12 October 2014
One Hundred Blocks of Solitude
T'was a classic case of the streets. A couple of decades later, they still call and sometimes I even answer. Even when the back is stiff and the knees are sore. I spent the day trying to hide from them. Fixing surfboard dings, stretching, drinking coffee, attempting to ignore the falling leaves and drying tarmac. But when the house emptied it became too much and the urge to shed some urethane and aluminium overwhelmed the homebody apathy.
'I'll just take it easy.' I told myself and I did, at first. Enjoying the simple push, a few power slides, lazy ollies, as I call them. Then I began deliberately seeking out manholes to snap over, curb cuts to assist my lead-legs into the autumn air. And the body began to loosen up as the sun went down.
There's more gray in my beard these days. There's no going back. The hair-line continues to receede. This won't ever correct itself. It is correct. And even though this is Southeast Portland, I still get some funny looks pushing through the neighborhoods. Perhaps, I invent and invite the reactions and project them on my on-lookers to beam back at me? Who really cares that a nearly forty year old feels compelled to go nowhere fast on a little wooden plank? To be honest I had these concerns when I was fifteen and my history teacher Mrs Sirl saw me blasting through the streets of Manama. When I saw her, I picked up my skateboard and smiled, a little ashamed for some reason. I wanted her to think I was an intellectual.
I skate past the first house my wife Alison and I rented together and suddenly, I'm taking my year 2000 route through the streets. I still know most of the cracks to bounce of, the patches of rough and smooth road. Sacred urban psychogeography. Push like fuck through the four-way stop sign, past the early evening drinkers who are mostly younger than me.
Then I get reach SE 16th and Brooklyn. It is the first time, I've been there since they demolished our neighborhood DIY skatepark. It was a nice little sanctuary for a couple of years, now it is back to being more-like the Elliot Smith song it once was in the late-90s. Onwards to a couple of shitty street spots nearby. There are lots of discarded belongings from the local homeless residents to navigate. As I contemplate piles of soiled clothing and syringes, the streets become a bit more real and I am reminded its not just about the skateboard and it never was. The skateboard was always just the way to see it all, take it all in and get out there. And I miss it all. The confrontations, the falling, the discovery, the pure reckless joy, the pointless drifting, going nowhere faster and faster.
A few crusty banks and then I'm down by the river under the bridges, pushing past people bedding down for the night. Bridges for roofs. The frontside slappies on one of my favourite curbs keeps my mind off them huddled under mountains of blankets with their pit-bulls. I hit the curb over and over again. A well-to-do couple shoot glances my way as they try to get a nice city-scape photograph of downtown Portland at night. Perhaps they are worried my board will shoot out and hit their car, which it eventually does. Say something to me, people. They do not.
On the Eastside Esplanade I push towards the floating jetty as I know it is going to be a nice little hill-bomb down the ramp onto it. I get excited about the up coming sounds my rock hard wheels are going to make on the metal plates. It is going to really upset the photographers who are trying to frame the perfect shot of the lights under the Burnside Bridge. Disappointingly, they are cool with me. But I am really getting into the spirit of this directionless nonsense now. I turn around and walk back up the ramp and up the tucked-away stairs to the Burnside Bridge that briefly bring to mind the stairs from The Exorcist. Aglow in artificial light, leading the way from a forgotten little corner of the city. On the stairs, I cross paths with a local Burnside skateboard legend Osage Buffalo. I offer him a nod and he briefly stairs at me and continues his descent. Despite his cold reaction, I could not ignore a brother. I take a breath on top of the bridge and then head East. I could go under the bridge and see what's happening at church, the holy sanctuary of transitional based skateboarding that is Burnside but it is all about the streets this evening and I keep bouncing of the paving slabs south. Clack clack clack.
Really, for this type of mission, if I was being practical, I would be riding soft wheel, perhaps a longboard or a 'cruiser.' But this is not about practicality. This is about authenticity. Like Max Schaaf once talked about. Riding a 'proper' skateboard, with its rock hard wheels and loose trucks is like riding an old Harley, you don't ride it for comfort. Except, as Schaff also once said, you can't fake it with a skateboard. It is easy to point out the 'tourists' in skateboarding. Unlike the weekend lawyers and dentists on classic old motorcycles, one can tell within a few pushes who really skates.
A few more curbs to slide and grind and then I cut through a car-park. I dare myself with a quick 180 no-comply and my board shoots out into traffic. I almost want it to get hit. Cars honk and come screeching to a halt as I casually walk into the busy road to pick it up. A woman shakes her head in disgust at me.
I raise my eyebrows and smile. She peels off to her dinner date on Belmont or Hawthorne or Division, at some interesting new restaurant that was featured in the New York Times, that I am about to walk past, sweaty and dirty and I will think Alison and I should really get out and live the night-life again, get a nice meal, have a drink somewhere, wander the streets, be a part of this new Portland that I hope is boosting the value of our house on the outskirts of a newly celebrated neighborhood.
And once I'm done walking past the restaurants that I made mental notes to check out somedaysoon, I am now on Se 39th (I still call it that despite my respect for Chavez) a pick-up truck speeds by and the passenger leans out the window, 'Hey Faggot!' And now my night is almost complete. Just like 1985 or 1999, the hate feels somewhat heart-warming. So I grab a fancy can of stout (I could never do cheap punk-rock beer), brown bag it and skate through remaining few blocks of my now hundred or so block loop, through the leafy neighborhoods, taking beer-swigs in between pushes, until I reach home.
The lights are on. The girls are in. It looks cozy inside.