I’m in LA now, visiting my sweat-heart, which is a form of rootedness. Also, there is pain in my knees which roots me to my ageing body.
The pain is the result of skating, of course. Yesterday I went to where it all started, so the story goes, though where is started, doesn’t exactly look like how it started. I went to the Venice Beach Skatepark, which is a spanking new, vibrant, fragrant, silky-smooth skatepark inscribed with glyphs of skating’s past, but is formed by the skating’s present, monied hugeness. The big pool, which I did manage to take couple runs in, was tiled along the coping (the lip of the pool) with graphics of Dogtown, the name that surfers gave to the neighborhood where the surf-style skating was invented in the late 70’s. The Dogtown documentary does a good job of telling this story. The park includes an old-school snake course, a curvy, snaking bowl that skaters here carve down and back. It gave me a chance to work more on my carving, something I realize I’ve never really learned having skated mostly on street curbs and un-curved half-pipes in my day–doing really basic lip-tricks, very stiff compared to the surf-inspired flow in these bowls. The flow of pools was never part of my skating education, which is a something of a blasphemy here in Southern California, and something I am working to correct. My skating moment in the late 80’s, as a teen, though I was always preoccupied by it, now strikes me as so cursory and shallow. I could feel the depth and history of skating culture in this place, despite the fact that the park is only a couple years old. There were a few guys there older than me, they were first and second generation Dogtown guys and they never quit like I did, they are the contiguous thread. As one of them said, they are still writing the book, still figuring out how a life in skating goes, thrashing and shredding into their fifties, speaking really in spiritual terms about the practice of skating.
I am really glad that I got to see it and ride on that vibe a bit, despite being sore from the previous day when I tried out a street plaza in Hollenbeck Park, in East LA. This was a good session for me even though I was disappointed the street-centric design of the plaza when I arrived. I felt really good, accomplishing some nice board-slides, successful ollies to manual across the manual pads, and even ollieing onto the taller pad. This is basic stuff and it feels good to get more confident with it. This whole thing is about balance, not just in the literal sense of staying on the board and not falling, but of confidence and of pushing myself without busting up my body too much. Man I’m sore today, I wish I could go skate more, but I am afraid I need to take several days off. There is one more park I want to visit before I leave LA, Belvedere, also in East LA. One of the kids at Hollenbeck suggested I check it out, with the very kind understanding that I am an older guy who would appreciate all of the transitions and old school possibilities there.
Back in Venice, away from the skatepark, among the t-shirt and bong shops of Muscle Beach I came across a curious installation, presumably a display of toys for sale, but just look at it:
I mean…it’s just…so true.
Anyhow, my folks are out of the country until March so I am out here in their car, my mom’s new Honda Fit. It’s a good old-fashioned road trip and I got to make some good stops on the way out here, visiting some friends and also checking out some other skateparks along the way. The first night of the trip was an auspicious start, I stopped in Iowa City for a visit with Nick Brown, Sarah Kanouse, and their hearty, happy daughter Genesee. We got to catch up on some arty stuff, Sarah threw together a fabulous eggplant dish, and before bed Nick shared some of his coveted Templeton Rye. This stuff is good enough to make anybody a fan of Whiskey. The Iowa City skatepark was snowed over so I didn’t do any skating there, but the next day I went to The Saylor Skatepark, an indoor park just north of Des Moines. This place was fun, not too crowded on a Thursday night, and it was only $8 for a 6 hour session, a better deal than the 3rd Lair in Minneapolis, and I think a better park, though the bowl isn’t as good. I was absolutely the oldest guy there, but some of the kids spoke with me and one was even pushing me to try some new tricks and use the street course in ways I hadn’t considered. That was fun until he got too comfortable with me and started getting snarky and sarcastic with me. I guess I should expect this with teenagers. Not really having much teaching experience I have very little interaction with younger folks like this. It’s interesting to be in these parks and see how they do and don’t interact with me.
After Des Moines I got to visit with the amazing Sean Starowitz in Kansas City. This was a fun visit. Sean showed me around a bit, took me to Spool, a boutique that his girlfriend owns and operates, then we ate at Arthur Bryant’s a legendary K.C. BBQ joint. I’m no coneseur but that was delicious! Then after he showed me his studio and a bit of hanging with his room mates we had a good old fashioned night of bar hopping. Perhaps a few too many beers but lots of good conversation with Sean.
Between K.C. and L.A. I hit up a skatepark in Amarillo, TX and another Roswell, NM. Then at Nick Brown’s suggestion I drove through southern New Mexico and took an afternoon hike in the vicinity of the Gila National Forest, near Silver City, NM. I missed the ancient Gila cliff dwellings, worried they would take me too far out of my way, but found what I was looking for in about a 6 (or so?) mile round trip hike up the Whitewater Canyon Catwalk Trail and continuing on the connecting Gold Dust Trail, near Glenwood. The first part of the trail is a fully accessible, paved trail, some of it suspended up in the canyon, with overhanging rocks. I thought of how it would be wonderful to walk this trail with Park McArthur who uses a wheelchair to get around. But I also found the overhanging canyon walls disconcerting, a bit scary and disorienting and I thought of Annie Dillard describing how Victorian people travelling in the mountains would cover their eyes at the chaotic landscape. That seemed far fetched and unbelievable to me when I first read it, but as I begin to experience the frailty of age (it’s not that silly to say when my knees feel like this) and see these remote landscapes that I so romanticised as a young guy, it starts to make sense to me. From the trail head of the Gold Dust trail, the mid-point of my hike, I was able to see my car (parents’) in the parking lot, maybe a mile away and a thousand (or two?) feet below, since the trail looped around and up. It seemed like I could hop the barbed wire fence and kinda walk down the hill straight to the car, but I really wasn’t exactly sure what was below, out of sight, between me and the car, or whose property I’d be cutting across, so I opted to just take the trail back. this turned out to be the most valuable part of the whole walk. Even though I was hungry and thirsty I got into a really great rhythm and wasn’t preoccupied by not knowing where I was going or where I would end up or how much longer the walk would be as I was in the first half. Passing through the overhanging rocks on the way back, the canyon was transformed. After the hike that took me far above this canyon and across a few different landscapes I was more settled with the giant gravity defying rock faces and formations. The weather and light were constantly shifting. At one bend in the canyon I was arrested by sun-light shining through a snow flurry and the bare branches of an old tree reaching up the canyon. I wished for Park again. Back at the car I devoured a sleeve of Fig Newtons, slurped down the remainder of my water and continued my westard drive, grateful as always for Nick’s advice.
Meanwhile, of course, we have the inspiration of the people of Egypt and what looks like some deep fucking winter back in my midwest. I guess I don’t mind missing some of that.
Oh, and I’d also like you to look at what I was doing in Chicago before I embarked on this road trip: