground Skate Park. Underground Skate Park was built a few miles south of the warehouse. It was the typical wooden ramp park of the era. One full sized vert ramp and two smaller mini ramps made up the park. Skateboarding was peaking again in popularity and vert was its public face. Transworld magazine had written a piece about the South East that featured Huntsville’s very own Underground that year. All the ramp locals were excited about the piece, but the street skaters could have cared less. The guys from Transworld didn’t give two shits about the street skaters when they came through town and neither did Underground. For street skaters like myself it had a bad vibe. I wanted to learn to skate transition but didn’t have the money to be there everyday to learn. When I did go skate the park I struggled and would get vibed. They had an elitism that I hadn’t felt since the jocks in high school looked down their nose at me. That elitism would ultimately be the downfall of a lot of people in skateboarding, including Underground.
In the short term Underground’s coverage in Transworld got its name and location out across the South East. Amateurs and Professionals would pass through on a regular basis. The National Skateboard Association held their regional finals in Huntsville in September of 1989. Warren’s golden boy Alabama Billy was set to compete in the vert contest, but his hopes were dashed when he wrecked a moped in the gravel parking lot goofing off and couldn’t compete. Billy toiled away on the amateur skate circuit and even moved to California for a brief period. You can see him nail his scrotum to a table in a Black Flys video out there somewhere. Eventually he landed back in Huntsville as the vert side of skateboarding all but died. In a bizarre accident Billy was hit by a train and killed instantly a few years ago.
There was a group of skaters from New York City that took the Underground and Huntsville by storm. They skated for a company we had never heard of called Shut. These guys were ‘street’ personified. They showed up in force at the Underground. Like a gang out of the movie The Warriors. They walked into the pro shop at Underground and piled the counter high with merchandise. Warren ran the credit card and it came up stolen, so he called the cops when they weren’t looking. He stalled the kid who had the card until he was arrested. The kid yelled at Warren he was going to kill him all the way out of the shop in cuffs. We were all in complete shock. Since Underground had no street skate terrain the N.S.A. rented the local National Guard Armory for the street competition. One of the Shut team riders really stood out from the pack. He was so fast and powerful. He was like the Tasmanian devil on a skateboard. His name was Sean Sheffey. Thrasher magazine shot some pictures of him doing high speed ollies in the parking lot of the Armory. He showed us how it was done. Sean was the first guy to teach us that street skateboarding could be powerful, as in a full throttle assault without concern for anyone including yourself, pure strength. After witnessing his skating, we all felt like a bunch of slow motion pussies.
Another team that passed through on tour was from SMA Rocco Division aka World Industries. The news spread quickly among the street skaters that Jason Lee would be in Huntsville. On a side note, a video from Rocco titled Rubbish Heap had been very popular, but we couldn’t seem to find a copy because we all thought the video was titled Robo Sheep. The team arrived in a white van. The skaters climbed out one by one, most notably is Jesse Martinez. Jesse proceeded to skate the six foot ramp like no one else had done before or ever would. When he got done I asked him where Jason Lee was. Jesse told me that Jason refused to exit the van because Underground has no street skating course. Jason sat in the van, stoic and completely visible to everyone through the windows for four hours. The team got back into the van and Jason Lee never set foot on the ground in Huntsville. If his name sounds familiar, Jason Lee is the now famous actor who starred in My Name is Earl television show and the Chipmunk movies.
Being the consummate entrepreneur Warren from Underground wanted to diversify his brand. He started getting decks screened with Underground logos and making knee pads. I have to give him credit on his research and development on the knee pads. He made the pad curved and gave it an open patella pocket for your knee cap to fit tightly into. A small room in the pro shop became manufacturing central. Warren would recruit skaters to assemble the pad inserts with a heat gun. I was naïve and gullible enough to try it. So one day I sat in that sweat shop and assembled knee pads all day. Warren said we would work a discount in the shop for payment. When I finished my finger tips were all burned, black and gummy. I went to the counter and told him I wanted the Eddie Reategui Alva deck with the new spoon nose concave. Warren laid it on the counter and said, “thirty five bucks with grip tape.” I could not believe it. Even at minimum wage I earned it as an even trade. He was going to screw me over and there was nothing I could do. I ended up giving him thirty bucks. I never gave him another dime. I would walk in and skate the park for free from then on. Lesson learned; never negotiate a contract after the job is done.
As fast as it was built it went down. The Underground was belly up. Whether it had spread itself too thin with knee pads or its open disdain for street skating was responsible for its demise is unclear. Skateboarding had changed forever and vert was dead. No one wanted to pay to skate a ramp or buy giant knee pads anymore. Not that Warren was alone in his mistakes, even the big three: Powell Peralta, Vision and Santa Cruz didn’t see it coming. The Underground was replaced by a billiards table shop, which is still there today.
By this time the Punk Rockers in Huntsville were all but gone. All the Coolies had moved away or become productive members of society. The truth was that I had long decided that the punk rock paradox was not for me. That those Punkers who thought they embraced the idea of being open minded, were as exclusionary as the people they rebelled against. It was just another clique, with a different uniform and set of rules. We too as skaters became a singular exclusive entity separate from the punk rockers. This was of mutual satisfaction to both parties (skaters and punks). Skaters and Punkers were officially separate in Huntsville for the first time since the 70’s. With Underground closed, we all met up and hung out in a city park next to a private parking deck. The park was filled with curved benches and the bottom floor of the parking deck had perfect concrete islands to skate on. In fact it was our island paradise. We called it Don Ho.
It got its nickname from the old security guard who worked the security night shift. He had a giant land barge of a car, maybe an LTD. His job was to keep us out. He always wore Hawaiian shirts, hence Don Ho. He would cruise down from the second floor where his office was and we would all exit. When he left we would all go right back in. It would happen a few times a night. There was never any hostility or words spoken. “Meet me at Don Ho” was a common thing to say. At Don Ho, I met the skaters that I most related to. They were street skaters that were wholly committed to skateboarding at the same level as I was. They lived it and loved it the same way I did.
As part of rejecting the Punk scene a lot of skaters grew their hair out like a bunch of stinky hippies. I was one of them and so was my friend Will. I remember Will skated goofy foot (right foot forward if you want to be politically correct) when I first skated with him. About a month later I noticed he was skating regular or left foot forward. He had decided that he was going to switch stance fulltime. No one even thought of skating switch on street back then. He was a pioneer and didn’t even know it. Will was a skateboarder. Will is an Air Conditioning Engineer now, he archives skateboarding and Mopar paraphernalia in his storage unit.
Two brothers had recently transplanted from Kentucky to Huntsville. The Underground ramp locals had nick named them Curb One and Curb Two. It was the vert skater’s attempt at demeaning them for being street skaters. I knew them as Ben and Jason. Ben was a spilt personality. By day an avid street skater with more skills than any of my regular crew combined, but by night he turned into a complete redneck. Sometimes it was hard to know where he was coming from. He had a mullet that he had permed with curls, and wore a tilted baseball hat. Ben drove a white Grand Am. The Grand Am was used to cruise a circle in an old mall parking lot on a nightly basis. Ben would go trolling to hook up with some redneck whore every night he could. Then for a week he would have some toothless hillbilly hunting him down for screwing his girlfriend or sister or both. It became a source of entertainment for us. We would be skating and a truck would pull up and ask, “Who’s Ben?”
That was the new Crew; Ben and Jason, Will and me, and sometimes another Jason. Ben and Jason lived on the Southside with their mother and Marine step father Sam. They supported our skating completely. So we asked his parents if we could build a mini ramp in the backyard. They were all for it. That year a tornado hit Huntsville and tore a serious path of destruction, even killing a few people. In the boon to rebuild there were numerous construction sites around town. In what may be the biggest act of bad Karma ever, a midnight raid for plywood was planned at one of the rebuild sites. Ben, both Jasons and I with the help of a ramp builder Mark Love, procured an entire steel banded pallet of plywood intended for tornado destruction rebuilding. We took the whole thing. We then acquired the stainless steel sheet metal from the defunct Underground to build our own ramp. A week or so later Jason and Ben drove a van with forty feet of enamel baked gas pipe sticking out the back through the streets, destroying things at every turn. With our booty we relayered the Love ramp and built a six foot mini in Ben and Jason’s yard. This set the tone for the Do It Yourself attitude we took on. As a unit we scouted and built our own scene. We had our own Skate Park that encompassed the entire city, county, state and nation. It was free and had no rules or entrance fee. Open all night, it was egalitarian not elitist. This is what skateboarding truly was about and why street skating had taken over. It was for everyone and couldn’t be controlled or sold.
Driving became imperative. Whether to see a band or skate a downtown plaza we were on the road all the time during this period. On one of my weekly visits to Sunburst Records I saw a small flyer taped to the wall. The Replacements were coming to Birmingham Alabama! I had long been attending local shows in National Guard Armories and peoples garages. It was more something to do than a musical experience. Most of the bands that played Huntsville were caught somewhere between hair metal and punk rock. Playing through their amps turned up to eleven, and with a keg in a trash can full of ice, that was a show in Huntsville. The shows were always entertaining, but far from a concert. I couldn’t sleep on the prospect of seeing a band like the Replacements, a band that I listened to, that had albums out and were on television. It was going to be my first concert. It was an outdoor venue and we arrived early. I could see the band behind the stage drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. When they took the stage they could barely walk but tore through an incredible set, sloppy and loud. We danced until our shirts were soaked in sweat. It was something to remember. I waded my way to the back to catch a breath before the encore and saw Jay from Sunburst in a law chair. We agreed that what could have been a train wreck, ended up a rock roll whiskey soaked rock n roll masterpiece. Seeing the Replacements live planted a seed that would grow as strong as my love for skateboarding. Road trips across the South East would combine my two loves. Having to drive four hours to see bands made each concert even more precious. From punk rock in Nashville, to Hip Hop in Atlanta we would skate all day and catch the shows at night.
On one trip to Nashville to see fIREHOSE we drove to the venue early. It just so happened that a building next to the concert hall was surround by slanted concrete banks. We cut through a back alley to get to the banks. As we passed a dumpster we saw a head pop up, like a gopher looking for a hawk. The head belonged to Mike Watt. He was furiously throwing pieces of carpet out of the dumpster. Will shouted out to him from the drivers seat, “Mike Watt!”. Watt replied, “need any carpet? I’m gonna recarpet my van, theres good stuff in here”. Do It Yourself personified. Mike Watt Jams Econo.
Its 1990 and SMA Rocco Division is forced to change its name by legal threats from Santa Cruz and Santa Monica Airlines. It is now officially known as World Industries. Steve Rocco places Rodney Mullen in charge or R& D and board shaping. Although second to Vision V6 concave, World Industries is the first company to successfully get symmetrical concave on the market under the name double dip. Also second to the Vision double ended board, the Mike Valley Barnyard starts the blueprint for today’s symmetrical nose and tale shapes. Following Rocco’s DIY pioneering Mark Gonzales is inspired to start his own company Blind Skateboards and along with himself, Gonz turns Jason Lee pro. Paul Schmitt breaks free from Vision’s control also to start the New Deal. New Deal ushers in a new technical era for street tricks; I just call it flipity flip. A new sport rides the coat tails of skateboarding known as Inline or Rollerblading. Skaters everywhere hate the association with what can only be called the lamest sport ever.
We were a group of peers that validated each other into Never Never Land. Skateboarding was the glue. It was the bond that held us together. A group of young men whose only wishes were waxed curbs and waxed girls. We didn’t want fame or fortune, we just wanted to be able to exist in our little world where we skated faster, ate fast food, worked slow jobs, and drove slower cars. Our travels never went further than $20 in gas could take us; our dreams never even got that far. Ben and Jason had a mini van and in it we took road trips that lulled us into our suspended animation. We traveled the South East to the neighboring states and cities. Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham were the road trips of choice. Gasoline was eighty three cents a gallon and Taco Bell had a 99 cent menu. In each town we found core groups of skateboarders that were just like us. It was an unspoken brotherhood that was always welcoming. It was the time of our lives.
We traveled to Kentucky to visit where Ben and Jason had lived before the move to Huntsville. There I met a skater named Nick who spelled his name Gnik. Gnik was a bit of an armchair revolutionary in a white middle class suburb. The first trip up we knocked on the door to Gnik’s house and he didn’t answer. We pounded on the door and he opened it. Gnik stood in the doorway in a bow legged crouch. He had on boxers with a blood stained crotch. I was freaked out. He had his penis pierced. Inspired by a book he found called Modern Primitives published by RE Search. He later had his body covered with black block letter tattoos kind of like Cape Fear. It was the early 90’s and no one did this kind of shit in the South. He was into GG Allin and that whole scene. He had a younger brother who was the exact opposite. Gnik’s Dad hated skateboarding and was open about it. He bought Gnik a car; it was a grey Datsun station wagon that you started with a screw driver. Meanwhile his younger brother got a brand new BMW. I found the whole situation hilarious. This is when Gnik introduced me to the idea of contest sabotage. There was a local contest and demo that we had driven up for. It wasn’t rehearsed or talked about but Gnik and I were going to do our best to disrupt the contest. I had a huge stack of the defunct Underground skate’s stickers. So we covered our faces with the stickers. We had on white t shirts and blue jeans. In black magic marker scrawl my shirt read Butch Sterbins and his read Aaron Murray, the names of two lesser known professionals. Gnik’s local friend Dave accompanied us with a freshly half shaved head, down the middle giving him a backwoods Deliverance look. Dave can only be described as poster child for Ritalin and ADD. Dave channeled this energy into some massive skateboarding ability, but it was never in a very controlled state. So we arrived at the demo that featured sponsored amateurs Rob Dyrdek and Mark Heintzman. We proceeded to slash grind in and out of the center pyramid screaming at the top of our lungs Butch Sterbins verses Aaron Murray and throwing the stickers. To anyone who doesn’t know, the act of throwing of stickers at any skateboard event creates chaos, as the kids scramble and fight for them. During the chaos Dave barged hard and lofted a giant ollie over the entire centerpiece putting the demo skaters to shame. In and out in a flash, I was actually asked for an autograph. The kids were confused about what was going on and who we were. The shop and the demo skaters didn’t know what to think. This would set the precedent for Gnik and I to wreck more contests to come. Gnik would devise various forms of subversion in his small town. One time he expoxied the doors shut to the local computer shops on the morning of a new Windows OS software release. Gnik would later get surveilled and arrested by the FBI. When he was arrested at his parent’s house in front of his mother as she wept, he asked the agents to allow him console her. The agents walked him back to his mother and he said, “Don’t worry Mom, I have them by the balls.”
It is 1991 and two more companies have formed in the World Industrial revolution started by Steve Rocco. Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud are now running REAL in San Francisco under the Fausto Family. Even more revolutionary G&S team manager Sarge Carter and artist Mike Hill have taken the entire amateur team and pro Neil Blender to Ohio to form the Alien Workshop. The Alien Workshop release a video that is equal parts art and skateboarding called Memory Screen. It creates a mystery around the Alien Workshop that to this day has not been dispelled. Mike Vallely joins close friend Ed Templeton on the New Deal. Blind Skateboards hire a then unknown director Spike Jonze to make Video Days, a skate classic. A new technology bonds plastic to the bottom of skateboards called slick skins. A band called Nirvana release their major label debut.
I got news of a skateboarder art exhibit being put together in Chicago by the brothers who ran Sessions skate shop. My friend Ray, a skateboard artist from the Northside had moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute. I hadn’t brought him up to avoid confusion with my Army brat friend Ray. Ray the skateboarder was black. His parents had moved to Alabama from Chicago to escape the urban decay. Ray used to call his dad the original black redneck. His Dad had no love for skateboarding or skateboarders and gave Ray all kinds of grief. He would tell us Ray wasn’t home when he was, if he answered the phone at all. He would make us wait on the porch if we came over to his house. Ray told me one time his parents asked him why he didn’t have any black friends. Ray returned to his family roots and established a new home in Chicago. When he called me about the show, I knew I had to drive up. I called all my friends in Huntsville but there was no interest in the Windy City. I remembered a skater from Birmingham Alabama who was into art and skateboarding as much as I was. Ted Newsome. I gave Ted and call and he jumped into his truck and drove up. We drove straight to Chicago, ten hours. We went to Sessions to find out the what, when and where of the art show. When we walked into Sessions, Thiebaud, Natas and Matt Hensley were hanging out eating cheese fries. This was my first real encounter with pro skateboarders. I had seen and read about them in magazines for years, but had never the occasion to meet any of them. I gawked. I was a sad groupie fan boy. The next day we made our way over to a warehouse space with the art on display. People started to arrive and it was a typical hipster art opening affair. I was working my way through what was now standing room only, to see as much art as possible. Then I bumped, or I should say I was shoved into Mark Gonzales. Once again I was speechless, like some star stuck monkey. Gonz wasn’t amused and quickly moved on. The heat and crowd was bringing out my inner Agoraphobic. I had to get some water but there was only beer to drink. I took a walk up the block and went into the corner store. I got in line, and there he was again, right in front of me, the Gonz. He looked at me and I could tell he thought I was following him. He put his purchase down and left the store. I was a speechless. I ran into Gonz randomly two more times in my life, once on the street and once on the subway. I don’t think he remembered me as the guy from Chicago, because when I saw him on the streets of NYC he gave me a handmade book of poetry. I was still speechless. That show in Chicago was the first of what would become the Beautiful Loser scene of skateboarding artists. I still regret not buying a small Todd Swank painting I loved. What I did walk away with was the greater understanding that I was part of something bigger and a creative fiber that joins all skateboarders.
Another one of my friends, Dom had left Alabama for art school in Rochester NY. He was from out in the county. Every summer when Dom would come home he and his crew would organize a fireworks war. It had started off as your typical bottle rockets in a field, but by the year I joined it was full metal jacket. Camouflage and face paint, homemade launchers and eye protection, it was serious. There was a series of injuries and mishaps that brought the tradition to an end that summer. First there was a guy named Shawn who was running down a hill when his foot dropped into a hole and snapped his fibula and tibia in half. He was carried out like it was Vietnam. Then we started a huge fire that almost burned down a subdivision of wood framed houses under construction. Then Will crested a hill and lifted his goggles to clean out the fog and was instantly shot in the eye with a bottle rocket. A trip to the ER and a few weeks of Antibiotic eye ointment took care of him. His eyelashes all grew back eventually. And last but not least, at the end of the evening we were driving home in an open top jeep when we passed under the bathing light of a street lamp only to expose that we were covered in ticks. The jeep was stopped and we all stripped off our clothes in scene reminiscent of the leeches in Stand by Me. That was pure Alabama.
The other tradition Dom had was getting some ass breaking job for the summer. Two of them come to mind. The first was as a bread baker at the Sunbeam Bread bakery. I don’t know how or where he would find these jobs but they would always hire him. He was instantly named “college boy” at the bakery. It was 110 degrees inside the bakery all the time. Part of his job was hooking up high pressure hoses pumping hundreds of pounds of dough a minute. He said it was like some scene from The Three Stooges when he had to switch hoses. The dough was never turned off, you did it as fast as possible, and wasted as little as possible. Sometimes it didn’t work out and dough would spray out everywhere. Dom said they had a break room where they would sit around eating the same white bread everyday and talk shit. One of the best Alabama quotes I have ever heard came from that room. A coworker said to Dom, “You know that Haywood’s girlfriend is a man.”
The second job Dom got was something out of Cool Hand Luke. He was a grounds keeper for the Huntsville Airport called the Jetplex. He would show up at some ungodly hour in the morning and get into a truck before sunrise. They would drive him out along a chain link fence and give him a weedwacker. Then they would say, “all right college boy, by the time you walk back it should be lunch.” Dom was doing daily grounds keeping when something at the hotel caught his eye. The airport hotel had been closed for a long time. Behind a wooden privacy fence was a drained pool. The hidden treasure that we had all seen in the pages of Thrasher magazine, but never experienced in real life was upon us. Places like Southern California are flush with round transitioned pools. The South East pools are primarily square walled. But the Jetplex pool was round, the real deal. Although not perfect, it was transitioned, smooth and had real pool coping. I rented a pipe cutter and removed two ladders that were in the way. I found the breaker box and found we could light it up at night! We spent that summer jumping the fence and skating the pool. It’s something that would never happen with airport security now, we were literally
next to the tarmac.
By that time we were all getting close to the age where we could go to bars. Like most small towns there was one bar that having cash was more important than having an I.D. It was a shack of a place called the Tip Top Café. It may have served food at one time but it had become the local alternative band venue. There were always plenty of bands either passing through Huntsville or forming in Huntsville to keep the Tip Top busy. One summer night with nothing better to do, Me, Dom and our crew headed to the bar. The doorman was this morbidly obese guy named Lanny. When we got to the door he insulted us as he did everyone. Dom poked his finger into Lannys belly and asked him if he ate a barbeque grill. Lanny let Dom in for free. When the headline band finally took the stage we had plenty of angst to let loose on the dance floor. Dave from Kentucky was there next to me. When the band started we all commenced to throw each other around, regardless if the music warranted it. There was a frat guy standing in the middle of the dance floor with one hand wrapped around his beer the other around his girlfriend. He was clearly one of the guys who was there to start trouble. It didn’t take long for him to turn around and push Dave. Dave was a skinny guy. The second time he pushed Dave, I told him that maybe the middle of the floor wasn’t the best place for him. He wasn’t going to move. The next time he pushed Dave, I told him to back off the little guy. Then a wave of people slammed into us. Dom who was in the front was thrown onto the low stage with the frat boy on top of him. The guy started punching. So the four of us jumped the frat boy on stage. Out of nowhere the frat army descended on us. It took about a half second for the bouncers to throw me across the room, tossed like a rag doll. They grabbed us by the shirts and lined us up outside in the parking lot. It was me, Dave, Dom, Andy and David standing in a row, panting, coming down off our adrenaline high. The bouncer said to us, “you guys can go back in, but don’t start another fight, but if those guys start another fight we will help you kick their asses.” When we went back the frat guys gave us dirty looks and left. I don’t know what was said to them, but it was nice having a place like Tip Top.
I had been taking classes at the local college, but it was more or less a place to hide from real life. I had no direction. I decided to quit school and focus on the one thing I knew, skateboards. My father had retired and bought a house on the Southside. The Pedaler bike shop was now the only Southside shop to sell skateboards. It was a full service bicycle shop that had a small back room of skateboards. The owner Paul was the guy who shafted me with the second place prize red spandex shin guards before. He and I had developed a friendship out of that because he liked the fact that I didn’t take his shit. He didn’t have anyone there who knew what was going on in skateboarding anymore, so he hired me part time. Paul was an awesome crazy redneck who raced riding lawnmowers in his spare time. I started ordering the decks, trucks and wheels and Paul noticed that the kids were buying what I ordered like never before. He had a crazy mechanic named Jim who was always very paranoid from drug abuse. He would watch me on security cameras around the shop all day long. The monitor was in the mechanics room. One day I decided to get my revenge. I took a Little Debbie brownie and squished it into the shape of a turd. There was a camera angled on the bathroom door to watch for shop lifters. I left the door open and I acted like I was pulling the turd out of the toilet. I knew Jim would be watching. I walked back to the skate shop and got back on camera and ate the brownie fake turd. All I heard was Jim screaming. Jim ran out the back door of the shop. From then on Jim wouldn’t talk to me or be in the same room. He would mumble something about turd eater and walk away.
Working at a skateshop had a lot of benefits. I got a shop discount, and could order anything I wanted. With the slow time I could read the stacks of old skate magazines, and I also got to read the only skate trade publication, TWS Business. Reading it made me really understand how the industry worked. How manufacturing was farmed out and then product was sold to distributors and then they sold it to shops, who in turn sold it to customers. I found an article by Paul Schmitt on how he started pressing decks and it didn’t seem that difficult. I checked out a few books on furniture lamination and talked to my sculpture professor. I started to make some calls to source wood and that’s when the reality of the industry hit me. I must have called every major skateboard company you can think of. Mostly I got secretaries, and answering machines. Some places hung up on me. All I wanted to know was who pressed their decks and where they bought wood, just their most important trade secrets, that’s all. After a long disappointing day on the phone, I called a small new company in Ohio, the Alien Workshop. It must have been Sarge Carter I talked to. He was great. He gave me all the names and numbers of major wood shops and wished me good luck, and most of all he was genuine and honest. He gave me the number for a guy in Little Rock Arkansas named Paige Hearn. Paige was the only source for maple veneer that was geographically close enough for me to drive to. I worked out a deal with him on the phone and drove to Arkansas. When I got there, he couldn’t believe that I showed up. He took me around his shop and showed me how he pressed decks. He showed me how he made YoYos. He told me about how crappy the industry was right now and told me to forget about making boards for my own good, and he was sincere. I thanked him for his advice and we loaded the trunk of my VW Jetta with as much wood as it could hold with out dragging the ground. Paige didn’t count it; he just looked in the car, and said, “300 bucks.” I drove well into the night and made it home in one piece. I had built a mold from bondo and particle board. A press from a hydraulic car jack and some channel iron bolted together made my frame. It was time to make boards. I didn’t want to use any toxic glue since I had it set up in my parent’s house. The decks were laminated with regular wood glue. They were like tanks, heavy but indestructible.
Before this I had been skating World Industries decks as soon as I could get my hands on them. I was like most other skaters of the time, drawn to the often dark irreverent ads that Steve Rocco would place in the magazines. This subversive philosophy and the fact that Mark Gonzales, Mike Vallely and Natas Kaupas had all jumped ship to join his fledgling company immediately gained my support, along with hundreds of thousands of skateboarders just like myself. The big companies didn’t understand what skateboarders were about, and Rocco did because he was one. Under the umbrella of World Industries was 101, Blind, Liberty and a partnership with Plan B. Virtually every skateboarder that mattered at the time, either road for or had ridden for the Steve Rocco Empire. World Industries had taken over the market. Suddenly I realized that World Industries had become what I thought they had fought against. A big company cranking out a poor quality product with ripped off graphics exploiting its young riders. So I decided to let them know how I felt. I started my letter and postcard campaign with benign nonsensical content. The first response I received was from their receptionist. Who turned out to a hulking heavy metal bouncer named JD. It was simple and to the point, “Neil you are going to swim with the fishes.” For a while the exchanges were pretty humorous, mostly mob style death threats. But I was genuinely upset with the product World Industries was putting out so I started being more up front. I took one of the many World Industries decks I had broken and sawed it into one-inch squares and packed it into a tiny box. On top of the pieces I put a wallet and inside the wallet I put a note, “you won’t find any money in here I spent it all on your shit product.” Sal Rocco was in charge of shipping and opened the package, and of course went straight for the wallet, needless to say I had my first real enemy. I started getting hate mail from him directly. Next I sent a letter to the artist at World about how uncreative he was with the rip off graphics. Then the phone rang on a Saturday afternoon. It was Marc McKee the artist and he was really upset about what I had written him. He challenged me to draw something better. I thought about it for a while and drew a crude color pencil drawing of myself strapped with dynamite kicking in the door of World Industries. The week after I mailed it, Natas Kaupas called me and asked if he could use the drawing for 101 graphics. It never happened and it may have been a joke, but it was cool to talk to him. Next I decided to create a rip off World Industries logo calling my new company Not World Industries. I made a couple stickers with a logo and vowed in a letter to Rocco that every graphic he ripped off I was going to immediately bootleg. I sent pictures of my board press and stacks of blanks. Of course there was no chance of this since my maximum production was 5 boards a week, and I had no idea how screen print. But it was a good enough bluff for Steve Rocco to call me himself. To this day I don’t know if Rocco really gave a shit or he was just having some fun, but the phone call went like this “Neil, this is Steve Rocco and I am going to ruin your life.” I pissed my pants. It was like having Darth Vader call you and threaten you. I was scared and didn’t know what the fuck to do. Rocco said he was going to place a bounty on my humiliation and run a full page ad with my name and address and phone number. He had already done it before to some other skater. I started to think about legal representation. I was terrified. The next day the phone rang and it was a girl. It didn’t seem right because girls didn’t call me ever. She said she saw me at the mall and thought I was cute. It was all a bunch of bullshit. I said, “Ha, Ha, tell Steve I said hello and you are not a very nice person.” As I suspected, it was a girl from World Industries. She sounded genuinely sorry that she had crank called me. Eventually Rocco forgot about me. I think he was happy enough to know that he had scared the shit out of me. I ran into Natas years later and he told me that he rejected my drawing for 101 because it just didn’t fit his idea of the company but he really did like it.
Its 1992 and Eighties glam goes grunge. Wheels are shrinking down in tiny sizes like 39mm. Venture makes lower trucks for the small wheels. Skateboard clothes are growing to ridiculous sizes like XXL and XXXL. Mike Vallely and Ed Templeton now ride for themselves and wear vegetarian Velcro shoes called Zero Two. Stacey Peralta gets out of the industry and with his departure Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk quit Powell. The majority of skateboard graphics are now ripped off from cartoons and corporate logos. Another big trend is putting photographs on skateboards under slick skins. Gonz quits Blind. Plan B release the Questionable video and handrails become a required street obstacle. The industry in bottoming out and magazines are very thin. Rocco decides he should just publish his own magazine, he calls it Big Brother. They called 1991 the year that Punk broke. Then 1992 is the year that skateboarding goes broke. It’s the low point in terms of sales. The market has shrunk but the number of new skateboard companies is growing exponentially. Everyone and their brother think they can start a skateboard business. The pie is getting smaller and cut into more and more slices. But to me, it was the high point of skateboarding.
AWH Distribution in Evanston Illinois had an annual mini trade show. Since I placed orders with them from my job at the Pedaler, I was invited to their warehouse trade show. Evanston is on the northern edge of Chicago, so with my friend Ray and my brother also living there, I decided to go have a look. It was what I envisioned, a good sized warehouse with shelves stacked high with product. Every wheel, skateboard or truck you could imagine. It was like a Costco full of skateboard goods. The people who ran AWH were super nice, and always put out a spread of home cooked food for everyone. At the entrance they had set up folding tables in a semi circle for the all the companies that wanted to participate. I sat down at the NHS Santa Cruz Skateboards table and shot the shit with the rep for a while. He was a nice older gentleman. We talked about the state of the industry and I complemented him on the high level of quality in Santa Cruz decks. When I got up, I asked his name. He was Rich Novak, the owner of Santa Cruz. I thought to myself, holy shit, Rich Novak is willing to sit at a folding table with crock pot of chili bubbling behind him, in Evanston Illinois, and talk to me? Things are getting rough. What reinforced this even more was my drive back home. I decided to take detour off interstate 65 and visit the Alien Workshop in Dayton. The guys had been so nice on the phone; I asked them if I could stop by. They said sure, and they were equally excited to see one of the decks I had pressed. I followed the directions they gave me but couldn’t find the Alien Workshop. Back and forth I drove the road. I went to a pay phone and gave them a ring. The reason I couldn’t find it was the Alien Workshop was inside a radiator shop. As in, a cinder block building that smelled of pancake syrup and oil, where mechanics fixed automobile radiators. I pulled into the gravel parking lot where there was only one other car. It was a beat to shit station wagon with wood grain side panels. I knocked on the door and Mike Hill was there. This was it? The legendary Alien Workshop, where Neil Blender had taken up with Chris Carter and the G&S amateur team. I would never say that I was disappointed, and in a way its clandestine facade was perfect for the Black Ops of the Alien Workshop. I thought that if a company had a pro team and full page advertisements in magazines that they were well off financially. These guys were getting by with the skin of their teeth. Mike was honest with me and he didn’t know if they would even make it through another year. They were more than inspiring; they showed me that making a commitment to a creative outlet isn’t about money. It’s about a vision and dedication. It’s about courage and the willingness to suffer for what you believe in. That was what skateboarding was to me too.
The lull in skateboarding had weeded out people who didn’t really love it. Those of us who were left became a tight knit group. If nothing was going on, we made something happen. Companies had become so small that the entire team might only be two or three skateboarders. Because of this and the need for grass roots marketing, skateboard companies toured like no other time in the industry. They would load up into fifteen passenger vans packed with product, video equipment and coolers and hit the highways. They toured like indie bands, stopping in any town that would have them. That meant Huntsville Alabama.
Mike Valley and Ed Templeton were the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid of skateboarding. They were a dynamic duo that toured incessantly. If you booked a demo with them, you knew they would show up and nail it down. My friend Jonathan from Decatur rented the National Guard Armory where the NSA had held their street competition a few years prior. We built street obstacles and charged admission to cover the costs. If you counted our labor, it was a losing proposition, but we didn’t care. Skaters would drive a hundred miles to see Mike Vallely. One skater who showed up was a kid from a small town called Dothan; his name was Jamie Thomas.
He would later skate for Ed and then start Zero skateboards. Zero finally put Alabama on the map for modern skateboarders, and gave us something to feel proud about when asked where we were from. Jonathan had told Mike Vallely about my little war of words with Rocco and he wanted me to meet him. Turns out Mike knew who I was. I was still in the speechless rock star fan stage. I got choked up when it was my time to talk. Ed asked me how old I was. It turned out I was a year older than Ed. That’s when I finally got over being star struck. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but here was Ed who I had put on pedestal and I was older than him. Not that age means anything, but it made them human to me. The more we talked, the more I was able to loosen up and see we weren’t that different. It was that same idea of brotherhood I mentioned earlier. We were all the same. Whether they are just being nice or really do remember, whenever I see Ed or Mike they say that demo was good times.
Nashville Tennessee was just a few hours north of us. Their local scene started to put together contests and professional demonstrations that would pull kids from all over the South East. It was half way between Gnik in Kentucky and me in Alabama. Whenever there was a contest we would meet in Nashville for a little sabotage. Real Skateboards team was on tour. Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud were there. The week before I had “found” some red white and blue flags that had the word skate printed on them in front of a roller rink so I brought them with me. Gnik had a small bull horn that played songs, and a plastic motorcycle cop helmet. We both put on the flags like capes and for some reason I had a black curly wig too. We hid in the wings until the fake name we registered under was called for his run. “Holden R. Peters” was announced over the P.A. but we hung back and made him say it twice. Gnik stood on the centerpiece and berated the crowd about the ills of competition, and how they should be ashamed of themselves, while I rolled around flying the skate flag. The wig and cape through me off, so I think I only pulled a frontside grind and maybe a manual. The place was dead silent, and then jeers started. The kids were not into being reprimanded by two idiots. Then Jim and Tommy stood up and started clapping. I knew it was them because they were the only ones applauding. Then, like the sheep that they are, the rest of the place cheered. Our winning of hearts and minds was bitter sweet.
Later that year was another street competition in Nashville. My friend Mark had entered but rolled his ankle during practice, which was a shame because he had the ability to take first place. When his name was announced Mark told me to take his run. The place had been packed, so I took it as an opportunity to skate the course all to myself. I did my best to Zen out the crowd watching me and I had a good time out there. Much to my surprise I qualified for the finals. Two of the more competitive guys from Huntsville begged me to give them my slot in the finals. They kept asking me saying how it wasn’t fare that I didn’t care about winning enough. They were right. I took my run in the finals and goofed off. One of those guys was Jeff. Jeff was the skateboard version of an urban kid from the projects that put all his hopes in life on going pro in basketball. Jeff had dropped out of school and looked to skateboarding as a future. He had the talent, but he didn’t have the stomach. It became a running joke at contests of when Jeff would puke. Would it be before, after or during his run, or all three.
I returned home from Nashville and there was a note on the kitchen counter, written by my Dad, “Steve Rocco called.” I was mortified and simultaneously amused that my Dad had talked to Steve Rocco. So I dialed the number. When he answered it sounded like he was in a helicopter. I could barely hear him. The conversation went like this:
Rocco, “Neil, do you know how to use a Mac?” Me, “What is a Mac?”
Rocco, “A computer, Do you know how to use a computer?” Me, “No.”
Rocco, “Write me a story about the South?” Me, “What?”
Rocco, “I have a new magazine and I want you to write a story about the South for it. Too bad you don’t know how to use a computer, I was going to let you be the editor. I am on my mobile phone in my Porsche, gotta go, bye bye.”
Rocco was talking about his new magazine called Big Brother. He had become so tired of being censored by Transworld that he decided to publish his own magazine. We talked again later that week, and he wanted a story about being a skateboarder in the South, and since I was the only one he knew down here, he gave me a call. I wrote it up and sent it in with some pictures and postcards. When I talked to Rocco again, he told me that it wasn’t “mean spirited” enough and he was going to rewrite it. The piece ran in the first issue of Big Brother with my name on it, but it was almost nothing like I had submitted. I think a guy named Walter Sims rewrote and edited my piece into a diatribe about rednecks. The original piece I had submitted was more focused on the brotherhood that the skate scene had in the south as a result of constant harassment by cops, jocks and rednecks. Rocco called me one last time to ask for more of the throw back black memorabilia post cards I had sent him. Memorabilia is just a polished way to say racist caricatures. Rocco soon used them as source material for the Jovontae Turner napping negro graphic. Big Brother would publish many more controversial stories and would expand into videos. Those videos would be the pilot for a television show and movie called Jackass.
I met Steve Rocco face to face in Fort Walton Beach Florida where he was chaperoning his new team on tour. I was a zombie from driving all night to and from Tuscaloosa. I had seen fIREHOSE play one of the best shows of my life, driven back three hours to get into a car for the six hour drive to Florida. I was in a delirious state of exhaustion, the kind where you laugh at anything. When I got to the shop I laughed a lot in Rocco’s face, he must have thought I was crazy or high. I wanted to know if he had seriously offered me to be the editor of Big Brother or he was just fucking with me. In typical Rocco fashion he said, “if it bothers you more not to know, then I am not going to tell you.” That six-hour drive ended up being my savior since Rocco planned to attack me at my parents house for a tour video, but it was too far to drive off tour route. You never knew with him what the truth was. I was happy he didn’t slip some jock a hundred bucks to kick my ass on the spot.
I remembered back at the Vallely/Templeton demo when Jonathan wanted me to tell Vallely about my war with Rocco, it was because he had one too. Apparently it was so bad that Rocco carried a pistol, afraid of Mike’s wrath. Mike Vallely had built up a reputation for handing out beat downs. Most of the stories revolved around over zealous security guards laying their hands on him. This new attitude of not taking shit from you or no man was spreading throughout skateboarding. It made its way to Huntsville, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Harassment was at an all time high from Rednecks, Jocks, Security and Police. The cool factor in eighties skateboarding was gone from mainstream movies and television. Posters of vert ramps with neon spandex clad skaters no longer sold at Spencer gifts in the mall. Street skaters dressed like street thugs and got treated that way.
These days most people look at police officers as heroes. They get a blanket pass because of the risk they take on a daily basis to keep our society safe and civil. I won’t argue that it is a difficult job and that we need police. But I also don’t automatically assume a cop is a moral or just person because he has a badge and a gun. If you grew up skateboarding in my era, you would understand. There were countless times I was harassed by bored cops that had nothing better to do than shove skateboarders around. I know a few cops now that I am older. In confidence they have confided, that yes, sometimes you get bored and fuck with people for something to do. That’s where my disdain for police comes. It is like an extension of the playground where the bored bully picks on the kids having fun.
We were all still in our XXL gear: hooded sweatshirts, beanie caps and massive jeans. It was a street thug look on suburban white kids. Sheep in wolfs clothing. People were afraid of us, and it gave us false confidence. My friends didn’t worry about anything and even cops weren’t off limits. Dom came down for the summer with a New York attitude. He was always sharp tongued. Dom was the kind of guy that could insult you to your face and have everyone laughing at you including yourself. Dom got up in a cops face in Birmingham once. He called him Barney Fife. Then asked him if Andy knew where he was and if Mayberry would be safe without him. I was pissing my pants, in fear and from laughter at the same time. I thought I was going to see Dom get clubbed. Dom had mistaken this real Birmingham police officer for a security guard. The Birmingham cop was so stunned, he shook his head and got back in his cruiser and drove off.
One time my friend Wasden, put a parks patrolman’s face in his ass, literally. The park where we skated downtown had a steep incline with a three foot stone wall at the top. The city had recently assigned parks patrolmen to keep us out at night. The usual escape route was blocked by his car so Wasden ran up the hill and jumped over the wall. As soon as he did, he pulled his already sagging pants down. When the patrolman reached the wall and started to climb his way over, Wasden pushed his ass out over the top of the wall into the poor guys face. The guy was so shocked and disgusted he turned around and went back. We were rolling on the ground crying after that one.
Last but not least was the night when we were lined up on a curb with our driver licenses being run for warrants. We had been through it a million times before. Ben couldn’t take it anymore. He got up in the cops face and asked him if he was proud of himself. Ben then went off. Was this what the cop thought was a good use of his time? Did it follow the codes he had sworn to obey? He asked the cop if he felt like he was serving and protecting us. Then went on a tirade about how we all had jobs and paid his salary in taxes. That none of us had ever been arrested or caused anyone trouble. The cop folded. He gave us back our driver licenses and said the words I will never forget. “I am sorry, you are right.” Then the cop drove off. It was amazing. This was probably the worst thing that could have happened to Ben though, because he would go on to tell cops off and get arrested repeatedly in the years to follow.
Our local hang out at the time was a bar called the Mill. It had a restaurant and a bar. It was the kind of place that jocks and frat boys would go see bad musicians play acoustic cover songs and reggae. We went there because it was the only place downtown that would let us loiter through the winter months. It had a small upstairs area that we would claim and it was like we weren’t even there, so the owner would tolerate us. We would skate for a few hours and warm back up in the Mill. One night we got wind of a party at our friends Anne’s house around the corner from the Mill. We pulled on our oversized hoodies and beanies down to our eyes and headed for the door. The manager was holding the door open because she was about to lock the restaurant entrance. The bar had a side door for late hours. When we walked out a group of eight huge jocks walked in. We squeezed past, each single file. I was last out. As I passed through the threshold I heard one of the jocks grunt, “skate or die dudes”. I snapped. I turned around and yelled, “what the fuck did you say?” The manager slammed the door in my face and bolted the lock. I beat on the door. She mouthed , “leave or Ill call the cops!” The guys I was with; Crazy Dave, Andy, Dom, Wasden and Phil didn’t know what was going on and calmed me down, mostly because the jocks looked like an offensive line from a football team. What we didn’t know then, was that they were the offensive line of a football team. My face was flush with blood. My heart was racing and I was filled with rage. When we got to Anne’s house I couldn’t calm down. I had reached my breaking point. Years of being harassed that had built up. We had never started anything with anyone. Whether cops, security, jocks or rednecks we were always in the defensive position. The anger would not subside. I could not sit on Anne’s couch while I knew those jocks were blocks away in the bar thinking nothing of it. It wasn’t that “skate or die” was an insult. It was that we had filed by those jocks without saying a word, or passing any judgment. We were live and let live. They took upon themselves to fuck with us, like clowns for their amusement. My blood boiled and I stood up in the middle of the room. “Fuck this bullshit, I am going back to fight those jocks. I don’t care how big they are. I know I will lose, but I am going to fuck someone up first. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t give a shit if I have to go alone.” I was five foot ten one hundred and sixty pounds. Crazy Dave was the same, and the rest of the guys were smaller than us. We were dead meat. Crazy Dave screamed. “Lets Rock!” and the Six of us walked out the door and drove to the Mill. On the drive over I made sure no one wanted out. “I would rather get my ass kicked tonight, than live one more day feeling like a pussy!” I told them. Everyone was in. We were all scared shitless but there was no turning back. We got out of the car and started walking across the parking lot. Our timing couldn’t have been better, the jocks walked out of the door right towards us. For all they new we had been waiting outside for them for hours. They knew we were there to fight them by our posturing. They looked even bigger than I remembered. One guy, the captain I will call him, stepped forward and said the traditional pre fight banter, “You gotta problem?” I retorted, “No, we don’t have a problem, but one of you does, running your mouth. We are fucking sick of bullshit like this. You picked the wrong guys to fuck with tonight.” At this point Crazy Dave was jumping up and down in place, screaming “Lets Rock!” in their faces.
Crazy Dave is a character that you can’t describe in words on paper. You have to spend some time with him to get the whole picture. He is a devout Mormon, so that right there tells you he has some pent up shit inside. He is hyper active with three brothers he grew up fighting. Although not diagnosed, he could have turrets, occasionally spouting off nonsensical garbage. He eats sugar constantly. He has too much testosterone and frequently head butts things like stop signs until he is bleeding. He refuses to curse. So he uses the alternate, Frick You and gives people the ring finger. He once beat a guy up with one hand because his pants fell down mid fight. Last but not least he enjoys taking his shits Monkey style.
Crazy Dave became more and more frenetic, “Lets Rock!” now his mantra. Pounding his fist into his palm and in everyone’s face, he was even starting scare me and I was on his side. It did not seem to phase the biggest of the Neanderthals. They faced off, chests bumping and eyes locked. The captain stepped between the two and yelled, “Lets all just calm down, Lets all just calm down!” It was like an anthropological experiment where the two clans of cavemen met and the Alphas faced off. I looked him in the face. “Fuck that!” Crazy Dave continued his mantra, “Lets Rock!” The captain turned and whispered to his friends and turned back to face us. He then said, “I don’t know what you think we did, but we didn’t do anything. We are out to have a good time tonight; we don’t want to fight you. Lets all shake hands and go home.” He extended his hand towards me. We all stood there staring at him. Wasden opened his mouth for the first time, “Fuck off! I’m not shaking your hand, Fuck you!” Crazy Dave yelled his final, “Lets Rock!” I could see it in the eyes of most of the jocks, they wanted to kill us. Andy chimed in with the rest of our crew, “Fuck you jocks!” We stood our ground and the unthinkable happened. The captain turned his back to us and extended his arms out to gather his men. He pushed them away. Reluctantly the jocks retreated. They out numbered and out sized us. I see now that they also out matured and out civilized us that night. But in that moment was our Victory. We had stood up for our dignity and stayed our ground. We won. Crazy Dave was still so pumped he couldn’t calm down. The rest of us counted our blessings and knew we had dodged a bullet. The story didn’t end there. Two days later Wasden and I went to get lunch at the Mill. We put down our trays at a table and I saw Wasdens’ face go pale. He said “look, but don’t look. It’s the jocks, there are two of them sitting across the room.” They were looking right at us. We were fucked. It was hard for me to swallow my last meal. I told Wasden that I didn’t think they would fight us in the middle of lunch and that maybe we could sneak out. They got up and walked across the room straight towards us. I looked up from seat as they towered over. It was tense. The captain puts his huge hands on the edge of the table and leaned over. I wanted to puke. He said, “I want to apologize for the other night. After you left, the guy who mouthed off owned up. We didn’t know about it. Sorry, he is a dick. We would have helped you kick his ass had we known that night.” This time Wasden and I shook hands with them. I told the guys that they would have easily kicked our asses. The captain then said, “We know we could have beat all your asses that night. But you guys were so crazy, we thought you had knives or guns. We all play football for the University of Alabama, We can’t get into trouble like that or we will get kicked off the team, anyway, You guys Are Crazy!” Lucky would be a better adjective.
Luck only goes so far. A few weeks later I pulled into downtown to meet up with Wasden, Dom and Big James Nore to skate the benches. I saw them all sitting in a row, heads down, silent. I knew something was wrong. I skated up and sat down next to Big James Nore. I asked “what’s up?” He didn’t even lift his head to look at me and he said, “I just got my ass kicked.” Wasden then said solemnly, “and I just watched, I didn’t help him at all.” Dom sat silent. I wanted to know what happened and nobody wanted to talk about it. An hour later Big James Nore told me the story. They had been driving and some rednecks pulled up next to them and started to talk shit. James told them to pull over at a gas station and they did. James jumped out and ran over to the car and was promptly handed an ass whooping. Wasden and Dom were stunned and it was over in a flash. It was the last fight any of us started.
Gnik drove down to visit us from Kentucky in his beater Datsun station wagon. We were all sitting around in our XXL clothes when Gnik surveyed the room and made one of those crystal clear observations that can only come from an outsiders’ eye. He said, “You guys look like a bunch of rodeo clowns.” He was right. In our oversized jeans synched to our hips and giant t shirts to our knees, we indeed looked like we should be jumping into barrels. A week prior Will had gotten his foot caught inside his pants cuff because they were so baggy. He had fallen on his face just pushing off. We had taken the look to an extreme and it was now in the realm of clown uniform. All our bravado and attitude came down to looking like Clowns. I felt humiliated and ashamed that I had gotten caught up in such a stupid facade.
Around this time, an amateur vert skater named Brian Boyd had transplanted to Huntsville. He was trying to sort out his life because going pro as a vert skater was hard enough and he had suffered a severe shoulder injury. That injury and the slump in skateboarding ended his dreams of going pro for Santa Cruz or Blockhead shortly after we met. Brian was a clean cut guy, smart and if you didn’t know him, you’d never guess him to be a skateboarder. He was an incredibly talented skateboarder, but had a different approach than I was used to. Skateboarding to him was like golf or tennis; a scheduled activity that was on his weekly calendar, for a specific time and place. He would call us to set a time. Brian would pull up and change into his skateboard clothes. He would skateboard for a set amount of time and then change clothes and leave. Systematic would be the word to describe him. He ended up getting certified as a physical therapist after rehabbing his shoulder.
I knew that Brian’s sport view of skateboarding wasn’t for me. I also knew I didn’t want to dress like a clown and try to start fights anymore. Being called out by Gnik made me see I needed to grow up. It was time for some serious introspection. I was skateboarding all the time to bury the fact I was about to be twenty years old and still a virgin. I had been jacking off to scrambled Cinemax on late night cable and Penthouse magazines too long. I didn’t want to become some Norman Bates psycho. Twenty years old, I was feeling like a bit of a freak. A big part of it was regular old shyness, but another part of it was skateboarding. I used it as an excuse for why girls didn’t like me. Maybe they didn’t like the rodeo clowns. I needed a change. I needed a girlfriend and I needed to get laid. I always told myself it didn’t matter what people thought, but never applied that theory to girls. If I got turned down, how was that any worse than before? It wasn’t. I had a crush on a girl that I thought was way out of my league that I met in summer school. I decided that I might as well get rejected from the top down. I went up to her at her job at the mall ice cream shop and just asked her out. She said yes and immediately we started my first serious relationship. I was so into her that I put away my skateboard. I had fallen in love. Then she dumped me and she started dating my best friend from high school Dion. The funny thing was how I found out. John the party crasher with the Mohawk walked up to me and said, “ Dude it’s pretty good how cool you are with Dion dating Christy” I was wrecked. I went insane for a few months. But then I realized I was a college drop out who lived at home with my parents and didn’t have a real job or plan for the future. Could I blame her? At least the break up got me skinny.
I was down in the dumps, depressed and hiding out. I felt bad because of the break up and worse about turning my back on my friends and my skateboard. At least I was no longer virgin. The phone rang and it was Ted Newsome from Birmingham. This time it was him inviting me to drive to San Diego for the Action Sports Retail trade show. SoCal, The Mecca, the heart of it all. I had been a little brainwashed about SoCal by a guy named Greg who had moved to Alabama from California. We all called him Carlsbad. He built up this fantasy about how much better skateboarding was in California, how even the concrete and curbs were better than anywhere else. The ASR show in San Diego was the real deal, not the mini AWH show I was attending in Chicago. ASR was huge and encompassed the whole action sports world. It was where legendary deals and demos went down. It was exactly what I needed to get me out of the doldrums. Ted was trying to start his own clothing company called R.E.N. He was now sponsored by BBC and had a friend named Kris Markovich who we could stay with in California. I was going to Mecca.
When I arrived in Birmingham, Ted enlisted me to help finish his last batch of shirts for his company. The plan was to make it to the ASR in San Diego, which started in four days. Ted had been scrambling to finish his catalog and tie up other loose ends working sixteen hour days at his screen printing job. He was a physical wreck. I was an emotional wreck. We rolled out of town a day behind schedule but at least we were on our way. Somewhere in Texas, Ted’s truck decided it did not like shifting gears anymore. We eventually figured out that if we stopped the truck and floored it we could get it to shift and cruise at about 50 mph. At that rate we were not exactly making record time, so we pulled over at a rest stop to sleep. Ted slept under the camper shell while I squished myself on the vinyl bench seat. When the sun woke us it was freezing outside. Dairy Queen time again. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, that’s all Texas seemed to have. We resumed the break neck pace of the stopping the truck and flooring the accelerator routine until Ted could not take it anymore. We exited at Sweetwater and looked for help. There was an auto parts store. Being the mechanical geniuses we were, we bought a bottle marked ‘automatic transmission service’. Somehow we knew this magical elixir would heal the truck. The next stop was Odessa. A nameless mechanic listened to us babble about the truck. Then he took a screw driver turned a knob on the transmission and said, “that should do it.” Doubtful, we asked him how much we owed him and his reply was a handshake. It was fixed! We were stoked, and on our way. By Friday evening we had made it to a little town in New Mexico named Deming. I’ll never forget it. We pulled in for a dinner break and that would be the last time I would ever see that truck. The timing chain had jumped, the truck was done. Ted and I road in style chauffeured to the Grand Hotel of Deming in the cab of a wrecker. $29.95 was not bad for the nicest room in town, we were living large. It was Saturday morning, Ted and I sat in the waiting room of the mechanic, like the parents of a critically injured son. “He is going to make it” the mechanic announced, “we can have you guys on the road by 5pm Monday.” The ASR show would be over Sunday. Ted’s hopes of smuggling his catalog in would be too. We walked back to the hotel and started making the calls; planes, trains and automobiles. We both knew what we had to face; the bus. We packed down into two bags and headed for the station. It was seventeen hours of B.O., exhaust, on bus port-o-potty, McDonalds, smoke and bad company. Some of these people had been on the bus for three days. It was a Florida to California express bus, at least that’s what they called it. Ted and I were soon sucked into the seething underworld of cross country bus travel, like two fresh inmates tossed into the pen. I have never been offered more contraband than on that bus. I was dry heaving half the time. I was one of the only sober passengers. One woman in particular felt it was her duty to serenade the bus with the theme from Cops at the top of her lungs. I can still hear her Spanish accent slurring through a fake Jamaican accent, “…bad boys, bad boys what you gonna do…” Somewhere in the middle of nowhere our driver convinced the woman it was her stop, and we left her. It was like a hostage bonding experience as we pulled away and the entire bus simultaneously erupted in applause and laughter. Seven AM Sunday and we pulled into the San Diego downtown bus station. We were only a couple blocks from the convention center so we stowed our gear in a locker and walked down. After three hours of waiting Ted and I were denied entry due to lack of proper industry credentials. I bet it was our smell. Ted turned to me terminator style and said, “I’ll be back.” In what felt like couple hours, Ted returned and handed me a business card. It read, “Neil Brown Vice President of Sales.” Kinkos saved the day. In the flash of a card I was transformed into a V.P. businessman and we were in! We got inside and split up. Ted commenced schmoozing. While he was slipping catalogs and shirts into peoples booths, I planted myself in front of the bikini models catwalk. When the show was over I wandered around in a daze, the wide eyed kid from Alabama. There was every company and team I could imagine. After the show we found Kris and drove out to his place. Kris and I didn’t hit it off because I was straight edge and lets face it, an unexpected guest and burden. The situation became even more awkward when Ted told me he was leaving to fly back to New Mexico and get his truck. Ted didn’t know how long he would be gone or if his truck would make it. Since it had all his worldly possessions he had no choice. He apologized and split. There I was in a strangers house in California. The only place within walking distance of his apartment was a Seven Eleven from which I ate every meal. My skateboarding adventure had turned into sleeping on the floor in the living room, with no food or money. I was the invisible man to Kris and his crew. The exception was a skater named Jeff King. Jeff stopped by to visit Kris and asked me about my situation. He was a really nice guy and he took me out to skate to some spots. I spent that day skating with a bunch of different sponsored Ams. We were all skating at about the same skill level. By the end of the day, I also learned I didn’t have the desire to take my skateboarding any further than doing it for myself. The big picture of skating and becoming a pro all came into focus for me that day out with those guys. The big factor that most of my friends out east didn’t understand was exposure, it was the key. I had so many friends who skated better than guys I rode with on this trip, but they didn’t live in California. If you weren’t out there in Cali, you just couldn’t advance on the ladder. The ambition and drive to try and make a living as a skateboarder was something I definitely didn’t have in me. The guys who made it as skateboarders, I definitely had a new respect for. The next morning while everyone was sleeping I packed my bag. I went to Seven Eleven and I asked the clerk if I could take the bus to the airport. He replied, “What airport are you talking about?” I found a bus stop on my own and after a while a bus pulled up. The driver told me it would be three transfers and two hours to the airport. The bus ride went quick because of the guy with turrets screaming was really entertaining. I finally got to the San Diego airport and found my airline counter. I told the ticket agent my situation; she smiled and basically told me, “tough shit.” My ticket to Chicago left in a week and that was when I could leave. I had no money and no place to go, so I camped myself out in the airport. Hours passed and she glanced at me periodically. She called me up to the counter and handed me a ticket to Chicago and said don’t tell anyone. Good bye skateboard Mecca. I had invested so much in California being the promise land and it was a bust. The emperor had no clothes. All the magazines and videos had convinced me that skateboarding was a place called California. It wasn’t anymore valid than Alabama. Skateboarding was friends and freedom not a place or time. I was going to Sweet Home Alabama. I called Ted a few weeks later and explained how it all went down. He understood that I had to get out. He was having an extremely rough time of it himself. He was living in a Garage and broke. Things did get better. He moved into someone’s closet. Then it all came together when GSD left Transworld with no warning. Ted became the Art Director for Transworld Skateboarding magazine overnight.
I stayed the week in Chicago with Ray and my brother. I was pretty stoked to find that Stereolab a British band was also crashing with my brother at the Tortoise loft and recording their new album with him. The time away let me get my head on straight. When I returned to Huntsville my ex girlfriend had started hanging out with all my friends. I was not cool with that at all. I almost beat up Greg Carlsbad. She was making me insane again. She tried to alienate me from my friends and well, succeeded. I decide to let it all go. I was beginning to think what a bad decision the whole girlfriend thing was. It was so over rated. I decided I wasn’t going to expend any energy on her or any girl for that matter. But I didn’t have to. Not long after that, a girl called me from my Chemistry class. She explained how she worked at an orthopedic surgeon and had looked up my records to get my phone number because I was a skater, she figured I had been there at some point. She was right. She stalked me, I guess, at the time that wasn’t a term. And suddenly I had a new girlfriend. One night we went over to my new friend Jeremiah’s apartment to watch some Coen Brother’s movies. He was into film and kept me on top of things like that. I think we were set to watch Millers Crossing. We always got really high. Did I mention I started smoking pot. My new girlfriend joined us. It didn’t take long for me to see something wasn’t right. While Jeremiah and I were calm and relaxed she became more fidgety and agitated. Then she lost it, and told us she was dying. She told me she was going have a heart attack and to call an ambulance. Jeremiah hid the phone and pulled me into the kitchen. He said, “Dude, You have to get her out of my place, man this is not cool.” I was just as high as he was and starting to panic because she was really out of control wanting to call an ambulance. I knew we weren’t calling an ambulance, so I did the next best thing. I told her it would take too long and I should drive her myself. We made our way down to my car. I reclined her seat all the way back almost flat and put her seat belt on. She couldn’t see out of the windows. I started the car and told her we were on our way to the hospital. I drove her around for two hours, calmly telling her every few minutes that we were almost there. After two hours I dropped her off at home. She was fine, just embarrassed. We dated for the summer until things just fizzled out.
Not long after this Dom was home from NY visiting his parents. He had grown his hair out really long and had a full beard. He looked like a mountain man. We went to Barnes and Noble to read skateboard magazines, one of our usual time killers. When we walked out I noticed my ex girlfriend’s car, but there was no sign of her. Dom grabbed a six pack at the gas station and we went to my house to shoot the shit. It wasn’t long after we got to my parents basement when I heard the front door open. I went to check it out and there was my new ex standing in the doorway with a furious look on her face. She called me an asshole and told me she had been following me and a girl around the book store. I asked her if my new girlfriend had long black hair and she said yes she had followed us. I invited her in to meet her. Dom turned around with his beard and beer in hand. I tried not to laugh. She stormed out.
1993, Steve Rocco’s harsh management style had already pushed his first round of professionals to quit world Industries a year prior. The second round departed with Rick Howard, Mike Carroll, Spike Jonze and Megan Baltimore forming Girl Skateboards. It was the perfect timing. Skateboarding was finally gaining momentum again. The shape of skateboards stabilized with the straight railed popsicles boards that are basically the same today. A steady annual increase in sales in skateboarding would escalate the market to billions of dollars in sales by the next decade. Big business would latch onto lifestyle marketing of skate culture. The majority of sales would be in soft goods, like shoes and clothing. The industry would reach epic proportions that would usher in a much more corporate atmosphere and things would never be the same.
It was time to get myself reinvested into skateboarding, and that meant getting back into what I loved, road trips with my brothers in arms. Like Repo Man says, the future is in front of you on the road, and the past is left behind. Road trips were the happiest times in my skate history. My road trip crew was now Wasden, Big James Nore and a new kid we called the Buddha. Buddha was a little younger than us and had to suffer through some hazing. He had a Belushi esque thing about him and would do almost anything we told him. Big Brother magazine was a constant source of amusement for skateboarders. It was always filled with practical jokes and instructions on pranks to pull. One piece they ran was titled ‘Hide a Dook’. You can see where this is all going, but it has a few twists. A park had opened up in Johnson City Tennessee. We heard that it was gigantic and lots of fun, so we drove five hours to skate it. When we arrived we signed all the forms and paid our fee to a total dickhead of an owner. He was a complete asshole and we almost left, but had driven too far. At the end of the day when we signed out and he was still being a jerk. We had to get some revenge. We knew it was time for Hide a Dook. They had a pad rental room that was a wall of small steel lockers. We snuck an elbow pad out, handed it to the Buddha and told him to fill it with shit. He complied and we snuck it back into the locker room.
We got into the car and laughed for a good ten minutes straight. A few months later we decided to go back. When we finished skating we asked a local kid if there had ever been an incident of a Hide a Dook. He told us how the pad room smelled like shit for weeks and no one could figure out why. They finally found the elbow pad after the damage was done and tossed it. This is where the story gets good. He told us how they all knew that this local kid Dewayne had done it and how he denied it repeatedly. They banned Dewayne from the park because he had shit in the elbow pad. Our eyes must have looked like saucers. For the second time we laughed our asses off. Later that year the owner who was a total asshole to us was busted for being a pedophile by the FBI. The park closed and the truth of the Hide a Dook has never been told until now. I can’t help but think that the FBI has the seized tapes from the hidden cameras of Hide a Dook in action.
A Mexican restaurant had replaced Big Ed’s as the skater hang out. A chain drugstore had taken Big Ed’s old place. The new spot was Bandito Burrito, the hole in the wall Mexican joint that every town needs. It was owned by a guy named Oscar. Oscar welcomed misfits, punks and skaters not only as customers but as staff. He was from California and was tough as nails. He always had a pistol in his pocket and a knife in his boot and a bag of something else. I remember going to lunch at Bandito and the window was missing that was there the night before. I asked if someone broke in. It was more that someone broke out. Oscar threw a guy out of the restaurant, literally. His daughters had long been part of the scene so it was like family there. It turned into our home, cheap food and no hassles. The staff was all our friends. Many of the cooks were guys I had skated with for years. Joey was the local godfather of the punk scene. He was younger than me, but had lived twice as long. Taking care of himself and his sister from high school, he had a lot to say about the world. He did that by putting together a new punk band every month and touring every summer. He had become a regular of Maximum Rock N Roll zine scene. He was running the shows in town while booking his own tours across the country. His house had a mini ramp behind it that was home to many an afternoon BBQ and session. He would get bands from all over to play Huntsville and crash at his house. A former Liberty Skateboards pro Todd Congilier stopped by on tour with his band F.Y.P. On a borrowed board Todd put us all to shame and showed what the potential of that ramp was. Joey eventually became a Christian evangelical preacher and missionary.
Another cook at Bandito Burrito was a kid named Heiko. He had started skateboarding years back with me on the army base. He lived on the other side of the base, so we didn’t see much of each other. I walked into Bandito for lunch one day to find Heiko in tears. He was sitting in a corner booth eyes welled up. I was more than a little concerned and I asked what was wrong. The funny thing was he had been chopping Jalapenos without gloves and got some pepper oil in his urethra when he went to the bathroom. It was a rough thing to see, but even harder not laugh at him in such pain. He was an interesting character. Heiko was a practicing Muslim at the time, and sometimes when we skated he would have to stop to pray. You have to respect that. Joey eventually recruited him to play bass in one of his many punk rock bands The Slackers. Heiko would later move to San Francisco and end up playing bass for Duane Peters in the US Bombs and bands like One Man Army. Heiko died early of liver failure.
Megan Baltimore was the girl who worked at World Industries for Steve Rocco. To this day she denies being the crank caller who tried to fool me for him. Megan did end up being a strong ally and a friend. She sent me the occasional flo box. She got Rocco off my back when he was going to run my parents address with a revenge bounty in an ad. She even had Rocco sign a note pledging to not run the address, and I still have that paper to this day. I hadn’t been in contact with World Industries for a while when I got a letter in the mail from her. It was from Megan, asking me for a favor. She needed me to get her a gift certificate from a local store for a friends wedding present. It was the least I could do. Her friend had moved to Huntsville from Southern California. His name was Brian Blender. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out he was Neil Blender’s brother. Neil Blender was a pro vert skater who road for the Alien Workshop in Ohio. Although I knew the guys who owned the Workshop, I had never met Neil on any of my visits to Ohio. That was a little bit of a let down because he was a legend in skateboarding. It was one of those things that made the world seem like a much smaller place with the connections we make in life.
One day Oscar at Bandito Burrito brought up that Neil Blender had been eating there regularly. I already new his brother had moved to Huntsville, but Neil? Then one night Dom, Mark and I were walking through the mall when Dom turned and said, “Look, there’s Neil Blender.” He was across the mall on the other side, walking the opposite direction. We all kept walking. We were about to walk out the door to go home when I turned to the guys, “He is one of the biggest influences on my skateboarding and I want to meet him.” So Wasden, Dom and I turned around and walked him down. He was with his brother, who I had bought the gift certificate for. I said, “You are Neil Blender and you must be his brother Brian, my name is Neil and I bought your wedding present from Megan Baltimore.” Man did Neil look bummed. Neil dropped back and didn’t say a word. It was an awkward moment of silence and I thought I had made a big mistake. Brian then said, “Yeah I remember that, thanks, it was nice thing to do. We need to buy some blank tapes, who sells those in this mall?, I have never been here.” I pointed out the music shop downstairs and they started to walk off. Neil then turned and asked us if we wanted to buy some Alien Workshop skate product because he needed cash. I told him sure and he took my phone number. The next day Neil called me and gave me his brother’s address. On the drive over I started to fall into that star struck monkey mentality. I recalled my meeting with Ed Templeton and I chilled myself out. When I pulled into the driveway Neil walked out. He looked at my VW Jetta and asked me if it was a stick shift. It was an automatic. He walked around it once. He then challenged me to a race against his Volvo wagon. I couldn’t tell if he was serious before he retracted his challenge. He told me his tie rod was being held on by a coat hanger. He said if that wasn’t the case he would have destroyed me in a race. We went inside and he asked me if I played guitar. Then he got a little frantic pulling out these homemade instruments he had built recently from an instructional book he had checked out from the library. He started playing them. Then he pulled out a 12 string Martin guitar. I started to tell him about how I pressed my own decks and knew Carter and Hill from the Alien Workshop. He remembered them telling him about me but didn’t know I lived in the same town. He had a couple of decks, some wheels and baggy jeans from the Alien Workshop. I looked it over. The wheels and boards were too small and the pants were too baggy. I couldn’t buy any of it. He only wanted a hundred bucks for all of it, so I offered to sell it for him since I knew all the skateboarders in town. I drove a couple miles to my friend Richard’s restaurant and showed him the goods. He barely looked it over when I told him it was Neil Blender’s. He pulled out a roll of cash and peeled off a hundred. I drove back to the house and Neil was so stoked, he couldn’t believe I sold it all in five minutes. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the time he was in Huntsville, which was just about a month. Neil had retreated from the bitter cold of Ohio that had long depressed him. We would hit thrift stores and check out local bands. There was one thrift store that was a large open warehouse space. Neil picked up a tennis racket and started hitting balls across the store. They were raining down randomly dropping on merchandise and people. A clerk walked over to us and I expected Neil to stop but he kept hitting them. The clerk sternly asked Neil to stop. Neil turned to the clerk and said, “I just needed to see if this thing worked”. I don’t know if it was a habit of his, but whenever we went to see bands Neil would throw his ice at the band and duck. More often then not I was looked to as the guilty one. Hanging with him for that brief period was as fun as you would imagine it to be. Not once did he ever mention skateboarding or touch one. I will always hear Neil telling me in passing , “people aren’t famous, magazines make people famous”.
After Neil moved back to Ohio, Brian Blender and his wife Cherilyn’s house became a hang out for our crew. They were used to skaters being around from the California days and we all became good friends. Brian’s house had a basketball goal and a swimming pool. Behind it was a big field we played baseball in. The place turned into our summer camp. We were there all the time, playing basketball, baseball and swimming. We still skated sometimes at night but Brian ran the days like a coach. He schooled us in every sport we played, and even made up some new ones. We would do things like drive to elementary school hoops to play dunk ball. He had one game where we opened the front and back door to the house and would go out for a pass running through the house and catching the ball on the other side, over the roof. One driveway basketball game stands out in my mind. I had started to get really accurate at shooting from the outside. I had hit five shots in a row, when slam! Brian stuffed the ball in my face. Brian loved that shit. When the game was over Cherilyn casually walked up to Dom and said, “Your zipper is down and I can see your dick”. We all died laughing, rolling on the ground. Dom was so embarrassed walked home right then. Later that night, Cherilyn told me she was just messing with Dom and felt bad he was so sensitive. I think Brian and his wife were happy to find some people that weren’t total rednecks or toothless hicks. Brian may very well be one of the smartest people I will ever meet. He was on his way to a PHD in logic when he married and moved to Huntsville. Without a teaching certificate his Masters degree meant nothing to the few schools in town. So with little choice and a background in cars, Brian took a job at the local Mazda dealership. He became their highest producing salesmen ever in his first month. He told me selling cars to Southerners was the easiest thing he had ever done. Brian had a wit and quickness about him that made you trust him instantly. He quit the job a few weeks later not being able to deal with guilt of manipulating slow Southerners so easily. Out of work I convinced him to use some of his automobile skills to fix my blown up Volvo. Covered in grease with the transmission dropped on his driveway Brian confided in me that very moment was the nadir of his life. The nadir is the low point in an arch, the worst point in your life. Depressing as it sounds, having your wits about you to recognize this point can be a positive. Once you reach your nadir, you can look forward to coming out of it. In between jobs, Brian was applying to law schools. He asked me one day if I wanted to drive up to Ohio with him to check out a school and visit his brother Neil.
When we drove six hours to Neil’s in Dayton. We pulled up and Neil was on the porch eating watermelon soaked in vodka with his fingers. He told us that his friend had invited us to a birthday party. When we finally made it to the bar late, it turned out to be Kim and Kelley Deal from a band called the Breeders party. The whole experience was overwhelming for an Alabama boy. At the time, the Breeders were the hot new band, on MTV and magazine covers. Brian schooled Kelley in billiards or maybe it was Kim, hard to tell because they are twins. Guided by Voices played in the corner of the bar while Neil heckled from the back, although no ice was thrown. We got back his house at three in the morning. I was exhausted. Brian and Cherilyn crashed right away. I laid down on the couch and began to close my eyes. The next thing I know Neil was kicking me. He said, “Get up, it is time to go skate.” He told me to reach underneath the couch; there were a couple of plastic banana boards. They were the cheap mass produced boards like the ones I had taken my first skateboard rides on. One was yellow the other blue. He handed me the yellow one and we walked out the door. Neil was hammered. We bombed some hills and carved some driveways, it was squirrelly. He was so fast and smooth. It reminded of the first day I ever skateboarded and bombed Ripley Hill back in 1986. It was pure.