Skate and Destroy

Pool skater slang for barging in to skate untended pools: whenever, wherever. Have a nice day

* * *

After hours of phone calls; after they try to hit me up for gas money; after they get lost at least once, I finally meet Reul and Ortolani behind an abandoned motel, four hours late. It's a long, stultifying wait, watching the sun set on another day in desolation, keeping the windows of the rented Pontiac up to avoid squadrons of bees, dragonflies, mosquitoes and gnats that periodically thunk against the windshield like six-legged hail. Everything is so overgrown that I've given up exploring. Tweakers or gangbangers could be hiding anywhere—or, it turns out, nowhere. But as I timidly scout narrow walkways of the deserted two-story motel, I can't see around the dry leaves of half-dead, overgrown palms, and so I don't know if anyone's watching me from any one of scores of empty rooms, most of which are boarded up. I never venture where I can't see the car, and when a lizard rustles through a palm in the sleepy midafternoon swelter, I'm so spooked that I return to its velour-clad, poorly ventilated safety and try to eat a Lee's sandwich. The cured pork is rancid in the heat.

I'm amazed and relieved when my guides finally appear. We drive to the spot, try to hide our cars, then silently feel our way in: up pitch-dark stairs, along a walkway, through an amphitheater of deep, wide steps that fronts the pool, and over broken concrete to a break in the chainlink that fences it off. Ortolani finally goes back for a flashlight; Reul just slides in over the edge, and I inch my way to the steps, two-fisting the flashlight and a beer. Taggers have covered much of the pool with their gang names and exploits, but otherwise it's empty, save for a little dirt in the deep end and three tarantulas out for a stroll. A vintage tile on the top step still reads "Palm Springs" in chipped blue glaze. Reul takes the flash and inspects a slow-moving spider up close—but neither man is in a hurry to break out the generators.

"Somebody will see us," says Ortolani in a loud whisper. He eventually persuades Reul to save the generators and pitch camp nearby for the night.

"You're always kind of looking over your shoulder," Reul says later, explaining the pool's uncertain vibe. I leave them with an 18-pack of Tecate that was cold 10 hours ago, to pitch their tent and patch the pool tomorrow. Watching them skate was a big part of the reason I stayed—but I realize later that even had I stayed, something would have been missing.

It's that sensory thing Reul talks about—something I'll never get, no matter how many pools I follow him to. I'm not a pool skater; and how it feels to rocket up a near-vertical surface on a tiny board—heart racing, wheels spinning, muscles locked, gravity and grip tape the only things keeping you in one piece—is something that can't be experienced from the deck of a pool. You have to be down in it.

And so I drive away, cranking up the high beams because there aren't any streetlights out where they are: two die-hard pool skaters secretly retaking a seminal skate spot in the middle of the night. It will be good when they're finished fixing it. But as long as it's out of reach, the next pool will always be better.

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