Well if you happen to be one of those people like myself who can never remember on what day it is exactly that one season departs and another begins, then Vancouver might just be the perfect city for you to live in. Around here, you don’t have to see when the seasons change, you can quite often feel it, usually as it drips down the back of your neck. If you recall, for the last few days I’ve been taking all these pictures of beautiful sunny days, and even sunnier gardens. The weather depicted in those shots were so idyllic that a person couldn’t really be blamed if he/she thought Vancouver was actually spelt ” P a r a d i s e”. And then, just like that, someone shook me, I woke up, and remembered that I live in a rain-forest out here, where people who know better very often quite seriously state, “if you don’t like Vancouver’s weather, just wait a minute”. But don’t worry, it’s not like we’re in for a solid stretch of unbroken rain or anything. Not yet anyway. This is nothing more than a first notice that the times (read seasons) they are a-changing, and for the next little while things will be alternating between rain and shine a lot more rapidly than they have been for a while, sometimes subjecting us to several fluctuations in a single day.
Now if you are from Vancouver, and if you’ve been here for a while, the changeable weather probably doesn’t bother you very much anyway. Many people I know, myself included, do very little differently when moving around outdoors at the various times of the year. If it’s cooler than usual, I’ll throw on a t-shirt under my regular shirt, and on the really cool days I’ll add a hoodie. I switch to my leather jacket only in the middle of winter, or on the rare occasions when it’s actually raining hard enough to get wet. As for head cover, most of the time a cap will do just fine. During the Fall and Winter I wear a tuque rather than a baseball cap out of consideration for my delicate, but very attractive ears, and that’s pretty much it for me. The one main difference I notice among other people is with the group of “Umbrella” users. This is a distinct group in this city, or at least it’s always seemed that way to me. And as far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as a casual umbrella-user. One either uses an umbrella religiously, or not at all. Since I am neither a very astute British secret agent, nor a nanny who is “practically perfect in every way”, I can see no reasonable use for such a ridiculous affectation, so I leave it to those who are so inclined. And now that we got that out of the way, how about I let you in on a really cool place that I walked into today that I think at least some of you out there might find to be of some interest.
I was still pretty close to home when I stopped walking for a second to wipe some raindrops from my face, and when I opened my eyes again, I was looking directly at the sign shown in the following picture. Now, I had seen this sign on a number of times before, but since I’m not a boarder, I
had never gone inside to check the place out. Recently, however, my brother’s son, Marcel, had left home and moved here to Vancouver to find his fame and fortune, and as fate would have it, Marcel does own a longboard, that I am almost certain at times is surgically attached to the bottom of his feet. Since I have been seeing a fair amount of Marcel, the whole longboarding thing is now something that caught my attention. So, after snapping a couple of pictures of the boards in the display window, I went inside.
My first impression as I walked in the door was “Wow, have these guys got a lot of stock!” The overall feel of the place was very warm and inviting, and when I asked the man behind the counter if I could look around and maybe take a couple pictures for a blog I was working on, I was met with a smile as warm as the general atmosphere, and a wave of his big hand that more or less said, “Feel free”.
In no time at all I was totally captivated by the amazing artwork on the huge selection of boards that filled the various racks throughout the place, and I kid you not when I say I could have spent hours there just checking out the illustrations, and snapping pictures that in their own right belonged on the walls of a museum somewhere. That particular thought made me shake my head and smile a bit when I realized that instead of those museum walls these wonderful drawings would someday soon be flying along at incredible speeds just a few millimeters away from being totally wiped out by harsh concrete roads and curbs that would like nothing better than to eat a couple of them for dinner. It was curiosity about that artwork that finally drew me away from the board displays and sent me over to the counter to speak with the clerk who introduced himself as Ollie (hope I’m spelling that right-I really dislike misspelling people’s names).
I asked Ollie if he knew who did the artwork on the boards and he told me that some of it was done by a local tattoo artist, and some of the tattoo artist’s friends also did some of the work. Apparently, Flatspot gets their stock from a location on the North Shore owned by the same people who own Flatspot, and if I understood Ollie correctly, the boards are made on the North Shore, and then some are sold at that location, and some here in the Downtown Eastside. What I do know for certain is that the artwork is magnificent, and one day in the future I hope to meet this tattoo artist if he/she is into it, and perhaps do another posting on the artist and their work.
While I was chatting with Ollie I had a chance to see him get a little excited as a delivery guy came in carrying a couple of rather heavy looking packages that my new friend was only too willing to relieve him of. It turned out, as Ollie had correctly guessed, the bundles contained copies of the Fall 2014 Edition of “Skate Slate” a magazine of the boarding community. Ollie promptly presented me with a copy of my very own, and I’m happy to say that where I had originally intended to peruse an article or two later that evening, it was 1:00 a.m. when I closed the magazine, having read it completely cover to cover. A really enjoyable read, and if you’re interested in boarding at all, or just feel like being exposed to a really close-knit and apparently fun-to-be-with community, I highly recommend finding a copy of this ‘zine for yourself, and giving it a read.
It was while I was reading this magazine later that evening at home, that I realized something had changed, and my usual daytime type of article-which anyone who has been following this blog from the beginning will understand from my first Introductory posting-had crossed a line and was now in the region of my night-time type of article, as described in the second of my Introductory postings. Thus, it appeared I had a hybrid posting on my hands, which probably accounts for the length of this article, and why it’s taken me three days to write it. If you can bear with me a bit, I’ll try and clarify just what happened, because as far as the intention of this Blog goes, this-at least to myself-is a pretty amazing example of how a person’s writing can sometimes take on a life of it’s own if the author simply nourishes it with a little bit of honesty, and self-reflection. And after all, if the story I’m trying to tell, the one I described in my earlier postings, is not going to be an honest reflection of the life I’m trying to explain, then it would just be mediocre fiction at best, and I would be a fraud at worst.
What basically happened was I realized as I was reading the letter page in the magazine, and then the first couple articles after that, that there was a striking similarity in the way a lot of the boarding community members lived their lives, and the way so many of the people who contributed to my up-bringing lived their lives. You see, for reasons we don’t need to get into right at this time, even if I hadn’t completely broken all ties with my family by that point, the fact is I was already spending a lot of time travelling on my own by the tender young age of twelve or thirteen. And at that time, I was already working with a travelling carnival which was actually the largest show of it’s kind in North America, or anywhere else for that matter. The carnival was Royal American Shows, and when I was on that midway, it was almost as though I had traded in two parents and a few siblings for 1250 of the craziest, most loving bunch of rejects you could ever ask for. And I loved every minute of it.
What needs to be understood is that in those days carnivals were quite a bit different from what you find today. A lot less government interference, a lot more “rawness”, and basically a lot more fun. The people that made up the crew were also a lot different, since our strong ties to the “freak” community (the true founders of the carnivals if you understand the history) guaranteed a large number of unusual-looking people on the grounds such as bearded ladies, dog-boys, etc. etc. We also had a fair population of little-people, and people with medical conditions such as curvature of the spine, extensive skin disorders, and the inevitable “fat man/woman”. I credit the time I spent with all these folks for the fact that I have no problem associating with disabled people that I run into in my life. As far as I knew growing up, these guys were just as common as regular people. And then there were the ride jocks, as opposed to guys like me who worked in the games (joints), which made us “barkers”. Those are the guys/gals who are always trying to talk you out of your money as you walk down the midway. It’s a great job if you happen to be a smooth talker, and an even better job when you’re a rather tiny, and cute (or so I was told) twelve or thirteen-year-old. I was paid 25% of whatever I took in for the day, and that meant on many nights I was being paid several hundred dollars for the day (hence, the bad habits I very quickly developed, and an inability to budget my money that’s plagued me all the way into adulthood). But I seem to have gotten side-tracked, as I very often do, and now its time to get back to what I was originally telling you about the longboarding community, and their similarities to the “ride jock” community, and how this makes my daytime story about a new store I found, into a night-time story about my invisible relationship to the crowds of people I find myself walking among on so many different nights.
There are two main differences between the people who work the games on a carnival, and those who work the rides. First, the people who work the games make a whole lot more money than their counterparts on the rides, since joint workers represent the skilled labor portion of the carnival workforce as opposed to the ride jocks who represent the manual labor pool, and are unfortunately, paid accordingly. The second difference is that the ride jocks are almost without exception much larger, rougher individuals, far more capable of looking after themselves, and their little brothers/sisters in the joints, and so you find these positions filled with individuals such as bikers, roustabouts, gangsters, nere-do-wells and ere-do-wells. You also learn very quickly that you don’t ask these guys for their last names, or too much of any kind of information, since carnivals in my day were always known as good places to hide out from assorted problems for awhile, a place where people kept their own counsel, and knew better than to pry to much. But I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. All told, I spent at least part of over 13 seasons travelling with these guys all through Canada and the USA, through some pretty rough places, and while I was certainly never pampered, neither was there ever too much violence allowed to happen to me, no matter how drunk or rowdy some of those red-neck customers (marks) got with this 5’2″ 120 pound semi-midget (I never really grew much until I was 14 or so). And it’s there that I see a similarity with the people I was reading about in the articles in the magazine I got from Flatspot.
It was just that as I was reading an article entitled “Unexpected Delays” and another called “Giant Detour” I couldn’t help but picture a couple of the guys from my old show that used to jump up every time I said I was going into town to buy some new jeans, and very seriously state, “You know what Pee-Wee, I need some jeans too, you mind if I come with you?” Now I don’t want to admit to being slow or anything, but I might have been 15-16 years old before I figured out these 2 or 3 bikers were babysitting my ass. And that same sense of good-natured whatever it is, can still make me smile when I see it turn up anywhere at all. I mean these were not guys you wanted to mess with, but all I saw when I looked at them, were friends. And that’s the feeling I got in relation to the guys who were the subjects in those stories in Skate Slate magazine. So I realized that that was the connection, and I hadn’t just walked into a random store that day, but instead, I had found another piece of the story, another piece of the community that has made up my life, and made my life enjoyable, even when it had no reason to be enjoyable at all. I plan to look a little deeper into this community if I can do so without feeling like I’m intruding, and whose to say just what I’ll find. You never know. In the meantime, just let me leave you with a few more pictures that I snapped that day, and a hope that if you who are reading this should happen to be a part of this particular community, and you haven’t gotten down to Flatspot just yet, that you won’t waste any time in doing so. You can also check these great guys/gals out on-line right here. Until next time.