Around the age of thirteen, I started meeting other true skateboarders as opposed to kids who rode skateboards, nothing wrong with either group, those are just the two extremes, with shades of grey in between like everything else. The first I met was Alex B. His last name doesn’t matter, he actually died in a motorcycle accident a few years ago in California, just another guy trying to get through life. At the time, in our youth, he was just a fringe member of society, as was I, it was one of the aspects of our lives that drew us to skateboarding and what it was at the time.
He lived in the “downtown” area of the closest town to my forested dead end neighborhood surrounded by windy roads, which sounds like an over-exaggeration when I point out this town was about a five to eight minute drive away on 35 and 45 mph roads. But he lived in town, which consisted of endless three and four stairs, double sets, grass gaps, of all sizes, some yet to be ollied. Most spots consisted of a few sets of stairs, or a curb/manual pad leading to a set of stairs. Aside from a plastic grocery bench in front of the store door, there were no legit ledges, the closest thing was a few angled and curved benches surrounding a fountain that ran two-thirds of the year, when it wasn’t raining, snowing, or the fountain was on, you realized the ledges were directly in front of the security desk of the apartment complex. The town was gaps, rails and stairs. For ledges there were curbs of various heights, nothing stretching more than six inches. But the gaps, stairs and rails! They were epic.
Alex B was short-fused, had a Napoleon complex, looked for any reason to fly off the handle, was highly sensitive and took EVERYTHING personally. I was a weirdo, had an odd perspective, especially at the time, but always had compassion, I rarely had peer contact outside of school, part of me was just happy to have another human to be in regular contact with, especially, and finally, another skater, so compassion was easy to find for him at such a young age, expecially with the adults and peers I was dealing with at that age. I mean no offense to Alex B, we’re all different, have different lives, Alex B had his own real trauma, harsh baptist upbringing he didn’t believe in, macho-man religious father, submissive, closed-minded and manipulative mother.
Skateboarders weren’t popular at the time, I remember having milkshakes(one time, aimed at me but nailed this kid TJ, a block away from Alex B’s house, easy to change the shirt and make sure to have a good time that night), trash thrown at us, mostly it would be fast food of some kind, I remember a lot of fry containers being shot out of car windows while they sprayed like a buckshot. A lot of burgers as well, you always knew when it was a cheeseburger, only the bottom half of the roll would become another piece of debris to avoid, or the double cheese/extra greasy burger, came at you in one piece, always thrown at us from the street as we would ride down the sidewalk, older teens in letter jackets and expensive cars would drive to skate spots just to harass and start fights with us regularly, before they eventually left, telling us, they had pussy to catch or beer to drink, usually adding that we had a circle-jerk or six pack of root beer waiting for us at home after we “played with our wood.” which was the closest thing to creativity they had ever come to in our lives outside of a your mama joke.
Alex B loved to try and take on fights with these guys, was ready to go at first comment, even one time when they pulled out knives on us, Alex B still tossed his board aside, threw off his shirt and challenged these guys’ knives to his fists, including whoever was with him as being in the fight, then chastising us for not having his back off the bat. Alex knew other skaters, the other skaters and I would always hang back and keep quiet, tell the “cool kids” and jocks that we didn’t want trouble, didn’t want to fight, they would call us pussies, girls, whatever they called us, it was usually referencing us to females, which just proved their idiocy further, plus ignoring them or telling them they were right, they could beat us up(especially being three to four years older and spending days at the school gym lifting weights) made them back off a lot more quickly and gave us that much more stress free skate-time. I skated with Alex, and only Alex or myself, until I was sixteen. From there, with his driver’s license, he found a heavy desire for third party ejaculation and cool kids, he tried hard to fit in. But didn’t forget his loyalty to other skater friends, and always tried to convert us to his side of other pursuits, which at the time to us, was cutting the skating short, that was, until it happened, pop culture was absorbing the fringe and subcultures, as it does, exploit, drain and either take over, or leave for the purists to clean up after the mainstream’s greed destructs it for every penny.
I remember when the day things changed for skateboarding on the east coast in the DC area. I was fifteen. Tony Hawk Pro Skater had been out not too long. Being fifteen and not giving a shit about anything about skating, my mother still woke me up. It was a Monday. I remember coming into the living area while my dad sipped on coffee with a piece of buttered toast, “Hey! Wall street is talking about some Tony Hawk video game and how lucrative it is. It’s the best selling game over the weekend!” That was the first time I ever paid attention to market news. I have no clue who was talking, but I remember their faces, one with salt and pepper hair, both wearing glasses, both white, the other a good twenty or thirty years younger with short curly brown hair, both in suits. I brushed it off, fearing the worst, being into punk music and seeing what was happening to that post-grunge popularity.
I thought nothing of it at the moment, no one will listen to that, skateboarding is a joke to the rest of the world outside of it, at least I told that to myself. That day, during my lunch period, the way the building was setup, I had to walk by the cool kid table, with cheerleaders and sports team players, who in the past, had even thrown an open faced cheeseburger at me, a couple Doritos thrown your way was a good day. As I walked by the table they call out my name. I flinched turning my head due to the kind tone, expecting a hot food item to be thrown in my face, even if you cared enough to fight it, the teachers always told you that you asked for it, maybe even took you aside and tried to talk you into team sports or tried to explain to you why you are wrong. But on this day, the voice came from a football player, he nodded and called my name again, “Hey.” the whole table immediately accepted me. I moved on, rejected their offer and mentioned my friends were waiting for me. One too many food items had been thrown my way to take the, “hey” without an apology. Other skaters, of the maybe five at my school, mostly accepted it. Which was sad to me. We were the ones who got it, we were the ones who didn’t need what the masses had to offer, but these people wanted that acceptance, the humanness of that cannot be denied, you don’t have to agree with it, but it cannot be denied without understanding.
Alex B wanted and consumed that acceptance, but he was a fringe member, it did not go well, but he refused to give up. He became the cool black sheep, what he wanted, he began hanging out with more and more “cool” kids, which means people who don’t think and act on impulse with justifications. But he met other skaters, one was Wes, another Black Sheep. Alex B would try, we would fight, against bringing in people who clearly didn’t fit in with us. Not so slowly, Wes and I became much closer as Alex B drifted towards fame, notoriety and celebrity within high school.
Wes only cared about skateboarding, laughter and positive times while being heavily affected by his personal demons, just like me. It took a mere visit for us to completely connect as brothers as we uncomfortably faded out Alex B, the final night being when Alex B took up a queen sized bed to himself, leaving Wes and I to watch skate videos into the early morning, eventually falling asleep, using my golden retriever’s side as a pillow.
From then on, it was Wes and I, endless skating, no competition, no care, save skateboarding and having each other’s back as we would for anyone who showed us mutual respect.