“Florida” The Matt Coplon & Chad Degroot interview by Jeff Stewart

Sit back, relax, and grab a tasty beverage as this is a lengthy but great read, thanks to Jeff Stewart and Andrew Guerrero we’re privileged to present the following interview/short story – (do keep in mind there’s some language and such, I had a character restriction as well so this has been shortened slightly)

“Florida” –

…And everybody at the warehouse is still asleep.  We’re packed and heading right onto Chicon.
I’m nodding out, my head against the window, the glass already scorching and full with noise; full with heat and grief:  Full with the hearts of cowards.  I close my eyes against it.  I hear JLaw:

“You didn’t say goodbye to anybody.”

“I’ll see those motherfuckers again.  I’m not that lucky.”

He laughs.  I fade out and open my eyes to see 5th Street turn into 290 through Houston.
In the rearview mirror I also see that my eyes are two bloody pins.  I reach down and find the 4-dollar sunglassesI bought when we fueled up.  The shades are big and wide and dark.  I wipe the lenses and put them on.  I look like a dick to passing motorists but I don’t care. With the mood I’m riding in, I wouldn’t fall asleep wanting to look any other way to them, with their new fucking cars and fat stomachs and fake life.  Their slime and waste and uniform existence.  I shouldn’t hate them, I shouldn’t be angered by any of it.  It’sjust that lately I haven’t been able to laugh at them. I’m sick as hell today, stomach writhing in acid, sweats, hot and cold and thirsty cough.  We’re driving to Ormond Beach, Florida.  I’m supposed to have something lined up there, and a good buddy of JLaw’s lives in Ormond, and he’s throwing a spine
jam in front of his house a few days after we arrive.  We’re both looking forward to the roadtrip. For me, it’s a complete move, where my plan is to write a story on DeGroot and his life in Orlando, his skatepark, Mission, and to cover some of the surrounding scene.  And there I plan to get some money and buy a
car, and head directly to Portland, Oregon.  I fade away into a full sleep.  Nothing too good has happened with Austin since thecompletion of the article.  In essence, everything went on pause and I did a lot of nothing in the Austin heat. By the time JLaw got a hold of his father’s girlfriend’s new truck for a week, I was climbing the fucking walls of that town.  Everything stopped there, and almost all of it at the same time.  Leaving there was easy.  The road was long and bright; Texas was ridiculous now, the lovely girls of Austin became weird, 6th Street became boring.  Drinking became deplorable.  All of this was in my head, and none of it could be true for anyone else.  And Austin is a great town, but it was simply time for me to
leave Texas.    
   We’re driving into Baton Rouge at dusk, exiting the highway to eat at the Waffle House, cut and dry.  We’re in the deep south now.  Those in the know would say it.  The waitresses, the cigs dangling, the old,
smooth and failed out cooks; the jukebox. We sit and eat our famous, greasy food. Our plates are floating in it.
Even the toast looks greasy.  
I’ve been taking lousy care of myself this summer.  Dumb habits in excessive repetition.  I stare down at the plate, and it’s a mirror for my organs.  Back on the freeway, and up off to the left beyond an exit sits Motel 6. It’s really a hotel, I think, but they allow dogs and the rooms aren’t inexpensive.  They’re cheap.  But they’re dependable and casual.  It’s a stationary Greyhound bus. From my bed in the hotel,I rest my hand on my dog’s stomach.  I watch the traffic.  It’s good to see another color of people again.  Baton Rouge has a good feel to it.  The blacks and whites and browns mix together safely and without much tension.  The streets agree with them, the air, the crematoriums, the outward disposition of vanity is harmless and old.  Old trees like the bayou watch without discern.  I breathe in old death, old
blood of hours labored and torn and finalized to give its town back to color.  A new murder us upon them now, upon the rest of us living with them, a suspended bridge or an ocean apart.  It hardly matters anymore, or it certainly doesn’t matter anymore.  The children of this decade are the last new people, and for that I scream, and for that I laugh, and for that I sleep. 
   I wake up after few hours, the air conditioning blasting, the hustlers and whores walk the outside, JLaw’s
watching some shitty movie starring a few shitty rappers.  For somebody who claims to hate television,
he’s always watching one- he just doesn’t own one.  Now we’re sitting in a casino, and I’m down
eight bucks from where I’d started JLaw’s up a hundred, then down to eighty and then down to minus fifty.  Some old lady took his old machine and she has just hit a jackpot, and JLaw feels extra stupid.  Back in the hotel I’m on my bed and sickened with the oncoming of new allergies.  I fight them into sleep, 4 and a half hours worth, then it’s morning.  And driving through town, on the way to the
freeway, we spot the queen mother of all transition.  A red and glorious bitch, she rests on either side of the Bank One building downtown. 4 uneven red brick walls, 4 high and beautiful sides to it, 8-if you
count both bitches.  We park and ride the tranny.  Sick as I feel, I can’t let this one slide.  JLaw hauls ass from across the street and carves far up her eastern face. It’s nothing short of devastating. And she’s a generous one, because just as the fuckhead with the blue monkeysuit and headphones walked out the glass doors, we were already headed to the truck, because she had tipped us off silently.  And when we passed the red bricks it was as if there were actual feelings exchanged between the three of us, and we stared her down until she was too far behind us to look at her anymore.  
           …We’ve been driving the long and impossible bridge work of Louisianna, over the swamps
and bayou, watching the tall and nearly dead thin trees stand solemn and painfully from the sludge.  I think of old men standing in parks, I think about the teeth of my father.  I think about malnourished soldiers frozen off the German shore.  Scattered gulls swoop down but there is nothing left for them now.  Cars drive by me with families and people sleeping shoeless next to their spouse. Nothing really changes.  Not the birds or the grief or the pathetic fucking faces.  My thoughts begin to turn against me crossing
the bridge, so I tune out and start a conversation with JLaw.   Mostly we talk about women and the thin,
dead-like trees of the bayou.
    In New Orleans we stop for food and coffee.  Something about New Orleans always makes me feel better. There’s an air to this place, this feeling of survival. We watch the movie from our table outside here.  It’s bright today in the French Quarter.  Dark, voluptuous women stagger past, the townspeople and tourists walk the streets together, the chefs stand outside the kitchens smoking fast cigarettes, and the tourists keep walking in and out of the boutiques, bars and cafes.  There is a child-like feeling here, in this historic wonderland, the warm gothic wind from the cemeteries, the gentle ease of dead Creoles whisk past and through us, through our chests.  The coffee is incredibly old and the beauty of this place is breathtaking, the energies, and the shown reality behind them is friendly sheets; almost transparent rice paper sheets of centuries-old life floating and carving wonder in the air, creating excitement for the tourists, making New Orleans that much more reflective for their dream images of themselves, building upon their lasciviousness, upon their shameful thirst for life; for real life, for a life that they’ve been tricked out of and now it’s too late.  And the day sweeps on beneath them. But the day fools no man worth his weight, which aren’t many.  The Sun will fade, for open season on the weak.  It’s homicide and arrest and near
misses.  This is one of the handful of cities in the US where the cops actually earn their money.
          
           …Ormond Beach was a washout.  And the town was so boring that all I wanted to do was sleep.  The first night there was all right, seeing the Atlantic, drinking beer on the sand, watching my dog run the frosted shore and the cold, misted ebb.  And the next day I awoke with the worst allergy attack of my life.
32 years of no allergies.  Then all of a sudden here it comes, vengeful and ugly; my eyes red and sticky, my throat a closed tube, my skin wet with a slimy layer of sick perspiration.  I poke a toothpick from the floor up my nostrils hoping to break a passage loose. Nothing.  
           Outside they’re having the spine jam.  I hear them.  Old and leather beachcombers are
about the living room.  Any kind of light into my eyes make them scream in pain, so I lay there with a sock tied around my brow, half dead, answering questions, namely this one beachcomber, who, when
passing in to make another drink, says, without fail, “Still on the couch, huh?”  All I can say each time is yes, but I can’t take it anymore.  He walks in again, I sense him, I inhale and I say, “I’m still on the couch, man, before you ask, and no, I don’t want any whiskey, before you ask.”
“Oh.  Still feeling sick, huh?”
“You’re from hell.”
“What was that?”
“I said, sick as hell.”   
“You sure you don’t want a shot of whiskey?”
I hear the noise and clapping outside.  JLaw pulls a sprocket stall on the roof.  I hear it.  I see the entire Atlantic reach over and smear clean the state of Florida, and then I fade into a sick man’s coma.
           Hell likes to find me anywhere.  Peoria, Illinois, Phoenix, Seattle, Austin or Ormond Beach.  I write this article from the Portland, Oregon.  Here I have this study that looks out onto the coffee shops and bars of Alberta Street. Here I sit my comfortable writer’s ass upon a nice, soft chair.  I  have this beautiful young girlfriend, I have a great car and I’m drinking hot coffee and chewing on cinnamon root, as I’ve become a non-smoker.  To my left sits a printer, to my right is a coffee table with my stereo and some lilies in a glass my girlfriend gave me to keep the air fresh in here. And resting by his crotch upon the lip of that glass, one wooden foot in the Lilly water, under the petals, rests this weird wooden Egyptian dude.  One of my friends from Seattle gave it to me.  It has a big, weird head and short pointy arms and even a little pecker.  It’s
supposed to signify prosperity.  Next to that is a bed and directly in front of me is a window, half blocked by this multi-shelved computer desk, which holds the monitor, short stories pinned about and so on.  And I swear to you it is hardly ever like this, but I’m with it and I’m into it.  Oh, and Hell will find me here, rest
assured.  But back in Florida, JLaw has to bag out for home, and I’m left in Ormond Beach.
I was supposed to stay here and work in a bike shop for a week or two, but that turned into shit.  I find out
Felipe Torres is in transit from Denver to Gainesville, and he’s scooping me up in Ormond, after a
lucky and last second phone call found him driving through Kansas, about to break the Missouri
border.  
“Torres.”
Static, hip-hop nightmare static.
“Stewart?”
“Right.
Where are you?”
He tells me.
I’ve driven that road.  I know exactly where he is, what he sees.

“Listen, man.
I’m stranded in Ormond Beach…  Yeah, Ormond
 Beach.”

He kills the volume on the CD.  

“What the fuck are you doing in Ormond Beach?”

“Trying to get to Orlando to do a bio on DeGroot.  Can you bring me in?”

“I’m going to Gainesville to stay with my girl.  I should be there in a day or so.  Let me stop there, catch up with her and I’ll drive out to Ormond.  Like 2 and a half days from now.  Cool?”

“Damned cool.
Thank you.”

“You don’t have a car?  How did you get to Ormond
Beach and what the fuck are you doing in Ormond Beach?”

“A really long story we don’t need to
share.  Let me give you directions to the
house.”

     Now I’m going to save my ass a little.  Ormond Beach is a quiet, lazy gorgeous slice of American dream retiree beach town.  It’s just not for me.  JLaw’s buddy from Austin, Mike Rodriguez, and
his son, Mike (Mikey), live in this house in Ormond.  Mike is 34, and Mikey is 18, and they both
ride.  Mike Sr. is famous for numerous physical endurances and extremities.  Once,his goatee was ripped off his face, literally, after he wrecked, and he’s ridden his road bike with another one of JLaw’s buddies from Austin, one John Chisholm, from Austin to Ormond Beach, which took them 30 days.  Mike’s latest physical obstacle to overcome was about a week before we get there, a girlfriend of  his jokingly aims the nozzle of a pressure washer at his face and squeezes the trigger.  It’s an innocent mistake on her part, and it nearly takes out his eye.  There are many other things about his shitty luck that I don’t have room to list here, but the best thing about it is his total nonchalance about it, and never once does he bitch over
anything.  And the whole time I was sick as hell at his place, whenever he asked me how I was feeling I always had the same answer:

“Ahhh, I’m all right.”
          So Mike and JLaw head back to Austin, where Mike is going to stay for a week, then bus it back to Ormond.  So I’m staying at the house with Mikey for two and a half days, Torres time.  And the time goes on slowly.  And I come around feeling pretty good toward the next morning, and at night it stops raining, and I ride my bike down to Publix, a Florida chain grocer, and ride in the parking lot.  The air is heavy and dense, and the slightest pull on my lever causes this loud and freakishly human screech from my front rim.  I ended up riding brakeless tonight.  It’s weird.  Some things brakeless actually flow easier, but some things feel utterly impossible, even though I’ve seen them done.  And it was a long and ethereal night.  A lot of stepping off the peg, but sometimes a switch into a nice roll into another switch.  I work on controlling the speed of the link, as brakeless riding, for me, means going into the trick a lot slower and a lot
more conscious.  And I can see how riding brakeless can become addictive.  But, I’m set in my ways and I love my brakes.  And as I’m riding, two stoners walk up on me. They stand and pass a joint.  The
oldest one speaks the words I always hear, form every single older stoner who walks up on me in a parking lot:

“I used to freestyle.  I had a Redline.”

“An RL20 II?”

“Fuck yeah, man.
A red one.”

I stop for a minute.
His buddy walks off toward the front of the store to buy a soda from the machine.  He offers the joint over, but I politely decline.  He yells at his buddy to get him a Dr. Pepper.  He looks at my bike, my black Sabbath (bad as hell), and nods to me:

“How come it’s not called freestyle
anymore?  Now it’s all BMX.”

I shake my head, “I don’t know.  It’s stupid.”

He nods, “It’s big time now, man.  It’s everywhere.  Shit, I never thought back when I rode, back
in the day* that it would be this huge.”    *literal translation: 1989

I laugh, “I know, all our dads were wrong.”

We talk for a short while after his buddy comes back, and the stoner hops on my bike and attempts a few peg wheelies and fire hydrants.  Brakes scream, the stoner eats shit twice, and they’re walking off, to some magical stoner place.  I’m thinking a TV on mute, some Guns & Roses blasting, bong hits and stoner betties.  But this is Ormond Beach.  I’m re-thinking quiet bong hits and a video tape.

 …Torres has showed up 2 hours later than planned, and we’re in his car, gutting Florida from East to West.  Dusk is fading, and I’m getting a crash course in the history of hip-hop music.  I listen to the beat, the beats, the words, and I can’t help but feel old or closed because it all sounds exactly the same
to me, with a few minor variations.  But it’s his world, and I’m along for the ride.  And we’re heading to Gainesville, where his girlfriend lives.  I get a hold of DeGroot via the cell phone of Torres:

“DeGroot.
I’m in Florida.”

“Oh shit.” – I can barely hear him.  He continues, “I’m in Woodward.  I’ll be here for ten days.”

“Great.”

We laugh about it.
I had already thought ahead with Torres, and we got a hold of one of his buddies in Tampa, about an hour or so from Orlando.  I was all right to stay there.  JLaw has wired me a hundred bucks, so I’m up to $150, 150 dollars to oblivion.  I’m waiting on the article money from Austin, and I have a little time to wait.  And
this is where I swan dived without knowing it, and plunged fists first into the slow and dark waters where I would sift through the muck for weeks on end.
Like
I said, I write this article now from my home. And I did go broke in Tampa, while I was staying with Mike Vavala and Tim Tacie, two flatlanders who were much more than kind and generous with me, as well as tolerant.  Especially Vavala, who wound up with this stranger and a dog at his apartment, sleeping on his
couch, while Tacie took off to Michigan for two weeks, a day after I’d arrived.  I had spent the night at Torres’ girlfriend’s place in Gainesville.  My dog and I had this great spot on the dark floor.  I had to block out certain noises from the bedroom, but I fell asleep on the floor there, in front of the television,
listening to cartoon voices.  And the next night I’m in north Tampa.  So, Tacie takes off and I’m stuck there, farfrom anything, really.  I spend a lot of time sitting on the front porch, smoking and catching a pilot’s view of the downstairs woman’s tits, whenever she walks up or down the sidewalk, which is exactly 6 times a day, 3 ways twice.  And now I’ve floated to the bottom, where I walk the filthy sand in slow motion.  My lungs are half gills, half dead.  I push off the sickening sand with my wet shoes.  And I’ve jumped with all my strength, but I have to muscle my way to gain just a few feet.  I can’t even drown down here, because that’s quick and almost painless.  I make a few hard kicks but I float back down to the bottom.  But I did meet Jordan Miller, a shooter there, and I did get to ride flat with Henry Davis; and I did get to sit down with Matt Coplon

MATT COPLON   

“…Yeah, I ride a lot of park.  Not too much street to ride in Florida, but every chance I get I jump on street.  As much as possible.  But overall, definitely park.  Unfortunately.”

Coplon and I and a group of others were riding around Tampa earlier today.  It rains a lot in Tampa during the summer, at least twice a day.  And today was no exception, except we were stuck under this little walk-way to stay dry, and in that same walkway sat a pile of human shit, homeless person shit.  And we hung there next to it. Ignoring it laughing at us, Coplon starts telling me about the riders in Tampa, and later on outside of the coffee shop, where we sit for the interview, he brings up again the riders in his town and the snobbery of the packs:

“It’s the whole cliquish thing.  They just hang out in their own groups.  And when they see other groups there’s this rivalry.  It’s almost animalistic, if that’s the right term for it.  It’s like this human pack of kids, it’s like wolves fighting.  Like at the park tonight, there were a couple of kids who showed up, that I don’t necessarily like too much.  They’re really good, but they have their own cliques.  I try to break that bridge, or rather cross that bridge, and try to hang out and talk to these kids but it doesn’t happen.  Some people are arrogant.”

“You have a degree in English Literature.  Do the studies help your riding, like they
did for Rodney Mullen?”

“I think so, actually.  I’ve been on this personal sabbatical for about a year and a half and I was just taking some graduate classes.  When I was in school it made me ride even more, mainly because I needed a break from what was going on.  I needed to get that outlet away from studying.  I still read on a regular
basis.  I try to read every night.  I’ve been reading a lot of political stuff lately, about what’s been going on overseas and it fires me up.  And being on my bike is an outlet from that.  After reading what I read and seeing what I see, it pisses me off -and I want to be pissed off about it but at the same
time I can go ride and it kind of relieves that tension, too.”

I raise my eyebrow at that answer and at the dead fly in my coffee.  Coplon reads it and picks
up the ball again:

“I know- I almost see it as a relief- as cheesy at that sounds.  But with my studies, as far as English Literature goes, well, you’re always battling there, and you read literature to find out more about yourself, which definitely feeds into riding.  Yet riding takes you further away from the shit, which is reality.
So, the two go hand in hand.”

“You can say that.  But you make a living working for Profile.  Like a lot of other riders, your outlet is your reality now.”

We both pause.
All right, so now we’re two literi. Here sits a man with a degree in English Literature and another man who
dropped out of high school.  But literature paved both roads.  I flick the fly onto the sidewalk.  Coplon and I
watch this big ass SUV idle with those rims that keep rotating when the wheels are stopped.  It’s an  Escalade or some other ridiculous big piece of shit.  Those rims are huge here. Spinners.  There are places where you can drive your car up, put a deposit down and some greasemonkey will set you up all the way around with four perpetually spinning chrome rims.  You’ll see a ’79 Carolla with those rims, spinning for no other reason than they were designed that way, to make money off the fucking stupid people who think it’s ideal to have shit like that.  I pour the top of my coffee out, then take a long drink.  Coplon stares back to the table:

“I come from kind of a punk rock background.  It’s where I grew up, listening to punk rock music, which is always ‘anti-authority’, ‘anti-establishment’.  Anti- whatever, anti-capitalism and whatnot.  And I’m working.  I’m essentially becoming a capitalist, unfortunately.  I mean, Profile makes bike parts.  I sell the bike parts.  That’s how I make a living.  And at the same time I don’t want it to be but that’s what I enjoy doing.”

“There’s nothing wrong with any of it, Coplon.  What are you going to do?  Something you don’t like for some retarded punk rock idealism?  Let me tell you something, we’re all fucking capitalists, and you know what?  I like it, man.  I can bust my ass and get whatever the fuck I want.  Anti-establishmentarianism is for
the bullshitters.  You have these comfortable assholes against communism, and at the same time against democracy, and where does that leave them?  Right on the court of the hypocrite.  And I see a lot of the same shit within the BMX industry. Though far more comical and far less critical.”

He nods,

“Oh, hell yes. And with Profile, there’s like 12 guys who work there, who run it.  It’s not a corporation but it’s still one of those companies that’s progressing to make money.  Well, of course.”

“Yeah, but you can make formative inflections with the company, to keep it grounded and performing at a high standard.  Of course it’s capitalism, but you’re also edifying the riders and instilling quality. I mean, obviously you’re not a corporate asshole.”

“No.  And Profile is a great company.  One of the best.  We’re family.  It’s seriously incredible.”

It’s simple.
He’s haunted by his youth, and your youth was blind.  It brings back the old theory that youth is wasted on the young; which makes sense on a pragmatic or selfish level.  But an interesting play on words, which is
half of Philosophy.  My brain hurts here, my lungs hurt, my eyes are on fire.  All of this rain and smoke has ended me.  The wet, humid screened in front porch of Vavala and north Tampa and cheap cigarettes and endless caffeine has ended me.  Cable television has ended me.  I’m still walking the slow bottom of this dark and shitty water. Jamie Cox has flowed me 40 bucks to keep me alive for a week.  The night before I stayed awake until 5 a.m. so I could call the 4130 HQ in England.  At 5:30 Noble calls me back.  I answer like a crazed asshole:

“Mark, listen man.  I’m fucked. Can you seriously send me some money for the Austin story?
I know it’s early, but man, I’m dead in the water here…”
The Chief takes mercy on me and agrees to send
rescue.  I hang up feeling 100 pounds lighter, and with that, I kick again from the slime and I swim a for a few yards this time.  The days have worn on there on that porch.  They slide around under my skin, they scratch my bones with their laziness, their death.  I’ve been eating free Hungry Howie’s Pizza,
where Tacie is a delivery driver.  He’s been back for a while now.  I’m a fucking wreck.  After nine months in Austin, the good abuse then the waiting and the story about it, I’m in Tampa, north Tampa and it’s hot and I think I’m always sick, I think I’m always thirsty,  I think I’m always lighting the next cigarette, and I’m always waiting.  I think of old girlfriends, old fights, old confrontations, things I should’ve said, things I should’ve done.  I remember obscure conversations from obscure places.  I’m not exactly starving or tired or hating
life here in Tampa.  On the contrary, I’m quite comfortable.  It’s the mentality of it that screws me.  I think I should be here under different circumstances.  And all of these thoughts hit me and run in less than a second.  I nod to Coplon,

“Do you want to be famous?”

“This might sound cheesy, but I don’t give a shit.  I barely even travel.  I go where I go to ride.  And I go to push myself for myself.  And when I learn a new trick, it means that I can go home and go to bed.  Like last
week, I went out, learned a few tricks and I went home and it was great, it felt good.  But the days when I’m pushing myself and it doesn’t work- forget it, man.  I’m pissed, cranky…But as far as going anywhere with riding, no.  Because I do it for myself.”

…Jordan Miller’s been listening in parts to the conversation.  There’s something I have to mention, because I hear on the tape right now that he’s walking away to get food.  Look, I hate to bring this up, but I really have no choice.  I’ve tried to block it out of my mind and it’s worked on the most crucial planes of consciousness, but there’s this thing going on amongst some riders in Tampa and the surrounding area.  These Tight Pants Syndrome, the tightest pants imaginable.  I don’t see how they do it.  Some of these riders, you can see the veins in their scrotums.  As sickening as I find this, they like it and they do it religiously.  I can’t even really define it.  But it sucks.  And I’m not trying to be an asshole here, I know that fashion and style is subjective and all of that happy horseshit, but seeing these guys in pants like
that sucks.  I just can’t take them seriously.  DeGroot has some ideas about why they do it, but he’s just as much in the dark as I am or as Coplon is.  Except DeGroot literally defined it to me when we talked,  and he defined itperfectly.  When the pants are that tight, they compress the genitalia, and the penis will find a side to hang with.  And DeGroot calls the look The Sidepipe.  But Miller’s walking off to get food.  I yell at him,

“Bring back a burger.”
“And fries,” adds Coplon.          
I watch him walk away, “Tight pants.”
Coplon laughs, “I know.  I don’t get it.”
I shake it off.
And I’m burning down, here in the dirty south.  We talk for a while longer, and I ask him what he would tell some rider just starting out if the rider asked him for an edge.  

He says:
“Hmmm.  I’d probably tell
him- well- I don’t know.   I’m hoping that these kids are going to find that niche, that group of friends that
inspires them to do what they’re going to do, so that they don’t get caught up in that American fucking dream of a wife and kids, a fifty-thousand a year job with a fucking Cadillac.  I mean, don’t ride to get good.  Ride to have fun.  Because that’s what it’s going to come down to.  If you’re not having fun you’re not
going to be doing it too much longer.”
           Like
I said Jamie Cox (www.uaclothingco.com) is a cool motherfucker.  Well, I’m saying it now.  He pushes his clothing, company, Urban Attire, because or in spite of the slack around him.  Days and nights have now passed me like nothing, and the money came through, and I’m driving with Jamie down to The Skatepark of Tampa, The Spot (www.skateparkoftampa.com) to pick up some shoes.  Sean Albright, easily one of
Tampa’s best riders, is also a cool motherfucker, and I get some new kicks and watch the riders work the park, and outside it rains, it rains and rains and motherfucking rains.  I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with these shitty southern summer storms.  I really know nobody here.  I’m here through blind chance.  It’s been a long time since I haven’t planned anything.  But things feel better now.   Except my driver’s license has
expired, and you can’t buy a car in Florida without registering it and getting plates, and I can’t do that with an expired license, and my license is from Washington State, incidentally.  Ill preparation on my part, sure, but if it’s not one thing, it’s always another fucking thing.  But through all the sludge and slime and wasted hours there, the small and nipping teeth of little deaths circling bare ankles and taking away one fiber at a time, I feel somewhat easier while it’s night out.  I’m still swimming through the dark and shitty waters, swimming upward, hoping that it’s really upward I’m swimming.  And on this particular night I feel better, because DeGroot’s on his way down to Tampa to meet me at the skatepark for his interview.  Miller picks me up at the apartment and now I’m outside of the skatepark, pedaling up toward DeGroot’s van.
It’s just parked, and when it parked, I saw the surface far above the black water I’ve been swimming through. It’s not incredibly bright, but it looks good and clean.  A few minutes later, we’re sitting in the
office, and I hit record:

                                Chad DeGroot

“Tell me about your life here.  I mean, this place.”

“It’s the white trash.  Warm weather white trash.  You can be white trash here 365 days a
year.  It’s like small town rednecks but in a bigger town.  It’s awesome.  It kind of reminds me of home.  With beaches. With beaches and bikinis.  And Mickey Mouse and tourists and you get a new crowd every week.  Orlando’s pretty awesome,” he laughs, “I’m into it.”

“What’s your least favorite part about Orlando?”

“I don’t think there’s a big connection, like everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been close to some type of friends on a daily basis, and I don’t think you find it here too much. It’s a bit distant.  And there’s distance.  Whether there’s some awesome dudes in Tampa here, it’s a distance thing.  And all the people in Orlando have their really strong personalities and what they do every day.  So, it’s not like you show up at somebody’s
house and say ‘What’s up, man, let’s fucking drink’ -or whatever.  I think it’s distance.  That’s the only problem I have.  I’m used to having close friends, and if it’s not close friends by me, then it’s at least people I can talk to or hang out with everyday.  It’s not like that here.”

“But you have your girlfriend.”

“She moved in with me a couple of months ago.”

“What’s her name?”

“Eve.  Chadam and Eve.”  He breaks up laughing.  I’m trying not laugh at it.  I can’t help it.  It’s so lame that I start laughing.

“How’d you meet her?”

“I always tell people that I got a house and a girlfriend all in one.  When I moved into my house, I was single at the time.  My old lady wasn’t into my shit anymore.  Starting a skatepark, not enough time, you know; typical girl shit.  What is was is -there was a Superbowl party next door, and- do you want the long version of this or the short version?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll give you the medium version.   I didn’t go and introduce myself to any of the neighbors.  I bought a house and I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m just gonna party, I have a pool and I’m gonna have a good time…’   -But I was timid about meeting the neighbors, so they kinda came over and met me.  And this one guy next door to me, he’s married, super-cool, I know he has a daughter, whatever, I talked to him a few times and one day he came over and he had just bought a big screen TV and he wanted to invite me over and
watch a movie and shit, and that’s cool, a neighbor inviting me over, breaking me into the neighborhood or something, I didn’t know. ‘Cause he wore short shorts-“

“The best kind.”

He laughs, “But he only wears them when he works.”

“Where does he work?”

“He works at Fed-Ex, but it’s not when he works there, like when he works on the house.”

I whistle.  He
nods,

“I know.  They might have short shorts day at Fed-Ex.  Or it might be a good idea to put in the suggestion box.  And I saw a little twinkle in his eye, ’cause he’s pretty light on his feet, but he comes over and he just bought this TV and he told me, ‘But I can’t fit it into my car and I know you got a van.’ -So we pick up the TV at Circuit City, load it into his house and he’s like, ‘You gotta come over, I owe you a
movie…'”  

It sounds like the beginning of a bad porn
flick.  He smiles,

“Are you over this story?”

I don’t answer.  He looks at me for a
second and continues:

“So he owes me a movie, and it’s getting toward the end of the football year and stuff, and he’s talking about inviting me over for a game.  Finally he invites me over for the Superbowl.  And I didn’t know
what was going on.  But on the car ride back from Circuit City he felt me out: what I do, where I’m at, am I single, all this shit.  And I’m thinking it’s completely innocent.  But his whole plot was to invite me over to
the Superbowl party, and invite his single daughter over too, and match us up.  Well, I thought she was cute,  we’re out back, we’re not even watching football and blah blah blah, and then I left.  I had a chance to say something, to give her my number but I passed it up.  I messed up.  Then I found out where her sister-in-law works, went in there, drew a picture- it was awful- looked like a monkey, and I wrote my phone number on there and wrote, ‘Let’s hang out.'”

“What was the picture supposed to be?”

“Just a happy face.  But then I started doodling and it turned into a monkey.  It was really bad, so I didn’t want her to think that I thought she looked like a monkey.  But it turned out to be a good ice-breaker and since then we’ve been going out, a year and a half now.”

He tells me about how she left her condominium moved into his house, and how they’ll be in the kitchen cooking dinner and she’ll go next door to get any ingredients she may need.  He nods at me,

“But the best part is, you know when I was talking about his workshorts?  He was going to throw them out one day, and Eve’s like, ‘No way.  I know somebody that’ll like those.’

-And she took them, washed them, wrote my name down the front with stars and put WORKSHORTS inside of them and I work on the yard now, all the time in his work- shorts.”

“How short are they on you?”

“Let’s just say it’d be a lot better if there was a ball bag in there.  They could be revealing.”

He pauses long enough for me to change the subject,
which I do gratefully:

“What do you miss about back home?”

Summers are cool.  The grass is awesome.  It’s like this soft, nice grass.  It’s not like all frilly and prickly like it is down here.  Family.  I don’t see them too much.  And a lot of friends I still have live back there.  But just the super-laid back times.  No big city, nothing close, drinking 40’s on the porch, nothing to deal with, nothing to worry about.”

“But that gets old as well.”

“It does.
And there’s stuff that I think is funny that I don’t miss.  Like when I go back home, if I don’t eat meat and  potatoes and cheese in mass quantities with my parents, it’s like you almost get frowned on.  When you go back there, just accept that you’re going to have the shits the whole time you’re there.  The cheese is straight from the source, right there.  And you top it all with beer, too.”

DeGroot turns 30 in March.  He talks a bit more about friends back home, namely one kook, who went bald and paid ten grand for new hair, just lose that hair.  It’s quiet in this room, like driving a quiet highway.  Muffled punk and pegs can be heard in the park  He talks about turning 30, how it plays on his mind.  I tell him it’s just a number.  

“It is, but it’s so many people that set that point on that age.  I personally am not sweating it.  I think everybody I know is over that age.  I’ve always hung out with people who were 2 years older than I am, anyway.  And now I’m right at that point where everybody was talking about.”

He trails off.
I depress the clutch, and shove it into 5th:

“What don’t you like about the BMX
industry?”

“There’s a lot of flat riders that I really can’t handle.  Back in the day (*) you could be friends with anyone.  It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s part of life, but I actually have a hate list.”

“Really?”

“There’s a lot of people I really dislike.  It’s not carefree anymore.  I don’t need to mention names.”

“Why do you hate them?”

“It’s not their riding, it’s their personalities.  When you go out of your way to be nice to people and you don’t get any respect.  I think it’s more or less helping people.  I don’t expect anything back, but they could
at least acknowledge what happened.”

“So this is personal.  What happened?”

He shrugs, “I think back in the day (*) you got the whole fuckin’ shimmer of BMX surrounding you, that’s in your blood.  Now that I’ve grown up, I’m seeing the real world, I see how shit works. And that glazed coating rubbed off a little bit, and I see who the real people are and why they do stuff.”

“So what happened?”

“It could be something as simple as just talking shit about you, just critiquing your style or something like that.  I think the worst part of it is when somebody could be really that bad to where they could sabotage something.  Like at a contest or something like that, let’s say your shit gets sabotaged a little bit, so you can’t ride to your capability.”

“Someone sabotaged your bike.”

“Yeah.”

“What did they do?”

“I don’t even want to get into the whole thing
of it.”

“Do you know who it was?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Was it out of hate?”

“No, I don’t know what it was.  I think it was almost a competition
thing.”

“Someone in your class.”

“Yeah.  I saw that happening, and I was thinking, Is this what it’s getting to?  I didn’t think it was like that, and that’s what money can do to you, shit like that.”

“How’s Haro treating you?”

“Haro’s been cool.  I rode for them for about 5 years, and this year I got stepped down.  I took a stand.  I wasn’t too happy with Adidas, which is a team sponsor.  I saw it as like a GT scenario, you get on GT and you’re packed onto whatever other companies they have, KnuckleBone or whatever crap they have, had, you know.  You get the whole combo.  You put all your eggs in one basket.  I kind of saw that with Haro.  I wasn’t happy, my feet hurt, actually.  Besides that, Adidas dissed me pretty good and nothing was adding up, and I figured I’d take a stand, with Haro, and I got demoted; I’m kind of like frame and fork sponsored right now.  With Haro, there’s like an A and B team.  I guess I’m considered B team.”

“What happened with Adidas?”

“I tried to help them out.  What it comes down to is empty promises.  You get to a point where you hear so much shit, and then you just can’t handle it anymore.  But in biking, you don’t know whether take it, because there’s not much there as it is, so you kind of take what you can get a lot of the time.  But for the most part, I was over it.  I was getting sick of getting stepped on.  I mean, Adidas was great for the whole stint, they had this and that, but they had so many promises above that and they never came through on them.  And that’s when I jumped onto Osiris, where my friend, Kip [Williamson] is team manager and he lives in Orlando, so I can communicate better.  I’d rather be friends with a lot more of the companies, for whom I ride and support.  I’d rather support somebody like that.”

“Sure.
Experience through trial.”

“Yeah.
It’s like you’ve been around the block, you know how the system works, and it’s kind of fine-tuning the system, to make yourself happy.”

“Tell me about the empty promises.  A money issue?”

“At one point it was a money issue.  Then it just came down to being more or less talking to big corporate people.  Like I was talking to average people in the office but they seemed so corporate and it just wasn’t my style.  Actually, the main reason was being forced to do something.  I went over all my shit, and that was the only force fed thing I had- riding their shit.”

“So Haro busted you down to frame and fork
because of Adidas.”

“Big companies like Haro or GT, they pay the bills, they pay their riders.  It helps out with their fucking budget to have companies like Adidas.”

“Does Haro still pay you?”

“Yeah.
But I got a good pay cut.”

“They wouldn’t stick by you as an individual, after you’ve sold their name for the last 5 years?  Or was it contractual?  Either way, it sounds sketchy.”

“I guess I probably could have worked it out with Adidas.  But I wasn’t into it by that point; I was on for 5 years, I kind of saw how shit worked, I didn’t like what I saw.  That’s it.  They make all right stuff, there are a lot of good people there, but I just didn’t like what I saw, personally.”

“Are you still under contract with Haro?”

“I’m under a 2 year contract with Haro.  Which I signed when I did the deal.  It’s totally fine.  I’ve always been happy with them.  They’ve been nothing but good.  I’m low maintenance on their part and they
are on mine.  It’s a perfect relationship.”

“All right, I have a total glam rock question
for your sorry ass.”

“Oh shit.”

Drumroll:

“Do you look back on your life and think about where you are now?  Riding for Haro, world-wide, owning your own skatepark, huge in Japan and so on and so forth?  You don’t let it go to your head, obviously.”

Snare:

“I try not to.  But it’s almost like I need to sit down and actually think that.  I think that I’m so accustomed to it and been through it for so long that I almost need a reality check every once in a while, to sit down and think of what I have and appreciate that.  I don’t think I do it enough.  I really don’t.”

“Do you ever see yourself making your own
product line?”

“It’s a fine line.  I’ve always wanted to stay somewhat in the industry.  My biggest thing would be, I would love to do some type of team manager thing, to show that the team manager position can’t be as hard as it’s cracked up to be.  Because I’ve had certain team managers where I wanted to say, Come on, man.  You can’t be fuckin’ serious.  It’s not that hard.  It’s baby-sitting.  I know there’s more to it, but from what I’ve dealt with, with certain shit, I’d love to do it to see how it works.  But I don’t know if I’d like that as a
future type thing.  But I’m happy with the skatepark.”

“Why did you move here, anyway?”

“I was over Arizona.”

“I know that feeling.”

“It was Aaron Behnke.  I talked to him at a contest, and he said come on down, you can stay with us for a little while…He told that to me and I think I told [Dave] Freimuth that.  So we came down and got jobs riding at Disney World, being characters: Goofy and Tigger.  It’s a moving float with Mickey Mouse on top of it, and we’re riding around wearing Mickey Mouse shin pads and shit…”  

“I need more than that.”

“You showed up during the day.  You did the float, which is a moving float, which is basically a box jump.  It’s like a roller rink.  You roll over it, do a couple of flat tricks, you come back around, and you do that for the whole Disney World.”

“How far is that?”

“It takes 20 minutes, 25, roughly something like that.  You get done, you got an hour break, then you go into character.  Which are Goofy, Tigger, and blah blah blah …But it was kind of cool because I worked with Freimuth and we were Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”

“Who was who?”

“I think we just flipped a coin. The thing is, Dave and I didn’t know how to do any characters.  I don’t think I ever saw any Disney films.  So when I was out there being Tigger, the kids asked me to jump up and down and do the Tigger bounce, and I’d bounce around and they’d say, ‘No.  That’s not it.’  And they’d pull on my tail and punch me.”    

“While you trying to ride?”

“No.  Oh, right, no- this is off my bike.  The reason I go the job, -we got paid shit- minimum wage, and-“

“You got minimum wage?  To fucking degrade yourself?”

“But wait- so we rode our bikes part of the day, and that was the whole thing, but they needed characters, too.  So we had to do characters.  And when you get in the costume, there’ve been 20 other dudes in it before you during that day, kids are punching you and pulling on your tail.  It made it a little easier when Dave and I were Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum because we could mess around with each other.  All we had to do was pick our pretend noses and wipe them on kids.”

He drinks his water and shakes his head,

“But one thing Dave and I wanted to do was I’d come out as Tigger or something, and he’d come out as the same character, and we’d get into a fight and he’d skin me.  And I’d be naked underneath.  The kids would fucking lose it.”

The punk music stops in the skatepark.  The 4 harsh and unmistakable notes which begin Master of Puppets hits the air in rolls of metal thunder.  It’s a gentle moment.  DeGroot nods to me,  “What is was is, I thought Orlando was so interesting.  Because of Disney, it’s like a big town that has a small town feel.  There’s a bunchof awesome riders, a whole new scene. And then I ended up picking up a sponsorship with Schwinn, and after that I started making some money, and I was happy to get rid of Disney, and I
knew I could afford to live down here, and not work some piece of shit job.”  

“What happened with that, with Schwinn?”

“Well, you can call me a dumbass.  I’ll get into this right now:  I went back to Standard.  See, I rode for Standard before all this, then I went to Schwinn, and I actually got a small paycheck, which was unheard
of back then.  And when I saw the Scwhinn deal, the traveling, seeing some shit.  I barely knew Dave Osato and I knew Jay Miron a little bit, and I was like, man, this whole tour bit; I have to see what it’s about.  And I can make extra money from doing this.  It went from going to the grocery store and buying cigarettes for under aged kids and keeping their change to going, fuck, man- I got a paycheck coming in.
I’m freaking out.  I’m making money and shit, right?  Plus, Standard had so many empty promises.  So, Schwinn worked out awesomely for a year, I did so much shit.  But for the most part, I wanted a raise.  I wanted double.  I knew I was worth it and all this shit, who’s doing what at contests and everything else, and it wasn’t much more than I was getting.  You double a dollar, it’s two dollars, you know?  It was such a low amount that I knew they weren’t going for it because they were playing hardball.  So I said fuck off.  And Moliterno offered me money to get back on Standard.  I got a few checks, I started setting up a tour and he just stopped returning my calls.  So that kind of ended it.”

He wrinkles his brow and shakes his head, “It’s crazy, you know?  The whole Standard thing.  It’s just crazy how the whole Standard thing went.”

He looks at the floor then to the recorder, “I’m not bummed now that I went back.  I learned a lesson, and I don’t mind telling people I learned a lesson.”

A few seconds pass around the room.  I’m thinking about when I first met him, ten years ago, when he was freshly on Standard and riding one of the first frames.  And I remembered the next year, when a metallic cranberry red Shorty frame arrived at our apartment in Phoenix, and he built it, and rode it for the first time in the parking lot of the complex, remarking about how light it was, and Freimuth looked over at me and  remarked about how fast DeGroot was riding it.  I even remembered the trick he was doing, a back yard in fast circles, out of something else fast and into something else fast.  The angle pans up from the parking lot, zooms back from his rear wheel and refocuses on the carpet in the room where we sit now, years later.  I kill my movie:

“Are you still friends with those guys?”

“I talk to Rick Yeah.  I mean, no hard feelings.  Business is business.  But I don’t agree with the way he did it, but now I can laugh at it, and I can talk about it.”

I nod, “Add some time and it becomes funny.”

“Yeah.  It’s awesome, you can do that.”

“Lay down a good Arizona story.”

He thinks for a few moments, then starts laughing, and brings up this kid that we used to torture a lot, but always in good jest, and almost always out of love.  Nearly a decade has passed since this incident, and the kid mentioned is now an ace mechanic, who has bailed me out of engine trouble twice while I was back in Phoenix, around the beginning of 2001.  But those of us from Phoenix still bring up this kid, well, this man now, and he’s still the butt of a lot of jokes, all in  good jest, and almost always out of love.
So, George, if you read this, just know these are not my words and I didn’t ask him about you in particular, so don’t get pissed at me.  Wait, on second thought, go fuck yourself.  You red-haired piece of shit.  Oh, I’m only joking…

“…There was this little kid who lived down the street from us named George.  Red hair, freckled farmer.  His mom looked and talked like a horse, (he pauses and imitates a horse’s call; we break up laughing) ‘RRREEEEHEEHEEEHEE, George!  Dinner time!’  -You know, shit like that, it was awesome.  And he respected us, he was young, had a ramp in his yard, everything.  Like the kid was nice enough, but he was
really timid and shy and he looked up to us really hard.  He used to come over to our apartment and we
used to put him through tests here and there.  Some are unmentionable.  But one day I ended up taking a candy bar and smearing it on some tighty whities, and I chased him around the apartment and he ran outside.  And I just remember the look on his face, because he looked at us and he goes, ‘You guys are supposed to be my role models.’  -He actually thought we were chasing him around with underwear smeared in shit.”
.
We’re both remembering George, and laughing our asses off.  He straightens up and smiles, shaking his
head, “A kid, he took after us.  I just remember walking out and he’s just chilling there crying.  Tears going down his face.  To make a kid cry, just from- and I don’t think we ever told him that it was a candy bar, either, because it was too priceless.  We could just hang it over him.”

We break away from the recorder and go into a few more Arizona stories.  I seriously can’t print them
here.  For many, many reasons.   Let’s just say we weren’t the most considerate group of friends in Phoenix.  And if a least considerate group of friends somehow existed, I’m glad we never met each other.  I go for safer digestion:

“What’s next for you?”

“Fuck, man.  I don’t know.  For the most part, to become a real tourist.  Like if I ever travel anywhere,
like we’re going to Interbike, and I’m bringing my lady and instead of going for the NORA Cup party or whatever, we’re actually going for a week, and we’re going to see some shit.  We’re going to the Hoover Dam, Red Rock, Sedona, Jerome, all that stuff, you know, to go think of some of the past in that, but go make good, new stories.  Renting boats and whatnot.  I just want to have a good time.”

“Is riding still the same for you, I mean, do you still feel the same thrust now?”

“It comes in spurts.  I don’t get on my bike unless I want to. back in the day, I don’t think I saw anything else.   And now, you grow up, and you got other shit going on.  I don’t sweat taking a whole day off and going to the beach and drinking beer and having a good time.  I can take days off and not sweat it a bit.  Back then, I don’t think I could take a day off.  I didn’t know, I felt like I’d be out of the loop with it, so, I think I kind of lightened up.  I don’t think I need to ride as much as I used to.  If I’m feeling it, I’m feeling
it.  Even a few years back, when I didn’t feel like riding I forced myself, and I kind of got into that mode, that when I forced myself, some new shit would come; so I had that in my head. But another thing about what’s going down now is how tight the pants are around here.”    

“Yeah.  What the fuck’s going on down here?”

He laughs, “It’s a lifestyle.  I haven’t seen anything like it.  It’s the sidepipe.”

We stare at each other for a second, then, in perfect synchronicity, we both see tight ass pants with the side pipe getting more and more visual.  We laugh through the horror.  I open the gate:

“Why don’t you go ahead and define the sidepipe for the readers who may not know.”

“The sidepipe is the tightest pants you can get, wearing no underwear, and you can see the head of your dick and the whole shaft, that’s what the sidepipe is.  For the most part, I think I could rock a good sidepipe, but I got a skatepark now.  And you’d just look like a crazy pedophile if you’re rocking a sidepipe and a skatepark.  Especially if you got an office in the back, too.”

“The skatepark. You’re on the other side of the counter now, what are some problems
you’ve had with Mission?”  

“Being sued,” he says, disgustedly, “Twice.”

“Over what?”

“A kid hurt himself.”

“Didn’t he sign a fucking waver?”

“Signed a waver, they lost.  Well, they didn’t lose.  Our insurance company upheld their part of it.  It got worked out.  I don’t think any money was exchanged.  But the same kid tried to sue again.  And I think that’s pending right now.  I find that really difficult to take, because the kid doesn’t have a life threatening injury. He broke a tooth.  I assume his parents have insurance because he’s about twelve or thirteen years old.”

“Is he a rider?”

“He’s a skater.
And some of the stuff I have to deal with, owning a skatepark, [www.missionskatepark.com] is something I never would have guessed.  This parent told me the other day, she said, ‘You’re the cheapest baby-sitter I can afford.’  And that summed it up.  And I’m not saying anything’s bad there.  But if you can’t kid-proof everything in the park, you know about it.  Like if you put something new in the park, a piece of drywall or a new sign or something like that; if it’s not torn down or has a hole in it or anything like that, you weren’t open that day.  Kids go through stuff like crazy.  They find the corner to piss in, they find a place to stuff the pizza.  It goes everywhere, it’s crazy, all the stuff I have to deal with on a daily basis.  With the whole ball of it, I wouldn’t change anything.  But those little fucking bastards, man.  They’ll get theirs when they get older.”  He laughs.  I nod at him,

“It’ll come around to them.  We destroyed a lot of shit in our days.”

“Yeah,  I think a lot of shit might be karma coming back at me, because I’ve done a lot of
shit.  I probably have another couple of years left.”

“Like in that video when you shit on the floor in Wendy’s, and that poor waitress had to clean it up after you left.”

“It was solid, though.”

“It doesn’t matter.
It was human feces.”

He defends himself again, “Yeah, but there was no…juice.”

“But you know she didn’t pick it all up at one time off the carpet, she had to scoop it up with something.  You know it left a little wet spot.  And she had to do something to get the smell out.”

“Hey,” he says, “It felt right.”

“Any last words?”

“If you can get through life faster with a spoiler on your car, go for it.”


Posted on June 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

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