“Tony Hawk!” I heard as I sat atop a downtown Memphis hotel watching the setting sun paint the sky orange over the mighty Mississippi, thinking that Elvis Presley and his Memphis mob must have be witnesses.
I looked up and a handsome black gentleman in his forties was standing at the bar looking me straight in the eye. Tall, braided hair just like that.
“Tonnny Hawk”, and he turned to the bartender, “Doesn’t he look like Tony Hawk?”
“Sure,” she said, nodding in agreement.
I pretended to laugh, because I am regularly confused with the specialists of green three times then twice married, but then inspiration struck. If these two know Tony Hawk, could they also know competitive pro surfing?
I wobbled off my stool and tripped.
“Say, do any of you watch competitive pro surfing?”
“Of course! Every time I find it on ESPN 3,” the gentleman replied as the bartender shook his head no and said, “nuh-uh.”
“What?” I asked, flabbergasted, not knowing if my leg was getting pulled. “Are you serious?”
“Of course,” he replied, holding out his hand. “My name is Rizza. RIZZA for real. I can show you my license.
“Rizza,” I said, believing him, “I’ve been on an epic quest, looking for that great United States just for you. It’s a long story, with a lot of ups and downs, but what exactly do you like about it?
Without pausing, he replied, “I can barely balance myself on a skateboard, so the way they balance on water? I never get tired of watching this.
“Do you follow heats, do you know how they are scored, do you have a favorite competitive pro surfer, do you know there is a Championship Tour and a Challenger Series with the Challenger Series currently struggling?” I machine-gunned.
“Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I just like that they balance on that water.
Rizza then turned to the bartender and mimicked a classic surf pose.
“They’re all like that except on the water. You should watch it, baby.
And he was there, sort of. The Unicorn. The myth. The non-surfing fan of the World Surf League, assuming the World Surf League airs on ESPN 3, which, come to think of it, is unlikely.
Close enough though and I retreated to my stool to meditate on the last ray of sunshine and meditate on this powerful moment.
I should have felt elated, victorious, fulfilled but I almost felt… slightly depressed, sad, and that vague sadness followed me until dinner, the best ribs, fried catfish, green beans, brown beans , coleslaw I’ve ever had, were hovering when I woke up first thing in the morning to go stand in front of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, accompanied the Volkswagen as it raced down that home stretch to Nashville.
Between knee back pain (I had pulled the dumb thing the morning I started the epic quest courtesy of my joy found in biathletics and general disdain for stretching. 2000 miles later, he was so seized up I could barely see.), he came to me.
The World Surf League may need here, this vast expanse between the coasts, for robust growth strategies and return on investment and business, but here does not need to surf. It’s utterly awesome here, as are the roasted green chilies, the skies stretching as far as the eye can see over rolling plains, people with bullets lodged in their backs, chicken fried steaks, people as big as the earth who go out of their way help, be kind.
I encountered two notable assholes on my trip from Cardiff-by-the-Sea to Tennessee. One, a blacked-out GMC SUV that tried to shoulder everyone over while we waited for a fatal crash to nearly destroy a van full of kids. There were California plates. The other, a man and his wife who I asked for a ride, two miles in the direction they were going, after driving those same two miles on the highway in 100 degree heat. The man apologized profusely for not having room in their Lincoln Navigator. The Native American gender living off the grid and working at the gas station said to me, “They had a lot of room, they just wouldn’t take you. I’m going to do it.” Even if, for him, it meant a thirty-minute round trip because there was no easy way back.
The couple came from Florida.
California has surfers and surfing fans, Florida has surfers and surfing fans, but I’d take any New Mexican, Texan, Oklahoman, Arkansan, Tennessean, living in their home country, living like them, any day of the week. Does surfing, or being a fan of surfing, create assholes?
I can’t say, for sure but… Erik Logan.
And to paraphrase the great Michael Tomson, if you’re not into competitive pro surfing, don’t get started. If you’re a fan of competitive pro surfing, never stop but be super judgmental and sarcastic about it and/or watch alongside Rizza on ESPN 3 before enjoying brandy on the rooftop bars.
Arriving in Nashville, I felt satisfied, fulfilled, at peace and more when my very talented football star daughter dropped me off at the doctor for a dose of Toradol, muscle relaxants and steroids in the Volkswagen that was now at home.