Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lost Land


You see the thing is was, was that whenever Jay got a flat spot, it wasn’t such a new deal, no big woop, he would always just roll with it- literally. Sure, Jay always had a bag of blank factory “prototype” urethane wheels either in his closet or trunk or desk but he was usually just too lazy to elephant wrench them off, pop the bearings without accidentally removing their shields, affix the bearings to the new wheels and then attach them onto the roller board’s tire holder. Whenever he would accidentally dent his urethane from banging his roller around the pavement too hard, he would just keep skating, roll it out and the thump from the uneven rolling surface would eventually smooth itself out and by then he would have probably even forgot about that industry tagged and perceived dreaded “flat spot”.

As someone employed to encourage consumer consumption of skate hard goods, even Jay’s laziness and resourcefulness was antithetical to his sponsor’s wishes. Most pros he knew set up at least three or four roller boards a week and were rarely seen in public with a less than pristine setup. Usually once the stickers on the bottom of the roller’s deck got scuffs, that was an indicator for most pros that they needed to stop repping. From the view of their sponsor this could be both good and bad. Good because it made kids believe that even though they did not have unlimited access to all the free skate hardware that could be sent through UPS to them in monthly deck boxes, they would still be inspired to and feel obligated to keep up with maintenance of their set up the same way their favorite pros did. But it was bad though, because the Pro’s usually sold their barely skated boards at popular skate spots or in parking lots of parks at a fraction of the retail price and use the 100 profit margin for extra smoking money.

When Jay was an active pro, for a short window of time, he had the freedom and power to jump from wheel sponsor to wheel sponsor like that of a drunken bull frog impetuously hopping from lily pad to lily pad in hopes of finding a more green spot to rest on. Jay’s wheel sponsor resume reads in chronological order: Chalk, Viper-tale Urethane, Dot Wheels, Kryptonotonix, Blind Balls, Pear and the prestigious Stereo Core Cleft Urethane (a division of Stereo roller decks). Although some wheel companies would boast a secret formula that was specially designed to withstand the supposed high performance of sledding around on the streets- the fact of the matter is that urethane is urethane is urethane is urethane. Those wheels were no better than that of the casters installed onto the bottom of a janitor’s cart. It’s not like the wheel company contracted a team of engineers who fussed around all day in a laboratory with rubber mallets and beakers and test tubes foaming off with a new formula that could make one’s wheels last a couple of extra months (they would even perpetuate and exaggerate the flat spot dilemma to hasten the purchase of new not necessarily needed wheels- the skate industry’s version of “turn and burn”). Most of the wheel companies didn’t even own their own printers that which to emblazon their logo on the side (a logo that would get completely rubbed off at least within two or three sessions). None of these wheel companies were even responsible for wrapping their wheels in their protective display plastic- it was all outsourced. All these guys did was get someone to design a graphic- fabricate a concept for brand development (usually the shallower the better), take a couple of photos of a skater riding different wheels (you can’t tell what kind of wheels they are actually skating), sell them to a bigger distributor and then the distributor’s sales team would take it from there. The wheel company didn’t actually fabricate wheels- they fabricated more the idea of wheels. And since they were simply the middle middle man for urethane plants, as deck companies were middle men for wood mills, and apparel companies were middle men for bulk t-shirt suppliers- the profit margin was relatively lower to that of a company that actually owned and operated their own manufacturing plant.

Although Jay once held an elevated status within the industry- event though these companies he rode for were popular enough to dominate a significant share of such a tiny niche market, there just wasn’t that much money to go around and he was always literally the last to get paid. In the end it didn’t much matter what urethane peddler he rode for- the bottom line across the board was generally the same. Jay was contracted as a model who was responsible for risking his health and personal safety generating media of himself navigating his roller board as stylishly as possible while innovating never before seen maneuvers at mostly illegal skate spots that where deemed as a mandatory stage by the action sports media outlets and was even compensated at a significant fraction of what normal fashion models got paid for just to simply exist into the camera.

And it took Jay years to realize what he was actually contracted to do- something that the industry still has not yet been able to perfect. In the best of circumstances Jay was selling attitude. And it was that attitude, those badly needed life style ideas that the kids wanted/ needed and which were linked to those generic products his company was trying to sell. That attitude combined with even the slightest bit of innovative design was enough to make kids scramble around and hunt down those small batch items in relatively obscure and random skate/surf shops and mail order catalogs.

We as men who walk the land- utilize the innovations of others, rest on the backs of those before us. Write letters using words we did not invent- depend on plumbing we don’t know nor have built. Will we abuse the invention that preceded us for our own narrow will? Or will we create something that lasts through the ages, can be carried on -inherited and could affect the thought patterns in others after us? This, an ultimate form of service, something men strive for but as for skill and intellect is also dependent on luck and context and timing, which all the more makes such a contribution more precious. Fools do not realize, they are lucky to work in the arms of a greater service, some collective service. And those vile and depraved won’t realize their selfish preference, their petty wishes go against the nature of those humble jobs that constructed the outlets their ideas rest upon- the laborers of the paper onto which their words lay, the pavers of the streets onto which they coordinate their stunts with toy machines, the ones who make food and electricity to provide energy for that which their actions could come about.

Jay didn’t invent the ollie but he once was able to exploit the invention and carry that idea fourth. He, once a former taste maker- an architect of opinion, was now held back by the same industry that had once allowed him to flourish. His interpretation of the ollie was reproduced and distributed and others would take note of his form, would try to replicate it or inadvertently put their own spin on it. At the very least he was encouraging those kids to exercise and though not necessarily a bad thing, always to him it still felt rather shallow because he always figured the potentiality of the media could and should inspire that much more. Kids took note of his skate maneuvers and some wasted much energy and health and time in striving for something that would not end up yielding equal to the energy required to do so. Serious skaters would leave home, move to an almost impossible to move to city like San Francisco, get a lowly entry level job in the service industry- willfully and enthusiastically become a part of the servant class- so that they could try to carve their own place on the streets and try to get documented with their version of the ollie by Thrasher or Slap or Poweredge or Transworld. But the same magazines that gave them the idea to move West and try their luck in the game, also failed to say that the skate game was not a meritocracy. Coverage of the skater taming the land was locked. And when you got to SF it became apparent that there were those more deserving of getting their ollie photographed, who’s image would in fact never grace such pages.


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Houston, Texas
Be kind, because everyone you'll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.