Skateboarding and Broken Toys

text by Jessica Stammen, photos by Antonio Dominguez

It could be said that I own some toys.  Nothing big, nothing crazy.  Certainly nothing along the lines of the Whaler or motorcycle that my landlord Mike owns.  And definitely not in quantity enough to compete with my friends George and Eliza who have a shed so full of gear they rival any well-stocked sports store.  Skiing over there, hockey against the other wall, sailing upstairs in the loft.  When I call to borrow something I’m surprised I don’t get transferred to a specific department.

No, I don’t own toys in great size or number.  But I do like to play outside.  A lot.  So I’ve acquired a fair amount of gear for a single gal on a budget whose life possessions could (and have) fit into a small New York City apartment.

It could also be said that I’m fairly organized.  My family is chuckling right now because compared to my previously generous statement about toys, confessing a mild love of order could be my understatement of the year.  Regardless, my car is where both toys and order come together.

My car is like a small room in a small New York City apartment; efficient organization is key.  My Vibrams and (don’t laugh) my jump rope are both right under the driver’s seat.  I wear my Vibrams for almost everything and I swear the jump rope is the single best piece of fitness equipment I’ve ever purchased.  Tucked snuggly under the seat behind the driver’s are my bike shoes and the running shoes I haven’t used since getting my Vibrams a year and a half ago.  I keep them just in case, of what I don’t know.  My yoga mat is squeezed between this seat and the back window, doubling as a soft armrest for passengers.  There are small hand weights in the back door compartments – better traction in the winter?  My bike lives in my car seven out of twelve months.  I pull the front passenger’s seat (under which is a first aid kit) as far forward as possible, flip up the seat behind and roll my bike in through the back hatch.  Helmet, glasses, gloves, and tire pump are in a box on the floor.  During swim season my wetsuit gets draped over the other back seat, goggles looped around my shifter, swim cap in the cup holder.  My fins fit nicely in the long opening under and between both back seats.  In the far back are extra water bottles, multiple towels and a sleeping bag in case the thought of all this potential activity tires you out.

I’m ready to play; my gear is stored safely and always at hand.  My car is like an oversize gym bag with a pocket for everything.  Admittedly it sometimes smells like a gym bag.  I keep the windows down in the summer and figure it’s too cold in the winter to really smell like anything, right?  I guess I should ask Sharon and Antonio about this.

On a November morning after my friend Sharon introduced me to surfing in Maine we hurried back to her place, rinsed our gear, dried off and suited up for skateboarding in the afternoon.  Having done neither activity previously this was a highly anticipated double header.  So far everything was running smoothly.  The wetsuit I borrowed from Mike went into a bin in the back of my car, and into the backseat leaning on the yoga-mat-armrest went Antonio, another friend we picked up on the way to the Portland Pier.

Antonio is a skateboarder.  Antonio is also a good teacher.  The care he takes to communicate and facilitate an experience is like the care I take keeping my toys in order.  Antonio helped me pull just the right gear out of my mental and physical gym bag, and in just the right order – foot placement, balance, pushing, momentum, relaxed stance, leaning and turning.  Not that skating can necessarily be taught, but it helped to have someone remind me to put my socks on before my shoes – that is to say, to keep my knees bent and athletic before I tried to weave in and out of benches.

Antonio brought the toys – one longboard, one regular skateboard – and watched carefully as Sharon and I learned to play.  The ferry came and went, the sun set and the pier lights came up.  It was freezing and Sharon and I hadn’t eaten a thing for hours; but did I notice?  I was having far too much fun.

As with surfing, I have no business writing about skateboarding as if I know much beyond the pure pleasure of a new experience.  I’ve skated four times since the pier but still can’t claim to how to hold a board when casually walking around with it.  I’ve paged through some skate magazines and observed the fine line between content and advertisement that reveals a certain aesthetic integrity to the sport, but still can’t caption the photos I’ve taken with appropriate style and attitude.

You never really know a thing until you are a thing, just like in the beginning you don’t really play with your toys, your toys play you.  You can take great care, be prepared, and be taken great care of, but still you are bound to learn a few lessons the hard way until you reach a certain threshold.  Slowly but surely I will roll in the direction of this threshold; I can now crouch down, grab the board with both hands and weave back and forth.

Back to my car.  Recently my collection of toys has grown by one helmet and three boards in the backseat, including a long (on loan from Mike) and a retro (on loan from George).  Again, I take good care of my gear and keep it in order; I’m thankful friends trust me with theirs.  This said, I must relate the following story.

It started to get dark the night Sharon, Antonio and I were out on the pier.  The huge compass painted on the pavement had made for great photo compositions but now faded to shades of grey.  We stashed our cameras on top of Antonio’s bag over towards the edge of NNW leaving ourselves plenty of wide, open space.  Sharon and I took turns on the more stable longboard and Antonio rested the other board over near his bag so he could walk-jog-and-steady-a-wobbly-waist alongside us.

Shortly we noticed headlights approaching as a cop car passed the line of ferry traffic and drove up onto the otherwise pedestrian pier.  He couldn’t have been going more than three miles an hour.  Slowly, slowly, almost impossibly he rolled right toward the bag, cameras and board.  Sharon, Antonio and I were frozen, unable to make a single connection between observation and the action necessary to prevent what would inevitably and unbelievably happen.  Crunch!  It was the board.  Right in half.  Amazingly the car did not slow but drove to the end of the pier, made a loop and headed back at us without the slightest variance.  Just before it seemed to be going for a second round of cameras and bag it slowed, inconsequentially, to a stop.

An officer younger than the youngest of us stepped out, walked up to the splintered halves at a pace more leisurely than his board crunching speed and said with an emotionless expression, hands on his hips: “You know, you shouldn’t leave your toys lying around.”

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but he clearly didn’t know who he was talking to.  May I present Exhibit A: my car.  Open any door and admire the order and care!  I’m not the type to leave toys lying around.  And Antonio?  To his defense I submit the resulting conversation he had with the officer.  He immediately turned to Sharon and I as we stood, mouths absolutely agape and said calmly, “Let me handle this.”  He then proceeded to give the officer every grace of chance to do the right thing of his own volition.  Antonio didn’t force anything; and the officer didn’t admit anything.  We could make a claim with the police department if we wanted to – for a fee – he said.  Before turning to get back in his car he reminded us with the same void of care and connection, “You really shouldn’t leave your toys lying around.”  That was it.

I can’t help but think that this officer is the one who got played by the toy he thought he played.  He presumed to know too much.  He assumed a type, an attitude, and a situation.  Sharon, Antonio and I happened to be the least of all possible offenders who should have been cast, all of us individuals of relative care and consideration.  For Pete’s sake, I’m a 30 year old woman learning to skateboard for the first time!  And unless I’m some kind of late-blooming wonder I’m pretty sure this officer will be the only individual I’ll ever fool into believing I’m a skater.  This might just end up being the best trick I pull.

Mike and George: your boards are safe with me.