FIRST CLASS FOOLS

We Like To Skateboard, And Start Trouble

Evel Knievel and the War on Vanilla by Juan Arreola

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Strange things begin to happen when you hit 160mph while straddled on top of a1000cc sportbike. Your senses become startlingly acute and sharp. Your eyes dart back and forth from speedometer to the inky black asphalt as you guage your center and adjust pitch and roll accordingly. You can feel every microscopic imperfection in the road as it zips by underneath the two racing Dunlops holding you up in a synchronization of balance and centrifugal force. With your chin firmly resting on the tank, the circuit between man and machine is complete and the beginning and end become indistinguishable from one another. It's almost supernatural. You can taste the adrenaline on your palate as it floods your bloodstream. Peripheral vision becomes a blur of colorful streaks as the scenery shoots by. It is here in this limbo that I have found my true peace. A void where time slows to a crawl and there is only bliss and sunlight. If joy was a definitive moment, this is it. Nothing else in my life has ever compared to that buzz of electric plasma that surges through me when I risk it all. It's like cocaine, blowing a load, and biting into a York Peppermint Patty all at the same fucking time. The grin on my face stays put well after the ride is over.

  That being said, I am all too familiar with the consequences of a mistake and what happens when someone becomes arrogantly careless at this velocity. You go down now, and there is no coming back. Even the best helmet and leathers are an afterthought when your mass is being propelled this fast. What, then? What good, rational reason is there for me and many others with this same affliction to constantly seek out the excess and dig deeper towards the boundary every time? People like us don't just throw caution to the wind. We blast it to dust with a shotgun like a clay pigeon.

  The need for validation of life through risk is an admittedly selfish trait found only in the human species. We crave fun and it is necessary to break the monotony of our ever-increasing lifespans. Only humanity suffers boredom on a fatal level and seeks out the cure. (Please spare me the sermon about scientific studies on dolphins and how the findings prove that they jump out of water and frolic for the sheer enjoyment it gives them. You sure as fuck won't see a dolphin doing pirouettes over a reef all jazzed up on Cosby pills while a group of lady dolphins cheer his ass on.) It's almost always exclusive to certain personality types. A special badge worn by those of us with a loneliness that never goes away. Maybe it's a traumatic event from your childhood that makes you overcompensate in just about everything you do in life that involves tactile sensation. It doesn't matter what you do to get there. It could be sex, drugs and alcohol, a skateboard, a crotch rocket, football, even your chosen profession. Whether you're a fighter pilot struggling not to pass out as you endure G forces that would kill anyone else, or you're inside of an octagon trading vicious punches and kicks with an opponent, the end result is the same and you just want those few seconds of zen that everyone else gets from doing normal shit.

  When I was a sprat, my heroes were the guys I watched spilling their guts out on artificial turf for the fleeting adoration of a crowd. I was too young to understand the spirit that possessed these men to smash into each other with the destructive kinetic energies of a car accident. All I know is that guys like Mike Singletary fucking LIVED for that thrill and you could see the evidence of his zeal in those legendary crazy eyes of his. I would read about guys like Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, and Steve Caballero in skate magazines and marvel at how someone could do the things they did on a little wooden deck and not break their goddamned necks. What is it that drives someone to challenge that which physics deem impossible and succeed every time? Is it an actual mental disorder like some headshrinkers out there want you to believe? Whatever it is, it makes living within the confines of normalcy seem mundane and absolutely unbearable. It  hurts to cruise through life in default mode like everyone else and slowly drains us of our life force. BEING VANILLA ACTUALLY KILLS US.

  "If a guy hasn't got any gamble in him...he isn't worth a crap." 
                          ~Evel Knievel

  I was about 6 or 7 years old when I first saw that infamous clip of Robert "Evel" Knievel tumbling end over end off of his beloved 750cc Triumph, his body contorting and smashing like a rag doll in a sickening roll that no human being should have possibly lived through. He broke just about every major bone in his body and would spend the next month in the depths of a coma, teetering on the brink of death in a trauma unit. The images of this catastrophic fall were forever etched onto the walls of the dark cave in my mind. He immediately became a hero to me.

It was on December 31, 1967 that Knievel made history and became a household name by virtue of this spectacular failure in his attempt to jump over the fountain at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas. Something went wrong on the initial approach to that take-off ramp and he didn't quite get the speed needed to land the stunt safely. He very nearly paid the ultimate price for the cheap thrill and enjoyment of every single couch potato glued to their sets watching ABC's Wide World of Sports at home. You would think coming face to face with the grim reaper and smelling what he ate for lunch would be enough to get a guy to calm the fuck down and lay off the circus act forever. Not Evel Knievel, no sir. Somehow, this galvanized his resolve and he recovered. The doctors all told him he would never ride again, and good ol' Knievel told every single one they were full of shit. He went on to even bigger and better stunts (and more incredible failures) that solidified his status as the King of Fuck You. I present him as an example of the extreme end of our thrill-seeking spectrum, the physical manifestation of that urge we have to find out for ourselves if fire really burns when you hold a hand over the flames. I'll never know what drove Robert Knievel to be obsessed with living life while daring death to come get him. Even after over 400 broken bones and a place in the Guiness Book of Records as a human piñata, I'm certain even he didn't know. It's quite possible he didn't give a shit why. Maybe he just knew that it was his job to not give a shit. I look at the people around me and see that daredevil inside that propels them forth on their journey to be exceptional and extraordinary. I see it when I look in the mirror and wonder how long it will last. I hope it never fades. I pray that I will find solace and peace where others refuse to tread. At least I'll know what part of the rock is mine to stand upon.

  You don't need to walk on tightropes or ollie over a pit of venemous snakes on your deck to feel alive, but for a few of us, it certainly helps. Whatever you choose to do in life, don't half-ass it. If you find yourself mired in the repetitions of this world and you start going through the motions, use that mass of neurons and glia in your skull to challenge redundancy. Find your way using the methods familiar to you, but don't ever let that stop you from getting outside of your comfort zone once in a while to see what you're really made of. Life isn't short. Life is long as fuck and it'll drag it's balls. Especially when you willingly accept the things you have the power to change yet do nothing about. I see too many of the individuals around me fall victim to the serpentine coils of apathy and it dulls the shine they once had in their eyes. Don't live softly. Go for the gusto, dude. Above all, fight the temptation to shuffle towards the prolonged damnation of coloring inside the lines. It feels good to leave your mark where no one else has ever been.

  I sold my bike a few years ago, convinced I was done with the open road on two wheels forever. I was sure that I had satisfied every curiosity I had about my own mortality and what my limitations are. I can assure you that I've regretted that decision ever since and I've started eyeballing those sleek new Yamaha R-1s with ridiculous top end power. I'm starting to get that itch again.

  The only relief I'll find for that itch is just over the asphalt, beyond the blur...