This happened my first week of high school. Most skaters will tell of one or two years where skateboarding is all consuming. I was then in the midst of one of those years.
That first week of high school, we cut a morning class and took a streetcar to Gone Boarding, a minuscule skateboard shop on lower Haight Street to buy some skateboard equipment. The September weather was beautifully temperate, the air suffused with pale yellow sunlight.
We arrived at Gone Boarding around 10:30 and found just a few persons loitering inside, one of whom, looming at more than six feet, was the then eminent professional skateboarder James Kelch. Kelch was at the time famous, particularly, for reigning over the skateboard scene at the Embarcadero Plaza, where each weekend hoards of skateboarders clattered across its red bricks. At 23 he was brash, charismatic, periodically violent and perpetually ill-shaven.
A testament to Kelch’s current popularity included a Slap magazine displayed upright on the counter of Gone Boarding that very morning. There Kelch was on the cover with his sweatshirt hood up looking like a young Robert Mitchum. And here he was inside Gone Boarding at 10:00 in the morning looking like a young Robert Mitchum. He was smoking a cigarette, his hat cocked just so.
On the counter, near the Slap magazine, stood an unclaimed carton of milk that seemed vividly red and blue. “Is anybody going to drink this? Is this anybody’s?” Kelch rasped. With a shrug he tilted the carton directly into his mouth. So cool.
The stereo was playing the Brand Nubian song “Wake Up (Reprise in Sunshine).” Kelch clapped his hands a couple times to the music and sang a couple words.
Everyone gets down in the sunshine…
This is it, you think. This is it. Though James Kelch was notorious for his brawls, the atmosphere inside of Gone Boarding that morning was decidedly domestic. The carton of milk underscored this point. We were not just in a store but a home, a home in which morning lightness prevailed: a home as seemingly free of concern as my own was fraught with it.
My friend purchased a deck and—though it ran contrary to our natural impulses—we returned to the campus’s concrete enclosures. Yet years later, James Kelch in Gone Boarding drinking directly from that carton of milk, still presents an image of perfect bohemia to me. I would have liked to have lingered there longer.