Summer Tour 1988
When Jim Fitzpatrick came to work at Powell, about the same time I did, he already had a long history in the skateboard world, the longest in fact. He was one of those kids who made a skate out of adjustable roller skates, but by his account they had no peach box and handles, it was a hands-free skateboard from the beginning. He had been part of the professional skateboard world from its beginning, and was bringing his knowledge, contacts and his skills as a writer to work in the promotions department with Todd Hastings and Katy. He was going to join the Summer Tour in Texas to be the emcee for our demos and to be the supposed adult.
Joel took the wheel for the shakedown part of the trip, skirting the northern edge of Los Angeles and out across the Mohave Desert. He was working up the nerve to let me take the wheel of this rig. It had cost over $100,000 and the whole summer tour depended on it. He was showing me how wide to swing out into a right-angle corner "just like a team of horses" ...as if I knew what that was like. "Joel, I'm a Southern California surfer, a Northern California hippy, an East Hawaii jungle carpenter. What do you think I know about driving a team of horses?" I always remembered his advice, though, whenever I took a wide turn, "...just like a team of horses."
Somewhere coming across Arizona, we stopped for gas and there was a roadside curio shop next to the filling station. Sledge decided he'd just have to get himself some rattlesnake rattles and a cow skull; and just for good measure, a rattlesnake head with its mouth open and its fangs extended. He was so picky about the low quality and high cost of cow skulls that I don't believe he got one, but those rattlesnake parts he put on his bush hat and wore them there for the rest of the trip.
Sledge was a good name for him, especially in his present position. A "sledge" is old time circus slang for the workers that set up and tore down the big circus tents, using sledgehammers to pound in the huge tent stakes. He was short and muscular and built low to the ground ...you couldn't build a more perfect high speed downhill street skater, and only once on the whole trip did he demonstrate, since he had promised to keep it to a minimum. We couldn't afford an injured roadie...there were only going to be two of us after Joel went home. I think we were in Alabama and we had gotten the ramp set up when it started to rain. The ramp was not skate-able when wet, it just became too slick to even attempt. We took it down and drove on. We were riding out the rain squall in a nearby shopping center, when the rain stopped, the sun came out, and there was a very smoothly paved downhill ramp about 100 yards long, too choice for Sledge to ignore, and I was curious to see what he could do. Crouched low to the ground, on a board that was a bit longer than the standard of the day, he must have hit 35 mph by the time he gained full speed. At full speed he could throw it into a sideways slide that was the equivalent to slamming on the brakes, or what we used to call a brodie on bicycles. He had the skills that I had needed before I attempted the high speed run on Kahakai Blvd. back in 1975. What was I thinking?
Sledge had some very strong opinions about how certain restaurant food should be prepared, especially Italian. Since we were on the road and all our meals were in restaurants, there were several occasions in which he took the kitchen staff to task. I can imagine the waiter informing the chef "the gentleman with the skull on his shirt and a rattlesnake head on his hat wishes to offer a critique of the tortellini." We all had our quirks. Sledge was also doing a very smart thing; he was a collector of skateboard memorabilia and discontinued historic decks, like the aluminum and wood-laminated Quicksilvers and Quicktails (Powell's first skateboard decks). Since most of our demos took place near and under the auspices of a long established local skateboard shop, Sledge would quiz the skateshop owner about what old stuff he had in his backroom. He came away from most demos with something, usually several items of value. If he continued the pattern of collecting that he showed in those few months I knew him, somewhere there's a guy named Sledge sitting on a pile of treasures by now.
Our first demo was supposed to be held in El Paso, West Texas, but owing to our late start due to the wheel flying off in Montecito, and other delays, we didn't make it at the scheduled time. We drove off across Texas, which is the longest, most boring drive you ever took. Joel had foreseen the long hours behind the wheel, and had our rig and the team van outfitted with CB radios. We used them to keep in touch with Todd, Fitzpatrick and the team riders, but his favorite use of it was to amuse us all by telling lies to the truck drivers cruising along with us.
I hadn't experienced this before, but truck drivers chitchat with each other on their CB radios while driving along. They call out to each other, curious about the loads they are carrying and hazards up ahead including state troopers and weigh stations. Our odd rig had other truckers trying to figure out what we were pulling, and Joel would start spinning yarns. I don't think he ever told them what exactly it was. His two favorite stories were that we were pulling a secret DOD radar device: "We're not supposed to say what it is." Another was that it contained a bull elephant that we were taking somewhere for stud service. In the latter case, I'd make elephant trumpeting sounds and thumping on the sides of the cab to imitate our restless cargo. "Easy, big fella," Joel would say, then get back to his CB chatter.
Approaching the regional hub of Houston, we began to pick up the signal of a local CB enthusiast who had a setup in his house somewhere and he would amuse himself by insulting truck drivers passing through. "You truckers are the laziest fat sleazebags ever created. You call that work, sitting on your butts smoking cigarettes and watching the miles go by?" By and by he'd get somebody insulting him back, and claiming to know where he was, and threatening to pull a big rig up on his lawn and beat the hell out of him. Fun stuff like that. You've got to do something to occupy yourself driving across Texas.
Finally we arrived in Houma, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans, and put on our first show. For some reason, Fitzpatrick had to rent a car, maybe the van was in the shop, I forget why, but it was a Mercedes, and Joel asked to drive it after they had left the restaurant. I wasn't along. One of Joel's hobbies was to enter destruction derbies, and in that same vein, his first impulse with the wheel of a rental car in his hands, was to find someplace to get it off the ground: Meaning finding some railroad crossing or hump in the road, that hitting it fast enough would get the car airborne. It was the first time he ever had gotten the chance to catch air in a Mercedes.
That was Joel, and every once in a while, when we were in Louisiana, among the bayous and rivers, Joel would express a yearning for the life he had along the river as he was growing up in Missouri. In the evenings with thousands of acres of frogs croaking long into the night, with a far away look in his eye he would say, "A man could get a couple acres and just live on frog's legs."
Finally Joel felt safe enough to allow me to drive, and he flew back to California, and Sledge and I continued on across Alabama and into Florida. By the time we had done a few demos I began to feel like I had indeed been transported into the movie, on a road trip with members of the Bones Brigade. In Florida, we did a demo near where Mike McGill's parents were living. They were in the process of moving from one residence to another, and we were enlisted to help them move. A year before, I was seeing these guys on the big screen. Now Sledge and I were helping their folks move furniture. Life is strange. At least mine is. Good though.
At a demo in a suburb of Atlanta, I think, we were set up in the parking lot of a shopping center, and a very small skater probably 5 or 6 years old, all padded up and helmeted with his skateboard, walked up to Rodney. Wasn't interested in an autograph. "Rodney, will you teach me how to ollie?" Rodney said, "OK, but later, come back later." The kid had gone straight to the top. Rodney was the creator and master of the flatland ollie. An hour or so later, kid comes back, "Rodney will you teach me how to ollie?" Rodney says,"I can't right now, but later, I'll teach you." I was keeping an eye out for this kid, wondering how was this going to play out. He came back again while Sledge and I were knocking down the halfpipe. I saw him get sent away again; Rodney was busy with the autograph line. Finally, we were all packed up, and the team was climbing into the van, end of a long day. The kid's there, "Rodney, will you teach me how to ollie?" Rodney insisted on holding up the whole departure while he gave the young man a thoughtful, unhurried lesson in the art of the ollie, there alongside the open side doors of the team van, with half the Bones Brigade watching. They were real gentlemen, and always accessible to a fellow skater. I wonder where that kid is now, he was so determined. My guess is that in life, he found what he was looking for.
In South Carolina, Lance Mountain joined the tour and it so happened that a UPS shipment had arrived for us at the sponsoring skateshop. The package, from Santa Barbara, and was the first exposure of the new Lance Mountain model skateboard deck. Emcee-ing the whole affair over the PA from one of the rollouts, Fitz presented the deck to Lance with a great flourish and mock grandiloquent hype. Lance was clearly uncomfortable shilling for his own product. Though he shredded on cue as far as the skating went, I'm sure the hardest work he had to do was that kind of thing. Ray Barbee, and Jim Thiebaud had become part of the tour at that point.
At this same South Carolina demo, the only place we could set up the ramp was the narrow alley in front of the skateshop. This spot was especially dangerous for the spectators, since the spectators could not be kept at our normal distance. It was an easy guess where loose skateboards were most likely to go flying into the crowd. I stationed myself, Sledge, and two locals at the four spots where flatbottom meets transition at the edges of the ramp. Hands ready to catch loose boards, each of us stopped at least one board this way. Toward the end of the demo, sure enough, one of our pros, Brandon Chapman, dropping in, fell backward in a classic Wilson so that his skateboard launched right toward me. It took a bad hop, just clearing my fingertips, hitting me square in the mouth. Blood, blood, blood. One of my bloody teeth, root and all, landed grossly on the ramp.
The paramedics advised me to hold that knocked out tooth in my cheek, which I did, and at the emergency room they put it into a glass of milk while they stitched my lip, and cleaned me up. Then a friendly lady doctor wired that tooth right back into my skull, and sent me back to the skate demo in time to take down the ramp with Sledge, load up and make it to the next city on schedule, next day. You can catch a skateboard with your mouth, but it hurts, and you might not get all your teeth back.
Coming across the southern part of Virginia, a lightning storm was zapping the near highway; bolts on either side, bolts in front passing through a hissing patch of ozone steam where the rain had been a split second before. We fully expected to be vaporized any moment, but no, we arrived at the famous Mt. Trashmore Skatepark as the clouds cleared.
In Virginia Beach, I think it was, it was one of the hottest, muggiest days we had ever set up our demo, and our pros were putting on their usual hell of a show. I remember how hard they were working, and Tommy Guerrero was in a state of exhaustion, I was afraid he was going to have heat stroke. Now, I have spent most of my life doing construction work all over coastal California and 10 years in Hawaii; I've witnessed a lot of people doing really hard work in the blazing sun. I never saw anybody working harder than Tommy Guerrero was working that day. He was flushed and panting and drenched with sweat after his run on the halfpipe. Still, he kept accommodating the endless fans asking for his autograph. At one point, I tried to keep them away, to give him a break, but he didn't want that. "Write my name on something? How can I say no to that?"
None of these Bones Brigade guys that I met had any kind of uptight attitude. They were genuine superstars of the skateboard, but gentlemen, good people, down to earth class acts. By the middle of summer, my part of the trip was over, and Peter Edwards flew out to take my place as driver/roadie for the rest of the tour. Sledge continued on with him for the whole grueling tour. I wouldn't have missed it, but I had had just enough. I returned to California with my spud wrench and exposed film.
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