“I’m Tony Hawk’s bitch,” Alex was saying to me.
I was 21, it was a summer night, and I had long been in the habit of thinking of skateboarding as THE WORLD I HAD LEFT BEHIND. As was typical, on this particular summer night, I was attending a party at some absent parent’s house in Pacific Heights. This was THE WORLD OF PRIVILEGE WHERE I WOULD SET MY FIRST NOVEL.
Atypically, however, I was encountering THE WORLD I HAD LEFT BEHIND in THE WORLD WHERE I WOULD SET MY FIRST NOVEL. (In my as-yet-unwritten novel, a sensitive former skateboarder would insinuate himself into a world of privilege, a world of invisible parents and immaculate kitchens, only to find that all in the world of privilege was not as it appeared. The coming-of-age novel would conclude with the unreliable narrator returning to skateboarding in search of lost innocence the end.)
Alex, a rising junior at USC, was wearing a white lacrosse hat and loafers without socks or irony.
How had he come to be, as he put it, “Tony Hawk’s bitch”?
“When he’s in town, I have to drive him around,” Alex continued.
“You skate?” I asked.
“No,” he said. He explained that his ultimate ambition was to be a mainstream sportscaster. He was, therefore, interning this summer at a 24-hour cable sports network. But, alas, the network had stuck him in its action-sports division.
He was stuck in skateboarding.
As an intern one of his primary duties was chauffeuring skate legend Tony Hawk during the X-Games. (The televised action-sports competition was being held that very weekend in San Francisco.)
Alex suggested we might even run into each other tomorrow at the X-Games.
Crowds roared. Under a brassy blue sky, persons stood in front of booths and tents. Some passed out promotional literature on behalf of entities such as Taco Bell and AT&T.
Though Alex was a sports media intern at an around-the-clock cable sports network, it still felt weird to find him at the X-Games with his white lacrosse hat and his plastic ID around his neck, standing guard behind a metal barricade.
Indeed, just a few years earlier, the notion of someone like Alex—who was perfectly nice, if perfectly conventional—being even marginally involved in the world of skateboarding would have been ludicrous. It would have been the stuff of satire.
“You want to come backstage?” Alex asked me and my date. She (the Date) was blond and hailed from Alex’s world, which was, in theory, far from the world of skateboarding.
Alex returned with two ID badges and ushered us behind the barricade.
“Backstage” was not particularly lavish—a small set of benches aside the large half-pipe ramp.
A JumboTron loomed.
The backstage assembly, though comprised of only about 100 people, was rife with Skate Gods such as Tony Alva (who had dreadlocks), Steve Caballero and Pat Duffy (who shook our hands with unassuming politeness). These were epic figures of my adolescence, the heroic figments of a dream.
The Date and I took a seat on the benches.
Gladiators—Tony Hawk, Colin McKay, Bob Burnquist—strode right beside after each run.
As the afternoon wore on, attention turned to Tony Hawk. He was attempting to land the “900.” The 900 is a 900-degree aerial spin that—such is its difficulty—had yet to be landed. He was coming closer than anyone in history.
Hawk tried over and over again for the 900, getting closer and closer, urged on by a gasping crowd.
Yet I was more preoccupied, frankly, with the Date than with skateboarding. Even as history was unfolding just a few feet away, I was turned toward her. But not merely her—her world, Alex’s world, the landscape of my as-yet-unwritten, surely searing novel of skateboarding and privilege and lost youth and other perennial features of the human condition.
Technically, therefore, my gaze was turned toward the Date and away from Tony Hawk when he landed the 900 for the first time.
I didn’t actually see it.
The crowd erupted.
“Did he do it?” the Date asked innocently.
“That’s the four-minute mile of skateboarding,” a stranger in a gray sweatshirt said with great solemnity.
Two-and-a-half full turns in the air.
The backstage crowd rushed onto the ramp. At one point a sweaty, exultant Hawk was inches from my face.
Yet even at that moment the uneasy feeling of being between worlds was with me. In skateboarding one is often trying to clear a gap, ever uncertain if one will land. It’s always a surprise if you make it. You never quite know.
Workers were taking down the AT&T and Taco Bell tents.
Dusk suddenly fell.