“Tony Hawk!” I heard while sitting atop a downtown Memphis hotel watching the setting sun paint the sky orange over the mighty Mississippi, thinking Elvis Presley and his Memphis Mafia must have witnessed a few of the same.
I looked up and a handsome black mid-40s gentleman was standing at the bar looking right at me. Tall, hair braided just so.
“Tonnny Hawk,” and he turned to the bartender, “Don’t he look like Tony Hawk?”
“He sure do,” she said, nodding approval.
I feigned a laugh, as I am regularly mistaken for the thrice then twice married vert specialists but, then, inspiration struck. If these two know Tony Hawk, might they also know competitive professional surfing?
I lurched off my stool and stumbled over.
“Say, do either of you watch competitive professional surfing?”
“Of course! Whenever I find it on ESPN 3,” the gentleman answered while the bartender shook her head no and said, “nuh-uh.”
“What?” I asked, flabbergasted, not knowing if my leg was getting pulled. “Are you serious?”
“Sure,” he responded while extending his hand. “My name is Rizza. R-I-Z-Z-A for reals. I can show you my license.”
“Rizza,” I said, believing him, “I have been on an epic quest, searching these great United States specifically for you. It’s a long story, with many ups and downs, but what exactly do you like about it?”
Without pause, he answered, “I can barely balance on a skateboard, so the way they balance on the water? I never get enough of watching that.”
“Do you follow heats, know how they’re scored, have a favorite competitive professional surfer, know that there is a Championship Tour and a Challenger Series with the Challenger Series currently in a bit of trouble?” I machine gunned.
“Oh I don’t know nothing about that. I just like them balance on that water.”
Rizza then turned to the bartender and mimicked a classic surf pose.
“They’re all like this except on the water. You should watch it, baby.”
And here he was, sort of. The unicorn. The myth. The non-surfing World Surf League fan, supposing that the World Surf League is aired on ESPN 3 which, now that I think about it, is unlikely.
Close enough though and I retreated back to my stool to ponder stare at the last bit of sun and ponder this powerful moment.
I should have felt elated, victorious, fulfilled but I felt almost… lightly depressed, sad, and that vague sadness followed me to dinner, the finest ribs, fried catfish, green beans, brown beans, coleslaw I ever had, hovered when I woke first thing in the morning to go and stand in front of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, accompanied the Volkswagen as it zipped this final stretch to Nashville.
In between knee-bucking back pain (I had pulled the dumb thing the morning I began the epic quest courtesy of my newfound joy in biathleticism and general disdain for stretching. 2000 miles later it was so seized up that I could barely see.), it came to me.
The World Surf League may need here, this vast stretch between coasts, for robust growth strategies and return on investment and business business but here does not need surfing. Here is entirely awesome just as it is from roasted green chilies to skies that spread as far as the eye can see over rolling plains, people with bullets lodged in backs to chicken fried steak drawls, people as big as the land going out of their way to help, to be kind.
I encountered two notable buttholes on my journey from Cardiff-by-the-Sea to Tennessee. One, a blacked out GMC SUV that tried to pass everyone on the shoulder while we waited for a fatal accident to clear almost clipping a van filled with kids. It had California plates. The other, a man and his wife whom which I asked for a ride, two miles in the direction they were going, after having walked that same two miles on the freeway in 100 degree heat. The man apologized profusely that they didn’t have any room in their Lincoln Navigator. The kind Native American living off the grid and working at the gas station told me, “They had plenty of room, they just didn’t want to take you. I’ll do it.” Even though, for him, it meant a thirty minute round trip as there was no easy way to get back.
The couple was from Florida.
California has surfers and surf fans, Florida has surfers and surf fans but I’d take any New Mexican, Texan, Oklahoman, Arkansan, Tennessean, living in their home states, living like they do, any day of the week. Does surfing, or being a surf fan, create buttholes?
I can’t say, for certain but… Erik Logan.
And to paraphrase the great Michael Tomson, if you aren’t a fan of competitive professional surfing, don’t start. If you are a fan of competitive professional surfing, never stop but be super critical and snarky about it and/or watch alongside Rizza on ESPN 3 before enjoying cognac on roof top bars.
Zipping into Nashville, I felt satisfied, fulfilled, at peace and more so when my very talented soccer star daughter dropped me off at the doctor for a shot of Toradol, muscle relaxers and steroids in the Volkswagen that was now home.