Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer's Twilight

Walking is a little hard this morning. Almost all great mythology and religion teach spiritual redemption through physical pain. Skateboarding is no different. Especially when you are old. Last night was, what will probably be, my most remembered skate session from the summer of 2016. For that, I am limping around today, but it was worth every last second. In late August, the nights are starting to become a bit cooler. The days are beginning to grow noticeably shorter. That black day, the first bell of the 2016-2017 school year, is less than a week away. Summer is in twilight.

A few of us gathered at the local community center skate shop. We have made a regular thing of Wednesday Night Slappy Sessions (or "old guy skate night") for the last 2 months or so. We got a bit of a late start because we were trying to (unsuccessfully) convince Joe to put leopard print grip tape on his new deck. We eventually left. Todd (shop owner), Joe, Ben, and I made our way over to our favorite slappy curb. Josh, Nick, and a friend of Nick’s, met us over there. Seven guys, all in their 30s and 40s. A few of our other regulars couldn’t make it out, unfortunately. Once there, we got down to bid’ness, and by bid’ness I mean heckling. It’s far too absent from modern skateboarding, and can provide for side-splitting laughter. After about an hour, a security guard came out. He was probably in his late teens or early 20s. The irony of someone that young, kicking out skaters twice his age, was not lost on any of us, including him. He was actually quite sheepish in doing so, and even apologized. 

Some months back, a few of us made a DIY spot out of two jersey barriers that were nearby. We went over to fix an angle iron one night, and ran into these two other guys skating there. We skated with them for a bit, and then I asked them if they had been to our other DIY spot just up the road. They had not. I gave them all the info. In return, one them asked us if we had “ever skated the slappy curb around the corner.” We all said that we hadn’t, and that we were unaware of any such curb. They took as about 2 blocks away, and showed us a little slice of heaven; a long painted curb, that was just slightly slanted, making it a perfect “west coast” slappy curb. Slanted, skateable, curbs in New England simply do not exist. This was only the second one I have seen in my 31 years of skating around the east coast. Hence, Wednesday Night Slappy Session were born that evening.

After the teenage security guard kicked us out, we headed over to the DIY barrier spot, as it was close by. We ran into two other kids skating over there, and quickly made friends with them. When you hit a real skatepark, you always run into other skaters. Usually, you don’t end up talking with too many of them. When you hit a small DIY, and run into other skaters, you almost always end up becoming instant friends. The vibe, and the people, at DIYs are just different. Joe is a professional photographer, and he broke out the camera equipment, and started doing the whole photo thing. Some of the photos he took last night are at the end of this post. The skating isn’t all that impressive, but the photos certainly are.

What made last night’s session one of the most memorable of summer 2016? Hard to say. Like I mentioned in my last post—about the intangible elements that make up a good skate spot—there is also an undefined “mix” that makes up a good skate session. I had just set-up a new deck that afternoon. Nothing beats a new deck. There was a fun group of people, all of whom were in a good mood. The curb was grinding really well. We taught someone to do slappies, for the first time, ever. The weather was great. The heckling was hilarious. The skating was good, and fun. The irony of getting kicked out by someone half our age. Making new friends at a DIY, and telling them about the slappy curb, just as someone had told us about it. The laughter. Joe getting some cool pics to document part of the night. All of this, plus more. We’ve had sessions very similar to this almost every Wednesday night, but this one was just different, at least for me. Ultimately, it just comes down to the basics. Rolling around, with friends, and laughing. That, is the real essence of skateboarding, and the only one that really matters. And for that, I am limping around today. My old man Achilles and Patella (knee) tendonitis are bearing the brunt of last night’s fun. I prolly won’t skate again for at least a week, while things heal a bit. The pain I am feeling today will be gone at some point. The memories from last night…those, those are here to stay.

I don't know his name. He was one of the people we ran into at the barrier spot.

Me. Popping out of a backside blunt, on that crisp new deck. 

Ben, getting rad.

More of Ben getting rad.

Me again. Frontside pivot, in tribute to Neil Blender.

Austin. He was one of the other people we ran in to at the barrier. Frontside ollie.

Nose stall backside revert, by a person who remains unnamed.

Best for last. I love this photo. Ben, with the frontside boneless.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

SALEM’S LOT: A Black Altar, and DIY Worm Holes in Time

A few days ago I cooked-up the idea of building a small platform/ledge that I could keep in my car. I could tote it around, and set it up at different spots. The possibility of throwing it atop some local banks, creating a make-shift bank to curb was quite seductive. I planned on constructing the platform to be 42” long, 30” wide, and about 9” high. These are the dimensions of old railroad pallets. In the late 1990s, one of these pallets appeared at a local skate park, and it was super rad to skate. The idea of a portable skate toy sounded fun. It was time to make it happen. I figured I could build it for pretty cheap, too. First, I snagged some “free” 2x4s at a nearby site (all these years, and still a “plywood hood”). A few hours later, I was at my local skate shop, and the owner told me he had some left over Masonite. It just happened to be 30” wide, and 48” long. Too perfect. I decided to make the platform 48” instead of 42”, as it would just require less work cutting stuff to size. I purchased a 4’ length of angle iron, and a 4’x’4 sheet of ½” plywood, and 4 cinder blocks that were 8” squares (to raise platform off the ground). I also had an old iron bed frame, which could be cut up and used as angle iron. I built the platform, and installed the real angle iron on one 4’ side of platform, and the bed frame angle iron on the other 4’ side. The Masonite went on as a top surface, flush against the angle iron. Everything had counter-sunk screw holes, so the entire thing was smooth as butter. As a final step, I spray painted everything all black (inc. the cinder blocks), and stenciled the name on top. Total cost, including spray paint: About $30.00. The free Masonite, 2x4s, and bed frame angle iron certainly helped reduce the cost.

I live in Boston. Middle of the city. Not much space to set-up something like this, without bothering others, or disrupting traffic. There is, however, one industrial/office park not too far from where I live. It is quite isolated. At night there is a very large parking area that becomes empty and vacant. I have named this place “Salem’s Lot” (I’ll let you ascertain all the implied meanings and symbolism of that). The area is surfaced with very level, smooth, fast, blacktop. Lighted. No one around. Woods on three sides. But more important than any of this, the place has energy. A feel. A good vibe. Something skate-spiritual. There is an intangible element that makes some spots much better than others. We all have that one favorite curb, ditch, hill, ledge, ramp, etc. What makes it a favorite? Often it is more than just the object itself. The surroundings, the context…the feel of the entire area and setting often play huge roles. Skate spots are as much metaphysical as they are bare existence. The ledges at EMB would have a very different “experience” than skating a ledge of the exact same dimensions behind a Walmart in the middle of Iowa. Salem’s Lot has that magical element to it. Prior to building The Black Altar, I would frequent the Lot when I was in the mood for a midnight flatland session. Now that The Black Altar was built, the area was about to enter a whole new realm of enchantment. 

I went over to the Lot spot a few nights ago for The Black Altar’s christening. The first thing I noticed was how different the bed frame iron and the “real” angle iron were from each other. The angle iron was a harder metal, had a sharp 90 angle edge, and was unpainted. The bed frame iron was a bit softer, had a slightly more rounded edge, and was coated with some type of paint. With my first 50/50 on the angle iron, my board stopped dead in its tracks. I threw a slight film of wax on it, and added a lot more speed. It grinded, but it was clear this was going to take a bit to really break in. I would certainly need to get a layer of aluminum laid down on the edge before it was really “functional.” As the bed frame metal was softer (I knew this from drilling screw holes in both of them), I expected it grind even slower than the “real” angle iron. I could not have been more wrong. It was slick as ice, right from the get-go. After thinking about it, this made some sense. It had a more rounded edge (e.g. didn’t dig into trucks), and it was painted. So, take note, anyone DIYers who may want to build their own version. The contrast between the two made for some fun, and it was nice to have a little grinding variety. The Black Alter proved to be a total success. I may have to get additional cinder blocks, to allow for more height options. I am really happy with how it turned out, and I can’t wait to fully tap all its potential. 

After skating for about 45 minutes, I sat down to take a break. Sitting in the warm night air, with the cicadas droning on in the nearby woods, I suddenly realized how much Salem’s Lot physically resembled a night spot from my distant youth. Maybe that was why this place had that certain sense of magic to it. Then, it seemed as if the fabric of time began to unravel. A distant memory experience came flooding back to me. A hot summer night, when I was about 12-years-old. I was skating in an empty parking lot. I had found some wood, and some bricks, and made a small platform. 12 am. Age 12. Empty Lot and a platform. 12 am. Age 42. Empty Lot and a platform. Suddenly, I was 12, and 42, at the same moment. The continuum of time had collapsed. Generally, we experience our “now” in terms of our future short and long term goals and possibilities (e.g. take the next left turn in the road, meet a work deadline, retire at 65, find the mounting hardware bolt I just dropped on the floor, etc.). How we comprehend and interpret those goals and possibilities is contextualized in/by our prior experiences. Our “now” is future orientated, but guided by our past, all of which fuse into a present understanding of our “now.” Here, in Salem’s Lot, all of this was breaking down. The past was guided by the future, 30 years ago was now, and the “now” was a lived-memory…all at the very same instant. The experience of past, the future, and the now, became a single, seamless, timeless, experience, in which it was difficult to parse apart one from the other. My mind swirled. All I could do was look at my skateboard, and smile, for it…it… alone was the single string which fused the past, present, and future together in this one moment. It alone was the portal.

My friend Ben made a home-cut board a few months ago. It flashed in my mind. Part of the graphic were the words “Lot Lurker.” Flash to Kyle’s blog post. Flash to a previous night I had. Flash to Luchaskate comments about parking lots. A collective unconsciousness. A shared experience. A skater’s transcendental truth. 

Salem has many lots.  They all have a lurking magic.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

One In The Chamber

At some point in the distant past, my deck broke. I don't remember the circumstance, but for whatever the reason was, I wasn't able to get another deck for almost two weeks. Since then I have always had "one in the chamber." By that, I mean I've always had a brand new deck at home, just waiting to be set up. If my board breaks, or I just decided it's "done," there is no waiting hit the local shop, etc. I always have that spare, just ready to go. Once the spare gets set up, I buy another deck to keep on-hand, and the process repeats. I've done this for close to 20 years at this point. As a teenager I couldn't really afford to do it. As an adult, not really an issue.

A new deck, especially one that you are stoked on, is always a magical object. Despite how many hundreds of decks I've gone through over the last 30 years, I'm still always spellbound when getting a new one. Having "one in the chamber" keeps that new-deck-magic alive on almost a daily basis. Last year when I had a bad ankle injury, and was off the board for 3 months, that crisp new deck sitting in my room always brought a smile (and hope). "I can't wait to ride that thing." I'd stand on it almost daily, in admiration of both it, and the future-fun it symbolized. Potential is one of the things that makes a new decks so special; you know there is much fun to soon be had.

Autumn in New England is best time of the year for skateboarding. Cool, crisp days, where you don't get too hot, or too cold. The leaves turn brilliant colors, and there is a stark, but beautiful quality to the sky, air, and landscape. There is nothing like it. The injury mentioned above, when I was out of commission for three months, that three-month period was mid-September through mid-December. I didn't get to skate, at all, last fall. It was a devastating blow. I greatly look forward to autumn 2016.

Boston Common, in its autumn brilliance. No filter.

Over the last year or so, I have had 3 of the Anti-Hero "larger" Classic Eagle decks (32"x8.25"x14.25"). It's one of the best dimensions/shapes/graphics decks I've ever ridden. I was horrified when I learn that Anti-Hero recently changed the dimensions of the "Classic Eagle" decks. My favorite board, maybe ever, is no longer being made. That said, I just managed to score one as my "one in the chamber" deck. It will probably the last one those specific decks that I ever ride, and it happens to have my favorite top stain color, too (black/gray). Plato's Theory of Forms has no greater perfection. I will probably be setting it up in mid-September, just in time for the full bloom of Autumn. The magic of skateboarding is not just in the act of skating, but also anticipation of it.

In the mean time, every time I look at that deck, I can't help but smile. Good times are on the horizon.

Currently in the chamber.