La Quinta: Part 10
By Ron Whaley
I remember my first experience being in Tampa for the Contest. Straight off the plane and in the taxi en route to our deluxe accommodations. With me were Jeff Kendall and Israel Forbes.
Cab driver: Where you headed?
Me: La Quinta. (I pronounced it 'lah keenta;’ I'd been taking
Cab driver: Oh, you mean the La Quinta. (Luh qwintuh.)
There was a brief silence; then the south came out.
Cab driver: So what do you think of the nig...uh, that colored boy that killed that white bitch and the other fellow?
Kendall: You mean O.J.?
That's how long I've been going to Tampa, since the f--kin' O.J.
As I walked out of the hallway onto the course, I found myself oddly soothed by the all too familiar ch-chunk, ch-chunk of wheels hitting the metal at the bottom of the pyramid. My Tampa time machine was warming up and I just needed someone to flip the switch. I turned to Jeremy Wray for assistance. "Jeremy, could you do a frontside flip over the hip for me?" Gentleman that he is, he pulled it that try. It was timeless and proper. Exact same foot placement and technique as always.
It could have been 2000, '98, '94....I felt time and space slip away. Images and objects from the past and future began to materialize before my eyes. I saw the old indoor vert ramp in the corner. Tas Pappas was hovering by the ceiling, re-grabbing his board determined to pull a clutch kickflip indy. On the other deck, Tom Penny was rolling along with his back to the coping. I thought, “What's he doing? His feet are on the nose,” as he popped a perfect nollie backside flip to his feet about to land backwards into the vertical. Casually, he kicked it away and gingerly jogged down the masonite and metal.
As my eyes surveyed the course, I saw obstacles and skaters manifest, and then recede to memory. I watched a determined Vallely pull a folding chair out on the floor and proceed to spend his entire run trying to kickflip over it, succeeding after time to the crowds roar. As Mike faded back into shadow, I saw a cement bench appear next to where the chair was. A lanky, 16-year-old kid with glasses was easily nollie hardflipping over it. I guess they call him Cairo.
The perimeter of the park darkened and the spotlight shone on an individual run. It was Jovantee Turner. After bailing every single trick, he slowly walked (no one hustled in '94) to his wayward skateboard. Despite the crowd's empathetic applause he proceeded to pick his board up with both hands and hurl it toward the heavens. Dumb luck. It hit a fluorescent bulb which exploded, raining glass on him and the course. He walked out of the building, head down, leaving his board. The crowd hushed and a lone figure swept the floor as the scene turned to shadow...
Then the flat bank came into focus. I saw two exceptionally brawny competitors ride up the bank at the same time, back to back, unaware of their imminent proximity. It was Gershon and Sheffey. They tried their tricks and ran into each other, stumbling to the bottom of the bank and onto the floor. At each others’ feet were each others’ boards. Sheffey picked up Gershon's board and proceeded to throw it to the other side of the park. Gershon picked up Sheffey's board. He walked up to Sheffey, handed it to him, turned around and started walking to go get his board...
I turned to my left and looked down. A small portly child with a bag full of stickers was trying to get my attention. I cracked the knuckles of my autograph hand and was about to ask him what he wanted me to sign when he spoke up.
"Is Bam a good skater? My friends said he sucks."
I wasn't sure if it was a trick question. The kid had on a Bam shirt and his signature shoes. I told him that Bam rips and he should check out the recent 411 with Bam's FDR footy.
I was back in 2004, where the vert ramp is outside, pants are tight, and IPOD's fall out on the course instead of extra shoe tongues. I looked back at the pyramid just as J. Wray stuck a perfect frontside 360 over the hip. When all four wheels hit the ramp I saw the time/space ripple and thought, “Oh shit, here we go again.”
The night before my flight I went out to my home away from home, the Asti bar. I got there at 10:30pm and all my friends were already wasted. After receiving about five random jinxes from friends, one said, "Dude, I know you're gonna’ do really good this time, (breath in my face)."
I tried to play some pool. I told my friend Will I'd never play doubles with him again cause the last time we did, I went to get a drink and came back only to find that he'd stolen the table to play singles after I'd handled it all night. He'd done that twice now and it hurt my feelings, so I was kind of being a dick about it. He spit beer at me. It landed on my Nike Cortez that I got in Munich Germany. I've been known to refer to them as my "sweet babies.” I laughed and looked down in disbelief. I looked up and then back down again. Normally, when I get pissed, it's instantaneous. I wasn't mad yet, I was just confused. No way this was really happening. It must be a weird dream. Maybe I ate too much before I went to sleep. I kept looking down, up, then down again. Yeah, I was awake. Now, really awake and f--king pissed. Will is one of my best friends, but all that was going through my head was, “I should f--king kill this guy.” A daydream ensued where I took the pint glass in my hand and shoved it in his f--king neck, grinding the glass into my hand as well as his jugular, all the way into the wall behind him. I hated him for being my good friend; I couldn't kill him. I went to the bathroom and dampened the dogs. They were fine. I went home.
Maybe I was a little high strung. I hate flying and my social anxiety hates contests. Still though, I have to say that I was looking forward to 150 skaters flying around me in a humid tin shack as opposed to my five good friends in the pool room where I reside most evenings.
I'd been training…well, how about skating parks a lot, and trying to make myself skate for a minute straight so I wouldn't barf after my run (Tampa '96). The majority of my motivation stemmed from my last Tampa showing, or lack thereof. Last year, I skated practice on Thursday, then went back to the hotel and didn't leave the room until Monday morning when my cab to the airport arrived. Although I did get a nice little story out of it (see: "Meltdown in a Tampa La Quinta"). Actually, I was surprised to get several compliments on that story this year. Thanks guys. My goal for this year was to skate in my own world and not pay any attention to the fact that I'd be surrounded by the best skaters on the planet Earth.
A week before the contest I was telling my homie, Emmanuel, how I wanted to get a goat to sacrifice before my run. I could just slit its throat over the La Quinta bathtub, drinking the hot blood as the life pumped out of its neck. I was ready…hungry to f--king rip. Maybe I wanted to sacrifice Will that night at the bar so I could steal his power. F--k that, all it would give me is huge flatground hardflips, pectoral enhancement, and the ability to pound Long Islands, and that wasn't going to help at Tampa. I wasn't going there to get laid.
Ted flew me in on Wednesday. Ted is a new branch of United. UniTED, get it? Stupid marketers. I hate flying enough, but the shit keeps getting worse and worse: Added security, every flight is full, and now meals cost money. What the f--k? I'll eat Gin, thank you very much.
I took a cab to the La Quinta. As I rode in silence, I reflected on the O.J. trial, and reminisced as I saw a familiar, skewered speedboat hovering in the air next to the most visited indoor skate park of all time.
After I checked in, I walked up to my room. I felt like I was in "Night of the Comet" when I looked out over the pool area and didn't see any skaters. I pinched myself to make sure that I hadn't died and arrived in my own personal hell. Ouch! No, I was alive, and it wouldn't be hell without all the skaters anyway. I guessed that they just hadn't arrived yet. I went into my room and moved in. No need to familiarize myself, I think I could walk to the ice machine blindfolded after staying there so much. My roommate for the weekend, Alex Moul, showed up around 11pm and we got some Heinekens.
Thursday morning practice was chill. Not too crowded and everyone seemed to be shredding for fun and enjoying themselves. I gotta’ go ahead and say that I'm pretty good. Switch flip shifty’s over the hip. Nobody does those right? Well Whalebone gots 'em...or at least at first. Thursday they were working fine, but they just gradually deteriorated to mobbed-out vertical flips where I was looking backwards. Of course I couldn't just let it slide. I had to try it over and over and over, even though that was the only thing I knew I was trying in my run for sure. Just completely blow it out. I skated the bowl a little then went back to the La Quinta to rest up for Friday. Moul slammed on his tailbone in the first hour and was done for the weekend. More Heinekens.
Exactly one year ago that night, the Kings played the Mavericks and lo and behold they battled again this year. Last year the Kings got slaughtered and I took it for a bad omen and never left the hotel room after that. This year they killed the Mavericks and I was hoping things would turn around for me this year, too. Last year, I broke up with my ex the day I got home from Tampa and was losing my shit the whole weekend prior, debating what I should do. I met the most amazing girl about a week before this year's contest and she called me Thursday night. Things were definitely looking up. I began to prepare my acceptance speech for 1st place street, contemplating just how much of the ten grand I'd just sign over to the IRS.
Friday morning was time for me to prove myself. I placed one foot in front of the other and propelled my body outside of the room. I made it outside and I didn't even feel like running back in and slamming the door. I took the residential sweet cut that runs between the Quinta and the Milner. I could taste my anxiety as I practiced a little flatground. The neighborhood rotwielers yanked themselves around the trees they were tied to. I think they were jealous of my nollie flips. The Tampa 8 whores blew me kisses and I made my way to the Contest.
Maybe I practiced a little too much, I don't know, but I just don't do well in contests. I did the exact same thing I've done for the past 10 years. I plan on doing about six tricks in my run, one run I'll make two out the six, the next run I'll make a different two and bail the tricks I pulled before. I actually think I didn't do that bad. I even had the gall to find Schaefer a little later and see if I made the cut. Of course I did not. I got 28th out of 38 and it didn't look like the IRS was getting shit.
"Ron, do you get nervous before your run?" Brian asked me out of the blue. "I don't think so," I said thinking, “Wait, do I look nervous?”
Later that night, a kid that Moul befriended came by and dropped this on me, "Hey man, sorry about your run." I thought, “Jesus, it wasn't that bad!” and said, “Thanks for the encouragement.”
Well, I may not be the poster boy for sanity, but I made it out of the room every day except Saturday. Much better than last year. Saturday, Moul, and I just drank beer all day, checking out a posse of hick chicks listening to country and drinking Bud Light at 9 am. A couple were pretty decent and we contemplated what it would be like to actually come to the La Quinta for your vacation.
I spent all of Sunday in the bowl. There were some novelty shows going on, and depending on what time you came through, you could see some different genres going on in the skateboard world. At one point I looked around and noticed it was a sesh with just raw street skaters. Pete Eldridge and Stefan Janoski busted out some serious mini skills and it was awesome to watch, you could tell they love skateboarding. I think my favorite spectacle would be the Big Brother Freak Show that was performing at 1pm and 3pm in the bowled arena. This session consisted of me, Jarret Barry, and Mike V. It all came together last minute, so we didn't have time to get any midgets, feces, or GWAR members but, dammit, we're trying our best here! I skated ‘til my legs were cramped and walked back to my abode at the La Quinta, content from skating all day.
In my cab back to the airport, the driver was smoking a pipe of some pungent tobacco with the windows up. He glared at me when I cracked it an inch. I thought, “I can't wait till next year, and the year after, and the year after...”
Oh yeah, what Tampa story would be complete without the La Quinta movie log? Here's what was on Lodgenet:
- Master and Commander/Matrix
- The Saint
- Executive Decision
- Double Whammy - with Hurley and Leary
- Spy Hard - with Weird Al before the contacts. F--k Coolio.
- I Spy
- Antoine Fischer
- MIB (at least twice)
- Mighty Wind
- Ghost of Mars (again!)
- Pluto Nash
- James and the Giant Peach
Ronald W. Whaley
Krux Team Manager