Emigration Longboards

Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.longboard

Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.

“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”

“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”

I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.

It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.bowboardtreescopy

So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.skater

I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.

And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.

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Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.

I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”

Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.

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When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.

“What’s on?”

“Scrubs. Where ya been?”

“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them.  I had never been before. It was cool.”

She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.

“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.

On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.

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Venice Beach: exactly what you expect

There are in fact canals through the neighborhoods of Venice California, just like in that other place in Italy, but I’m pretty sure that is where the similarities end. I’ve never been to Italy so I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess the other Venice doesn’t feature a nearly nude bearded man on roller skates selling what he ensures everyone is a “medicinal” plant.freak showI didn’t take a picture of captain roller hair, I did not want that image captured, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for the venue. Quite the opposite. You really should go there.

Just know what to expect.Every city has its place where the odd-balls go to commune. Portland makes the argument that they are that place for the whole United States, but Venice Beach is a little bit more. you see, there are places where “weird people” go to be with each other, and then there is Venice where people go to BE weird in hopes of being seen.IMG_5384

I mean, this is LA. Everyone is trying to get discovered, why would society’s outskirts be different?

drum circleSo, as you head to the promenade be ready for:
Your general knick-knack vendors, medical marijuana card vendors, crowds, people who are crazy, people who are high, people pretending to be high or crazy, drum circles, people riding beach cruisers, good street music, muscly folks working out at Muscle Beach, almost homeless artists selling art, homeless people selling almost art, pick-up basketball games on the outdoor courts ala “He Got Game”, street performers break dancing, street performers snake charming, street performers being a human statue, teenagers acting like this is Vegas, trash in the sand at the beach, a great skate park, beautiful sunsets, funnel cakes, hot dogs, beach houses too expensive to afford, signs advertising the world’s smallest front yard, a sign advertising the world’s laziest dog, cops looking uninterested, cops looking interested, and sometimes, you will see me.mewalkinvenice

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Missionary Misadventures: Olympics

The ’96 Olympics in Atlanta brought out crowds like we had never seen and we had to capitalize. We called our display “Big True”, an 8 foot tall display of Arnold Friberg’s illustrations of the Book of Mormon. We set up this wall of images and used it to strike up conversations with the crowds of revelers. We thought it a great tool.IMG_5937

A Black man wearing a tunic and kufi walked by, paused, and then began looking closely at each individual image. He stood back a moment, then turned and looked me in the eyes.

“Excuse me, but where are all the Black people? How do you have images of hundreds of biblical people and not one Black person?”

Every one of the other missionaries took a big step backwards. They all looked down at their feet. No one was prepared, nor wanted, to field this question or deal with this man. A crowd of Judases.

He was looking right at me. He wasn’t smiling. Why me? Judases.IMG_6011

“Um… Well… You see these are images from the book of Mormon which happened thousands of years ago in the ancient Americas. It’s the story of two groups of people, one brown and one white. The two groups found it hard to get along. Eventually the brown folks killed off all the white ones, because the white people were wicked, leaving only the ancestors of the American Indians. The Black people didn’t show up till a couple thousand years later when the Europeans brought them over against their will.”

My companions looked at me in terror. The man looked at me, back at the images, then smiled and asked, “How much to buy one of those books?”

The other missionaries told me it was the worst answer they had ever heard.
I’m not convinced it wasn’t the best answer I had ever given.

Keeping Portland Weird: just eating doughnuts

I’ve only watched a couple episodes of Portlandia. I saw some bit about putting a bird on everything, a mayor kayaking to work, and farm to table lunacy.  I didn’t see any of that in person, but after having been to Portland, it wouldn’t have surprised me.KeepPortlandWeird

Let me state my reservations right up front. Any place that markets itself as weird makes me worry that they are going to be trying a little too hard. Weirdness seems to me something that you are or are not in any given situation. If you find yourself trying, it is an act. Hollywood is where one goes to act weird.voodooinside

So with this healthy skepticism we got in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. The line was long and I am willing to bet that no one standing in it was a local. Add extra skepticism. We eventually got to the intentionally gaudy and kitschy interior and ordered an apple fritter, some other thing that looked to be mostly chocolate, and another that was mostly chocolate plus Nutella. You cannot go wrong adding Nutella to anything so judging by that doughnut would be unfair, but my wife ate the fritter. My wife, who spends approximately 95% of her mind share thinking about dessert, said the fritter was the best she ever had. Keep in mind this is the same woman who just last week sent an egg back to the cook because the yolk wasn’t runny enough on her sunny-side-up order.

Voodoo for the win.alleyway

The street market downtown is long and crowded, as a street market should be, and we stopped by a florist that sold a large custom bouquets out of unadorned plastic five gallon buckets  for around $10. As it should be. There were booths and booths of nick knacks, snacks, and hand made whatevers that made me feel like my laptop had opened up and spilled Etsy out all over the street.diaperNow while Etsy is not in and of itself my thing, un-pretensious flower vendor, plus live Etsy… plus harp lady, equals my endorsement.

harpOne good thing about being hosted in a new location as opposed to independent exploration, is that you may catch things you would have otherwise skipped. Like what looks like a big-box bookstore.

Powell’s is more than a big box. (props to Dr. Chadwick)bigbook

In addition to rows and rows of new and used books, upstairs they have a rare books collection. Now while going in to a glass encased rare books selection lacks the adventure of a dusty corner shop in Providence, or the prestige of a Boston library, but what it does have is a giant book of Annie Liebowitz’s life work with David Byrne on the cover.

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To top that off they had a first edition of one of my all time favorite books, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, right next to a second printing of Twelve Years a Slave.

Forget you Boston.usreading

Rifles, Guns, and Muskets

When I was 12 years old I won a dutch oven by beating a grown man in a “mountain man run”. Technically we tied in the run but I broke the tie by shooting a gong that was placed 300 yards up on the side of a mountain.dalynflintdownrange2I won with a flinch. The first time I pulled the trigger the hammer just snapped back to half-cock and I flinched so hard I almost fell over. When I reset the hammer I was shaking so bad I should never have hit anything. But I did. The gong made its noise and despite the groaning and laughing of everyone involved, I was crowned the victor.

That was the last mountain man run I ever entered.

pistolsMy Uncle Tommy was never really my uncle but my step-great grandfather. My great grandma went through multiple husbands and he was the one that lasted the longest. He was a giant man whose shoulders appeared to attach right to his ears with hands like bloated catchers mitts. He who would sit in a chair at my house and just talk at whoever crossed his path.triggerguards

He would talk about things like how he was the direct descendant of an Old West outlaw called Kid Curry that used to run with Butch Cassidy, about how he used to cook for the mob in Vegas, and how he once choked a man to death when he was in the army. That last one always kind of freaked me out because his victim was a fellow American soldier. It only sorta freaked me out because like most everything Uncle Tommy said, we didn’t believe him.pistolpointUncle Tommy owned more than a dozen hand guns, most of which he kept in velvet Crown Royal bags. My Dad tells a story of how one day he had heard enough of Tommy’s tall tales and that it was impossible for this ogre of a man to be as good a marksman as he claimed.

Tommy arranged for the two of them to go out to the desert with a Smith & Wesson revolver and a bag full of pre-school building blocks. You know, the multi colored wood blocks that have letters on their sides.

marcelfireDad would throw a hand full of blocks up in the air and while they were flying Dad would yell out a letter. Tommy would raise his pistol and shoot that letter out of the sky before the lot of them hit the ground.

He did it again and again to make sure all doubts were put to rest.dalynonehandUncle Tommy passed away before I got a chance to see this trick first hand. I could just trust my dad but he has a trophy on his shelf that is shaped like a bull. He won it for telling stories.

 

 

Sitting Around: travelling without destination

Sometimes grown-ups make excuses in an attempt to justify childish decisions. Take for example my parents’ ATVs. We never had such things when I was a kid. Once they moved out to the middle of nowhere they suddenly “needed” them.havenammon

ATVs, all-terrain-vehicles, are mobile, fast, and can go anywhere over any terrain. Hence the name. My parents use them to haul wood, retrieve hunted animals, and to tow a large scale lawn mowing machine. Ya know, they use it to “work”.lineup

As a generally irresponsible grown-up myself, I am calling their bluff. I recognize my own kind. These are absolutely toys.kaysunburst

I know people who own tractors, real life tractors, and those people rarely, if ever, hop on the tractor to go for a joy ride. How often do construction workers say, “Hey, its Friday night, why don’t we go cruise around on my bulldozer.”momgrasstrail

My mother offered to give her grand daughter a ride and they let me follow along. First bit of childish evidence is that there was no reason to go that fast other than fun. We had no schedule, we were in no hurry, and that little old lady with the kid on back were going fast.woodshedatvSecond bit of evidence; she was able to go so fast because she knew exactly where she was going and had obviously done this before.I would guess she has done it quite a bit. This is not work.

This is not work in the most true and scientific way possible. In 11th grade my physics teacher handed me a bowling ball and instructed me to carry it up the stairs to the 3rd floor, then go down to the basement, and finally bring it back to the classroom. Upon my sweaty and tired return he lectured the class on the definition of work and how I had accomplished nothing. Though energy had been expended I had returned to my original point of departure. Not work.

I tasted clouds of dust, heard a screaming engine, felt branches and bushes whack me as I passed but at the end of that ride, and every one thereafter, we ended right back where we started.

That is not work.

There are Other Fish in the Sea:or the lake

I have a confession. It is a hard thing to admit because though I have done nothing wrong, it still feels like a sin.

I don’t really like to fish.fishinggear

I get bored.

I think I have always known, yet it has taken me nearly my whole life to admit. I want to like fishing. Perhaps I keep giving it a chance in hopes that I have simply been doing it wrong this whole time. Maybe I have just never hooked the big one and if I do, I will be hooked too.boatlake

In the fictional story of my youth, the one I have always told myself, I loved going fishing with my Dad. We used to go semi-regularly and I always wanted to go. In retrospect, as I look close enough to sweep the fairy dust away, I realize I never really went fishing all those times.  I went exploring.elibored

Dad would fish in rivers and streams. I would cast my line a couple times, snag the spinner on a rock or branch, then look around and find the highest visible outcropping of rock and shout, “Hey Dad, can I go up there?” He would say yes and I would scramble off.

I have since realized that this is not fishing.perchsage

It took trying to teach my kids to fish to learn this lesson. When you are teaching someone else, you can’t scamper off. You are trapped. And then you just sit there staring at a bobber trying to guess if that was a wave or a bite and so you reel it in to find the fluorescent cheese is gone from your hook so you bait it again and cast out the line. Again. For hours.catchThis admission hurts my own feelings. I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I am. It feels like I have rejected my father and my youth and how I was raised. I would say it is almost a rejection of my religion, but we already have an actual religion so saying that would feel sacrilegious.

 

But then again… Mom never went fishing with us and Dad still likes her. She always stayed home and read books. I should probably get her a Kindle for Christmas.

Algebra and Tomahawks: when will I use this in real life?

I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.

But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.medoubleThere really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.

meheadonI have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.

A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.

marleebehindI’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.

ethanhaedonBut perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.

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Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.robinhood

Nez Perce, the Corps of Discovery, and Me: Kamiah

The Nez Perce Tribe of American Indians tell a story about a great monster that devoured all of humanity and then began eating all of the Earth’s animals. Coyote got himself intentionally eaten and once inside the belly of the beast, he produced a set of smuggled knives and cut his way out, thereby killing the creature and freeing the previously consumed animals. Coyote then scattered the monster carcass across the land and the bits of it grew into humans.

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The heart of the monster is in Kamiah Idaho, where it gave birth to the Niimiipu people, whom Lewis and Clark’s translator mistakenly called “Nez Perce”. The translator was mistaken because the Niimiipu did not in fact pierce their noses like the Chinook over towards Oregon, but since that misassociation in 1805, the name has stuck.

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Lewis and Clark camped on the Clearwater River nearby the heart of the monster for a couple of months on their way back east. They called it the long camp in their journals and after last week my wife’s journal would record a similar entry. For her, spending a week nine miles outside Kamiah, a town of 1,200 people, 3 hours from the nearest airport (Spokane), at my parent’s home with all of my siblings, was surely a long camp… despite the fact that we were at a house and not actually camping.

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It is a nice place. Quiet. Small. Picturesque. The town has a main street, a cafe, couple bars, a hardware store, grocery store, a gas station but no stoplights. It once had a thriving lumber mill, which closed, then reopened on a reduced scale. As far as industry or commerce goes, that’s about it.

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The fish and game are abundant and the scenery unspoiled which would make Kamiah a great outdoor tourism destination, were it just a little more accessible. No, were it a LOT more accessible people would likely flock there for hunting trips and other sorts of outdoor recreation.

But for the most part people don’t.grocerystore

Living in Kamiah is a little bit like living in an episode of that old TV show Northern Exposure, just in Idaho not Alaska.

I liked that show.

The History of Spring Break: I am an old man

For college kids spring break  is synonymous with sun baked debauchery. For parents of school aged children it is either an opportunity to take the kids and escape the cold, or the torturous task of a weeks worth of rearranged schedules and event planning. To what or to whom do we owe thanks?

Colgate University’s swim team.pool

 

In 1936 the Colgate swim team’s coach took his boys down to Fort Lauderdale to get a jump start on training in the Olympic sized Casino Pool. Now mind you back in those days Colgate was an all men’s, somewhat elite, possibly elitist school and that was a time when for the most part college was meant to prepare rich white kids to become rich white adults.

Part of becoming a rich white adult is meeting others likewise destined. Within a couple years this  Florida trip wasn’t a practice it was a meet (there is a pun in there).IMG_1661

This Florida swim meet/party became so notorious that one year a professor tagged along, wrote a book about it, and that book became the movie “Where the Boys are”. Twenty Five years later MTV was broadcasting unseemly things live from Daytona.

Ahh the decline and fall of the American empire.IMG_1677

I have my own tales of spring breaks passed, but none of them involve debauchery. They mostly involve taking the kids to the beach or Chuck E’ Cheese… but there was that one road trip to Rosarito.IMG_6077