Filmed with a GoPro Hero 3 Silver
For highlights from the first part of our journey in Bangkok, click here.
When I was invited to Denver with 4R Innovations to showcase our furniture at the Green Festival, I hadn’t anticipated the kinds of contacts I was to make; everything from green building products to eco-tourism were on display, and when I discovered the booth across from us had budget-friendly volunteer opportunities in Central America to help sea turtles, I was on board instantly. I took a volunteer card home with me and it sat on my desk for about three months.
One night I was wondering what to do between my summer and fall semesters at college when I remembered the card. On a whim, I decided I was going to email Brad Nahill, the man in charge of See Turtles and inquire about volunteer opportunities. His speedy response directed me to a few options within my price range of $20 a day. One option – a homestay with three meals a day in a village called Parismina, Costa Rica – really jumped out at me. With little to no money in my bank account, I booked a ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica.
Not including the redeye flight from Salt Lake City to Costa Rica, the ride to Parismina is a four-hour adventure in itself. After a bus ride from San Jose to Siquirres, a ride in a taxi that wasn’t afraid to ford the small rivers to Caño Blanco, and a boat ride in pitch black darkness, my travel partner and I arrived to Parismina – an island still unknown to us. In my best broken Spanish, I explained to the captain of our tiny vessel that we were volunteering for the sea turtle association. He must have understood me, because upon arriving on the island he was gracious enough to walk us directly to the information center in the middle of the village; which is the headquarters of Asociacion Salvemos Las Tortugas De Parismina, or ASTOP for short. After a long day of traveling, we had finally made it to our destination. We were informed that we would be walking the beach from 8pm until midnight that very night; we were on our way to save some turtles… or so we thought.
The first two nights were the longest. High expectations of turtle salvation had really gotten our hopes up. Our first shift, from 8 until midnight, proved uneventful. The following night we were told that we were assigned the midnight to 4am, which turned out to be a bit more stimulating. Not because of the turtles, but more because of the torrential downpours and close proximity of lightning strikes that lit up the sky and beach. It was eerily beautiful.
Our hopes of spotting turtles had diminished significantly by the third night. Fortunately for us, we were assigned the 8 until midnight shift again – which we had anticipated to be another long, monotonous walk on the beach. The shift started out as ordinary as the previous two nights. We met our guide at the Leatherback Shack and headed to the beach. Within ten minutes of walking our guide stopped us in our tracks. With our guide only speaking Spanish there was a bit of a language barrier, but with what little Spanish we knew we pieced together that there was a turtle just up ahead and she was laying her eggs. Our time had come. We were told to wait by the turtle while our guide found the other group that was patrolling the beach so they could see the turtle as well. When the other group arrived we quietly walked to where the turtle had decided to lay its eggs, and with our red flashlights, I got my first glimpse of the massive amphibian. Huddled around the turtle with the other volunteers, we watched as the turtle laid its eggs in the meter deep hole that she had dug. When the turtle was finished laying her eggs, she was tagged, measured and all the data of her nesting recorded. We then waited as she covered her hole to protect her future offspring. While in the process of waiting one of our group members, an Italian fellow, went walking to see if more turtles were in the area. He quickly came running back exclaiming: “Tortuga! Tortuga!” We hurried down the beach to find another turtle making her way back to the sea. She had come to shore, but unfortunately decided not to lay her eggs that night.
Later in the night, following our first two turtle experiences, we were greeted with yet another egg-laying turtle. This time, however, it was time for us to get dirty. We came across her right before she had started laying her eggs. It was a prime opportunity to gather the eggs and relocate them to the “vivero” in an attempt to hide them from the poachers who would sell them on the streets of Siquirres as a form of natural Viagra. Laying belly first in the sand, we were handed a rubber glove and a bag, and told to gather and count the eggs as she laid them. I was to gather 50 and my friend was to gather the rest. I was quite happy to have been given the responsibility of only gathering 50 since the turtle happen to lay 138 eggs that night. I never realized how heavy an egg could be until walking through the sand for two miles carrying a bag of 50. The work was hard and the wait was worth it. Although only 1 out of every 100 hatchlings will grow to be a full size turtle, I feel that we helped do our part that night to help save these incredible animals from extinction.
Even having traveled through Europe and all over the U.S., I had never experienced a place quite like Parismina. The tiny island village off the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has a population of only 400 people; the roads are made of dirt, the housing is basic, the language is 99% Spanish, and for me, a place “off the beaten path”. The village has come together, with the help of volunteers and donations, to help save the turtles from extinction by poachers and irresponsible human action. I was warned that volunteering was not going to be a walk in the park. In addition to patrolling the beach for four hours a night, we also helped scrape paint, plant trees, and clean up the trash-ridden seashore. For $20 a night and a little hard work, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
The drive to Daniel’s Summit was long and cold. The snowy mountain road was indicative of the opening sequence of The Shining. There was no cell service where we were going and the Wi-Fi was supposedly fair at best. No Internet makes John a dull boy and I was hoping not to fall into a murderous rampage that would surely ruin the weekend for everyone. I’ve been to the area once before at least five years ago, but that trip was for a different reason in the middle of the summer, and even then I remember it being cold. The temperature only climbs so high once you reach a certain altitude, and although this isn’t the Andes or the Himalayas, it is still higher (and colder) than most places I spend my time nowadays. In places like these, the only living things that solely eat plants are the animals whose heads decorate the walls of local hunting cabins. A vegetarian would struggle to spend the winter in a place like this. A vegan could possibly starve. The weekend I spent here was a taste of a world that I forgot existed, void of the “liberal” eating habits I had grown accustomed to while living in New York City. But like everything in life, I made the best of what was available and managed to enjoy myself in the process.
I was going to the lodge for an event that involved many friends, both old and new. I hadn’t really planned out my eating situation, as I am used to having options wherever I go, and therefore, didn’t think I would have to. My wife is usually the one that runs into trouble since she is both vegan and gluten-free, but even with her restrictive diet there is always a solution even if it means talking directly with the chef. Being a vegetarian (meaning that eggs and dairy are still fair game) is not as hard as it seems. Things like pasta, pizza, French-fries, and omelets are technically vegetarian, although not incredibly healthy. These things are generally a last resort, because although I am not vegan, I still try to avoid most eggs and dairy. This weekend, sadly, that was not an option.
The lodge was an isolated building on a mountaintop about 20 miles Southeast of Heber City, UT. There are no services nearby, and without a car of my own, the conveniences of the closest civilization were out of my reach. Truth be told, even with a car, finding a restaurant with a vegetarian menu in Heber is still wishful thinking. What people in the east sometimes don’t realize is that Utah is the contemporary Wild West. Cattle ranches, rodeos, and demolition derbies are very real, very common things.The lodge where the event was being held was a concentrated version of this culture with every square inch bathed in rustic cowboy motif. The walls were a holocaust of decapitated prairie animals displayed for the amusement of its guests. Most of the furniture was made out of logs, antlers, and guns. Yes… guns. The leather that covered nearly every surface surpassed any amount I’ve ever seen. Every chair, every sofa, the pillows on my bed, and even the ice bucket in my room, were wrapped in tanned hide. I like to think that I have a high tolerance for human supremacy being that I grew up in the country, but the amount of carnage that went into decorating our weekend accommodations was outright excessive. Apparently, people like me are not their target demographic.
The small restaurant that was attached to the lodge celebrated the same Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show theme. Guns, animal heads, and various signs describing what a woman should be cooking decorated the walls. Needless to say, the options for vegetarians were few. There were two specials of the day – an 8-ounce prime rib and a 12-ounce prime rib. Other dishes included chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, various meat salads, and virtually every edible piece of bovine. I ordered the French fries for lunch and didn’t inquire about whether or not they were cooked in lard. Sometimes, it’s best not to know. Most of my meals consisted of deep fried food with the exception of a pasta dish for dinner one night. My 12 year-old self loved eating fried side dishes for every meal, while my 33 year-old self wanted to smack my 12 year-old self in the head for eating such shit. But that’s the way it goes for a vegetarian in the mountains during the winter. Eat shit, or starve.
Despite the dead animals and grease running through my veins, the weekend at the lodge was pleasant. The coziness of the wooden building was reminiscent of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, and the wood-burning fireplace added to that nurturing feeling. We spent several hours next to the fire playing checkers, all the while sheltered from the sub-freezing temperatures outside. Good company always makes a difference no matter the situation. It’s the reason people survive (and prosper) in harsh situations. It doesn’t matter where you are as much as who is with you. I could have a miserable time in paradise or a great time in prison cell – perspective is everything. I made the most of my weekend in the modern-day Winterfell. Blizzards, bearskins, shoddy Internet, steaks, and more steaks – not much can stand in my way of enjoying myself if I don’t let it.
When I was about 21 years old I was a painter in Pennsylvania. I was painting a house one day when the homeowner came outside and started talking to me and my coworkers as homeowners often do. The man led an interesting life. He volunteered his time rescuing stray animals, mostly cats, he worked in construction, and on the weekends, he performed in a KISS tribute band in which he breathed fire on stage. He wasn’t an old man – no more than 45 – and he seemed like he lived a very full and interesting life. He did something different everyday. Some things he had to do – like show up for his construction job (I believe he was self-employed) – but others he wanted to do, such as save cats and breathe fire while dressed like Gene Simmons. I remember saying to my boss who was somewhat of a mentor to me, “I want to do what he does.” My boss looked at me with a puzzled look. “You want to be in a KISS tribute band?!” He didn’t understand what I meant.
In the 15 years since I graduated high school I’ve held many jobs. Following my job (and almost career) as a house painter, I decided to move to Park City, Utah and become a snowboard instructor. During my stint in the beehive state, I worked as a rock climbing guide, a trampoline and gymnastics coach, a facilities manager, a personal assistant, a painter (again), a furniture designer, an IT specialist, a security guard at Sundance Film Festival, and filled in the gaps as a self-employed everything-man. I volunteered at an elementary school, brought people to speak to local drug rehab centers, and taught English. I made a very productive, although not always financially rewarding life for myself. When people would ask me what my long-term plan was, I’d tell them it was to have many short-term plans. I never wanted to get stuck in one thing. I always needed an escape plan just in case I got too comfortable, too bored, or both. My goal was to always have options, and I would fulfill this goal with a lifetime of diverse experience.
I started going to college when I was 28 years old during a low point in my life. I felt I’d run out of options, and therefore, might as well take a class. One class turned into two, then three; before I knew it I was a full-time college student. Many times I felt a bit of shame and embarrassment being that I was the oldest person in my classes, but I fought through it by showing that I was the most dedicated. I approached college with the same meandering attitude as I approached the rest of my life. Each semester I’d take whichever classes I thought seemed interesting with no particular goal in mind except to fulfill general requirements. This (and a long-distance girlfriend in New York City) eventually led me to the east coast to finish my degree. In order to supplement my income while in college, I took a job at one of my favorite retailers, REI. I had zero retail experience, but I was hired based on the time I spent out west. By this point I knew that I wanted to be in business and what better way to learn than on a retail sales floor in Manhattan while attending business school. I think that one day I may have a… dare I say… career in the industry I love. I am still connecting the dots, but starting to see the big picture clearer each day.
Today I am a 33 year-old recent college graduate successfully leveraging the years of experience I built by following a path of whatever intrigued me. I know that this isn’t the life for everyone. Some people don’t like surprises. They need to know what they will be doing everyday for years to come. Each person’s life course is as unique as her or his fingerprint. The one thing I do know is that if I had said I’m going to be an accountant or a web developer or a photographer straight out of high school, I would have deprived myself of 15 years of amazing experiences which turned out to be richer and more formative as any college course. I haven’t found my passion, I’ve found many passions. That is the reward I received from putting off going to college.
That man whose house we painted wasn’t rich by any means, but I know he was happy. As it turns out, so am I.
I love skateboarding.
I started when I was thirteen years old and have never put it down. It’s been one of the few constants in my life. The way I dress, the things I say, and the places I’ve lived have changed, but throughout it all, I’ve always skated. I’ll admit, at times it’s taken a back seat to whatever flavor of the month sparked my interest – snowboarding, cycling, running, capoeira, etcetera – but I’ve always returned to my first love. It’s hurt me. Left me beaten, bruised, and bloody, but I’ve always stood up, brushed off the dirt, and came back for more.
My first exposure to skateboarding was when I was 8 years old. I went to the local mall with my mother, and on our way inside, I saw a guy skating in the parking lot. He would ride up to a stone pillar, scoop the board into his hand, run up the pillar, then jump back onto the board. The maneuvers he was doing – now obsolete by today’s skateboarding standards – seemed physically impossible to my childish mind. The things he did on the board were like magic and I knew I wanted to do them. I had no idea how, or even whom to ask, since I didn’t know anyone that skated, but I knew that I could figure it out. When I got home that night, I found a pair of my dad’s old shoes and had him help me glue them onto a board he had bought me a yard sale. That was the only way I could figure out how to get the board off the ground and it was a complete failure. It wasn’t until several years later when I finally saw my first skate video that I realized the potential of what can be done on a skateboard.
Throughout 8th and 9th grade I learned a lot about skateboarding, both through watching 411 Videos and reading Transworld Magazine. Some of the cool skater kids that I had no desire to be friends with called me a “poseur” because I wasn’t part of their group. Once, I remember one of them stopped me in the hallway and verbally ripped me apart about my brand new Maple jeans. Like the passive person that I was, I stood there and took it, thinking for a second that maybe I was just trying to be like the cool kids. It was later discovered that this particular kid used a hacksaw to put artificial slide marks on his board in an attempt to make him look better than he was. He also took a file to his brand new Etnies to make poor excuses for ollie and kickflip marks. I was always suspicious when I saw the perfectly round quarter-sized wear marks on his shoes. This was one of my earliest lessons in the nature of people – those who are quick to criticize others are probably the least secure in themselves. Much like the closeted homosexual tough-guy that runs around calling people faggots, it was the phony cool-guy skater kid that ran around calling people poseurs. Go figure.
We skated everywhere that it wasn’t allowed, mainly because it wasn’t allowed anywhere. In my hometown, skateboarding was banned on all public property including sidewalks. I once got a ticket because a police officer thought he saw me riding across a gas station parking lot. In reality, I didn’t even have my skateboard, but that didn’t stop him from writing me a summons. Situations like these helped form the anti-authority mentality that still shines through in my personality today. Confrontations with the police were a regular occurrence, which in retrospect, added to the proverbial thrill of it all. We stole wood from housing developments that were under construction, drove for what seemed like days to explore mediocre skate parks, and got chased out of everywhere. We worked hard to feed our habit and did a pretty good job at staying satiated. It wasn’t just about doing tricks. It was about exploring unknown landscapes and seeing what the skate gods delivered.
Over the years, my interests changed, but skateboarding stayed with me. As people often do, I went through many phases throughout my adolescence – hippy, stoner, grunge kid, hip-hop head – it didn’t matter, skateboarding fit into each one of these categories like a skeleton key. I was exposed to enough skate-centric media to know that the stereotypical “skater boy” was dead. Jamie Thomas, Chad Muska, Rodney Mullen, Ed Templeton, and Kareem Campbell embodied completely different styles, yet all were incredible skaters. Skateboarding is a subculture aggregator. I knew it was something I’d always be a part of, regardless of which particular subculture I belonged.
Now, at 33 years old, I’m no longer one of the many people I thought I was throughout my youth. I’ve given up on being cool. I go to bed at ten o’clock and watch Jeopardy almost every night – but I still skate. Scouring industrial parks and pillaging lumber isn’t my game these days. I haven’t jumped down a set of stairs in years. I tend to stick to the ramps and pools, since (in my head, at least) the consequence factor is much lower. My local skate park is perpetually closed, yet it’s almost always occupied. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I used to have to jump an 8-foot fence to get in. Now, some local kids jury-rigged a section of the surrounding fence to form a gate, allowing easier access for everyone. It’s good to know that, despite how mainstream and accessible skateboarding has become, people are still willing to work for it.
It was a slippery day to be on two wheels. A light drizzle had been falling most of the day and the streets were slick as ice. I was taking my usual route south on Chrystie Street through Chinatown towards the Manhattan Bridge – Shanghai Calling in Strava terms – a route people know is most dangerous in the bike lane due to its many potholes, double parked cars, and careless pedestrians. It was a dreary afternoon and the constant mist made visibility less than ideal. In my typical “rather safe than sorry” fashion, I was decked out in my reflective raincoat with both my front and rear lights flashing. I know how unpredictable people can be in New York City, not only while riding a bicycle, but while walking or even standing in one spot – more than once I’ve been run into while patiently waiting for a train by someone more concerned with their phone than with the hundreds of people around them. If age has taught me anything, it’s that I have gotten away with far more than I should have, and as I get older, the consequences of not being careful are often clear before the prospective risky situation rather than in hindsight.
On this particular day I was following a biker that has become the archetype of the New York cyclist. He dressed all in black, wore no helmet, and was riding a bike with no brakes. His bike was also black which made him nearly invisible given the conditions. None of this seemed to matter to him as we approached the intersection of Canal and Chrystie. I am not one to stop at every traffic light; if no cars are coming and the light is red, I will continue through. I have never thought that bikes should be required to obey the exact rules of cars, seeing that they are a very different mode of transport, but when traffic is heavy – especially when crossing Canal Street – I will always put on the brakes. My cyclist friend whom I was following did not seem to have the same concern for safety that I possess and decided to ride through the intersection without a single care. He passed unscathed through the westbound lane, causing only one car to brake mildly through the green light. His crossing of the eastbound lane was a bit more problematic. Several cars were traveling at a high speed typical of Canal Street, which caused the unnamed cyclist to execute a skid stop, a method used by bikes with fixed gears and no brakes, but given the conditions, he had a hard time staying in the median out of traffic. The cars skidded to a stop on the wet pavement, narrowly missing him. As I eventually caught up to him while crossing the bridge into Brooklyn and followed him down Jay Street, he was living the life of Riley as he stood on the top tube and surfed his bike through downtown Brooklyn amidst the heavy traffic.
I’ve been riding in New York City for over three years and have seen many cyclists like him. His riding style is carefree in a city where anything can, and will, kill you – a characteristic I simultaneously admire and scoff at, possibly due to my heightened awareness of my own mortality. There is something to be said about coming very close to death and brushing it off by performing a stunt that again brings you very close to death. When I was in my teens and early twenties I could understand this thought process much easier than I can now. Today, when I leave the house on my bike I know very well that I may become another statistic local advocacy groups will use to make an argument for safer cycling.
Life is too precious to assume that anybody cares about your environmentally friendly mode of transportation. I’ve learned that simply making eye contact with a motorist, pedestrian, or even another cyclist doesn’t mean they are going to acknowledge your right to be on the street. Many times (and I mean many) I have made direct eye contact with whomever I was attempting to pass or maneuver around and met with complete disregard to my safety. I’ve thankfully never been struck by a vehicle, but have come very close. One day, I was on my way home from work in the early afternoon. I took my usual route to Bay Ridge which takes me along a nasty stretch of 3rd Avenue directly under the BQE – a section of city riding that would have most Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope residents rethinking just how wonderful cycling in Brooklyn is due to the three lanes of heavy traffic whizzing by at 60 mph. In order to avoid a portion of this, I usually hop onto 2nd Avenue right around 39th Street, since 2nd Avenue has a more industrial, less of a highway type of traffic pattern. I made my usual left onto 2nd at the Playpen, Sunset Park’s most luxurious cabaret, when a vehicle wandered out of its lane and aimed directly towards me. I emptied the contents of my Air Zound at around 115 ear-piercing decibels. This got the discourteous driver’s attention – or at least I think it did since he looked directly at me – but his car continued towards my bike. I continued to move further and further towards the edge of the street, as did he, until I hit the curb and fell onto the sidewalk. His car stopped inches from my fallen bike as I now realized his intention – to park his car on the wrong side of the street precisely in the exact spot where I was riding. He held the same oblivious attitude as the irresponsible biker I followed home that day, except with disregard for others lives rather than his own.
While I am still terrified each time I leave my house on my bicycle, that fear has yet to stop me completely from cycling. I have given it up in short spurts – generally after near-death experiences such as the one previously mentioned – but those are only small speed bumps in my journey on two wheels. The freedom I experience when riding is unmatchable. After Superstorm Sandy struck New York, there was a citywide gas shortage that had drivers lining up at stations for hours or siphoning their unsuspecting neighbors’ tanks in an attempt to keep going. I felt joy, pride, and even a small amount of superiority knowing that my method of travel did not require the prized commodity that we as a society are so dependent on. The safety of cyclists depends not only on courteous drivers, but also rule-following pedal pushers. I get equally upset when I see a stupid biker as I did the day a car almost parked on top of me. Just the other night, I yelled at a cyclist in Union Square as he blew through a red light and nearly hit my wife’s car. He was riding east on 14th Street in the dark dressed completely in black. “Get a light! They’re not that expensive!” I yelled. His headphones likely drowned out my suggestion.
I was feeling a little ill – both physically and mentally – but knew I should go anyway. Sick of it All was holding their record release party at Irving Plaza for their new album Last Act of Defiance
and I had already purchased two tickets. Despite the fact that I had paid the ticket price (plus the extortion fee of $12 per ticket to Live Nation), three of my favorite bands were on the bill: Wisdom in Chains from Stroudsburg Pennsylvania, H2O, another legendary New York Hardcore band, and of course, Sick of it All. It would be a real shame to miss this lineup because my Thai food wasn’t sitting well and my brain was acting a fool, so we decided to drive into Manhattan and make the best of it.
We arrived right before Wisdom in Chains was scheduled to go on. The band that preceded them was called White Collar Crime, and although I missed most of their set, they sounded like a band I could get into and will mentally bookmark them for later reference. Although I’m not from Stroudsburg, or anywhere near it for that matter, I spent a lot of time skateboarding in the area growing up. I know it’s a rather small town in the Poconos of which I’m accustomed to, and feel that small town people from PA share a common bond. It makes me a proud Pennsylvanian when one of the hardest hitting bands in modern hardcore are from my home state. They make me want to cover myself in keystones and scream from the mountaintops about cheesesteaks and whoopee pies. The set list was great as usual although they skipped their ode to PA – Land of Kings – which I’ve never really seen get the love it deserves outside of the keystone state. The crowd was rowdy and more into WIC than I’ve ever seen in New York, which helped get my blood flowing and purge the negative feelings I was having that evening. The closing song, Chasing the Dragon, a tribute to the godfathers of the scene, was punctuated by Mad Joe Black earning his name by reaming out a bouncer who decided to throw a crowd surfer to the floor instead of simply helping him out of the barricaded area. Had this been a smaller, less prestigious venue than Irving Plaza, I could have seen a small riot breaking out, especially since the conflict took place at the buildup of the heaviest part of the song. Security at Irving Plaza should know better than to rough up fans at a record release party for one of New York’s finest.. must have been a new guy.
My wife joined me down on the dance floor for her favorite band, H2O. Being small and not the moshing type, she prefers to stay in a low action area, usually off to the right side of the stage. She has a remarkable ability for finding the tallest people in the crowd and standing behind them, securing the fact that she won’t be able to see anything. As soon as Toby Morse took the stage, all hell broke loose and I soon lost sight of her. H2O is probably the most user-friendly style of hardcore still to be considered hardcore, which is why they attract such a diverse range of fans at their shows. This is both good and bad because the pit is occupied with everyone ranging from teeny bopping pop-punk girls to meat-head chooches in their local pipe fitter union t-shirts. In my experience, it’s always a mixed bag of nuts at an H2O show. During their set I rode the crowd to the front for my chance to sing, and in the process came very close to hitting my wife. I later sent her a text, “sorry for almost kicking you in the head”, an exchange forgivable in few contexts, hardcore shows being one of them. In between songs and Toby’s shout outs (of which I counted around 27 for the night) he made a short speech about how we are never too old for hardcore.
“I’m 44 and feel 24 because of hardcore. You never, ever get too old for this… You never grow out of this music. This music is embedded in you for the rest of your life.”
“Fuck yeah!” I said to myself. Shortly there after, I got kicked in the face which had me rethinking my “fuck yeah.”
When Sick of it All took the stage, I was primed and ready to rumble. It’s rare that I stay on the dance floor for three full sets, but as mentioned before, my mental state wasn’t 100% and felt I really needed this – plus, this was a killer lineup. The most accurate description of the feeling I get when going to shows, specifically being in the pit, I’ve only found in the movie Fight Club.
“Fight Club Hardcore wasn’t about winning or losing. It wasn’t about words. The hysterical shouting was in tongues, like at a Pentecostal Church. When the fight show was over, nothing was solved but nothing mattered. Afterwards, we all felt saved.”
I needed “saved” this particular night and knew this was the answer. Sick of it All is, and will always be, my favorite hardcore band. Before I knew what hardcore was, I had an educational conversation with a straight edge kid in Utah about the genre. He said there is one band that you’re going to like regardless of whether you like good hardcore or bad hardcore – Sick of it All. They are at the top of the food chain in the scene, and while they won’t sell out stadiums (at least here in the States), they are true legends. I feel grateful to have been able to see them so many times and still get star struck when front man Lou Koller says hello to me.
They played a lot of classics, opening with one of my favorites, Good Looking Out, which has always reminded me that, “when life’s not fair, true friends will always be there.” About a third of the way through the set, I positioned myself in the front of the crowd in a prime sing-along and finger-pointing location when suddenly I saw stars. As much fun as it can be being in the front, you will almost surely get used as a prop for someone who wants to be a little farther up front than you. This particular kid (accidentally) gave me a G.I. Joe head stomp while clawing his way towards the stage. I’ve been hit in the head many times at shows and my first reaction is always to check for bleeding. I placed my hand on my face and felt something wet. “Damn it” I said, and started to make my way to the back of the crowd. I felt a bead of blood trickling down my face as I snaked my way through the crowd while trying to take off my flannel to use as a bandage. Head wounds tend to bleed more intensely than others; I must have looked like a wreck the way the crowd parted like the Red Sea for me to pass through. When I got to the bar at the rear of the venue, I asked a man standing there to take a picture of it to see what it looked like.
“Oh shit…” he said. “You’ll probably need stitches.”
I promptly texted the picture to my wife who was stationed upstairs out of harm’s way, with a message “Got hit in the face. Coming up.” Had I been 10 years younger I may have used my blood smeared mug as a way of continuing to mosh and keep people away from me, but time has taught me to recognize when it’s time to stand in the back. I stood upstairs getting medical advice from every passerby that noticed I was holding ice on my eye. The best advice was to “will it away”, from a drunk guy named John, a talent that I’ve never been quite able to apply to physical injuries. John explained how he broke his toe and repaired it with willpower. I wondered if his willpower was strong enough to fix my eye but somehow didn’t think it would work. About twenty people told me to put a “buttah-fly” on it to hold it closed. I attempted to take their advice later when I got home and nearly ripped my eyelid off in the process. My final solution ended up being a good old-fashioned Band-Aid.
I made the best of my remaining time at the show, singing along in the balcony with an icepack on my eye and bloodstains on my shirt. If even for a few minutes at a time, I forgot about the outside world and focused on the beautiful screams of Sick of it All’s 25 years worth of music. They consistently destroy every show as if they are doing what they were born to do. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only listened to their new album once the entire way through, but I have no doubt that it is as moving, relatable, and hard-hitting as their recent releases. As I mentioned in a previous post, hardcore music happens at shows, and albums are simply to learn the words to prepare for those shows. Although I complain about living in New York sometimes, I know that I’m lucky to have access to this scene. It’s a special thing that few understand. The shows that are thrown here are one-of-a kind, and as long as I live in New York I’ll continue to go – regardless of how many times I get kicked in the face.
A few highlights from our trip to Hawaii in 2012.
Filmed with a Contour+2 Action Camera.
In Salt Lake City, impulsive road trips to Vegas are somewhat of a tradition. Sure, you could settle for Wendover (or as the locals call it, Bendover, since going there will surely get you fucked) and safely be home before midnight granted, you don’t run out of gas on the salt flats, but what fun would that be? Plus, what happens in Wendover doesn’t need to stay in Wendover simply because nothing ever happens there. I lived in Salt Lake City for five years and have never heard a good Wendover story. Occasionally washed up bands like Journey will recruit a new singer to bring all the 50-somethings out of hiding for a one-night nostalgia-ganza, but beyond that, old Wendover Will is pretty lifeless. That’s why when a couple of New York City hardcore bands announced they were doing a benefit show at the MGM Grand in Vegas, we decided the night before to make the six hour drive south to the most debaucherous place on earth to see them.
I got into hardcore music a lot later than most. My love for it is still as strong as ever and the reason for that is a topic for another post. Unfortunately for me, I got into the genre while living in the Utah – the black hole of hardcore – a place that touring bands intentionally avoid due to reasons I may never quite understand. Because of this, when bands like Sick of it All and Madball would announce that they would be performing a mere six hours away, it was a no-brainer to get a group together and make the drive. The first time I saw either of these bands, they did a California tour that prompted me and two friends to follow them Phish-style down the coast of Orange County. This particular show in Vegas was to benefit a pit bull rescue, which I find very admirable now that I have a heightened awareness of man’s relationship with animals. At the time, it could have been to a fundraiser to support pit bull fighting and I still would have gone. That’s how much seeing these bands meant to me.
My housemate at the time was a part of a band that practiced everyday yet never played a single show. The sound coming from the basement would become seared to my brain, and as much as I loathed it, the repeated exposure had me humming the obnoxious tune throughout most of my day. His bass player whom I never heard utter a word happened to know a girl in Vegas that told my housemate that we might possibly be able to stay with her. After a few MySpace messages back and forth, we secured a place to stay with a straight edge girl named Zoe. She was fine with us showing up after midnight, and since we were leaving after work on a Friday evening, we were expecting to get into town very late. But this was Las Vegas; there is no such thing as very late, only early for the next day. We rolled into Sin City around 2 in the morning looking to meet the woman from MySpace that agreed to let four guys into her home for the weekend, none of whom she had ever met.
We found her in some bar in some casino on the strip that I (thankfully) can’t remember the name of, surrounded by rockabilly fashionistas dressed head to toe in Ed Hardy gear. The scene frightened me, as I had never seen so much vanity in one place. Besides the fact that I didn’t have the standard $10,000 worth of tattoos that seemed to be a major part of the unwritten dress code, I don’t drink, I hate clubs, and was hungry and tired, to boot – a perfect recipe for a miserable time. Luckily, we left the club shortly after meeting and headed to a diner to eat.
We took our seats at the diner and after a standard round of casual introductions, we proceeded to look at our menus. Having been trapped in a car on I-15 South for the past 6 hours – and trapped in that godforsaken club for what seemed like 6 hours – the calmness of the diner warmed my soul like not much else could at the moment. It’s amazing how the prospect of pancakes can change a person from a rabid monster to a peaceful sleeping kitten in a matter of minutes.
Unfortunately, that transformation can easily be reversed in the face of conflict. For some reason I’ve always had problems with the British. I blame this on my family history. I was born on the outskirts of Philadelphia and it’s rumored that my family is related to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, which, if true, makes me a direct descendant of a pair of American revolutionaries. The rumor is so strong, that my middle name is Adams (yes, with an “s”, not Adam) and to top it off, I am the fifth of my name. Considering a generation is about 25 years from the birth of a person to the birth of their offspring, that puts the original John Adams Miskey being born somewhere in the mid 1800s. With John Quincy Adams serving as president from 1825-1829, it’s very possible that someone in the Miskey family decided to give their child a fan-inspired middle name of their favorite president, much like someone may name their daughter Clorisa Beyonce Smith. Either way, I have always attributed my contempt for the British to some Lamarckian trait passed down by my patriotic forefathers, and to this day, use it to justify my odd and outdated prejudice against England.
As luck seems to never be in my favor while tired and hungry, Zoe’s friend, a piss-drunk British magician by the name of Luke Jermay, had joined our table for a late night meal. The smugness radiated off of him with an intensity that made me wish he had never been born before he uttered a single word. He too, was covered in tattoos – the words COOL HAND etched across his knuckles – and donned the standard Ed Hardy costume that I grew far too accustomed to seeing that night. Although introductions were already made, old Cool Hand decided to make his own rounds, each one followed by a snappy insult that almost sounded polite, a remarkable ability achieved exclusively by the English. After annoying the living shit out of my friends, he finally got to me.
“En you ova tha’, wha’s your name?”
As much as I didn’t like the bastard from the start, if someone shows me the courtesy of an introduction, I’ll always reciprocate.
“John, what’s yours?”
“Don’t you worry about moi name… wha’ is it you do Jone?”
Now I could tell the guy was “havin’ a piss at me”, or whatever the hell it is these people say. If he had just waited until I’d eaten, I would have been a lot more pleasant to toy with, but for god’s sake, my food hadn’t gotten here yet. He was sitting in a very deadly place directly across from a hungry, pissed-off John, in the perfect position for me to lunge over the table and choke him. I somehow restrained myself.
“I do a lot of things. Why don’t you tell us what you do?”
At this point I had no idea he was Cris Angel’s unofficial sidekick, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. The guy was being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole.
“I do a lot a fings, too. Every fing and nuffin, Jone. Wheh aw you frome?”
“West Chester, Pennsylvania.”
“West Chestah? I’ve been ta West Chestah. Its laaaaaaaaaaame.”
The table has now gotten uncomfortably silent except for the exchange between the Brit and I.
“Really? It’s lame? Where are you from Cool Hand?”
“Av you eva ‘eard of Lundun?”
“Yes, actually I’ve been to (in my dirtiest from-the-slums-of-East-London cockney accent) Lundun. It’s laaaaaaaaaame. Just like the rest of England.”
This seemed to strike a nerve.
“Well den! EXCUSE US FOR LIBERATING YOU!” he barked across the table. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Is that what they teach you in school? I’m pretty sure there was a revolution, and America kicked your stupid country’s ass.”
The urge to stand on the table and boot him in the head while shouting, “don’t tread on me” was overwhelming. We were heading into a very immature “my dad beat up your dad” kind of argument when Zoe called him down to her end of the table. From a distance I could hear him continue to mouth off but managed to ignore it for the rest of the night. Luckily, my pancakes arrived, thus diffusing the situation and distracting me enough to discontinue caring about his pompous attitude.
When we finished eating and our British friend had parted, Zoe said that we could go back to her house, so we piled in our car and followed her to somewhere far off the strip. We pulled into an apartment complex in nowheresville Nevada a little after 3 am. Walking towards her place, Zoe apologized profusely about the mess we were about to encounter, explaining that she hadn’t had time to clean for several days. The way she described it I expected we would be walking into a hoarder’s home, which I dreaded, since the only mess I can seem to stand is my own. At the front door, Zoe quickly unlocked the deadbolt for us and ran back to her car, frantically explaining that she had to take care of something very important, but she’d be back in about 15 minutes. We opened the door to find not only the exact opposite of the mess she had warned up about, but rather a completely empty apartment. Actually, it wasn’t completely empty; there was, in fact, a small sofa and a picture hanging on the wall, but beyond that, it looked as if she had just moved in. The four of us congregated in the vacant space wondering if perhaps we were in the wrong apartment. We briefly considered leaving, getting a hotel room, and pretending we never met Zoe, but decided an empty apartment with a seemingly clean floor to sleep on would serve a similar purpose and cost a lot less money.
Zoe returned around 5 in the morning as frantic as she left. We all talked for a little while, laughed about her British friend, and finally fell asleep after the sun came up. Around 8 in the morning, she came out of her bedroom to go to work, instructed us to lock the door when we left, and we never saw her again.
The following day we slept until noon and hung out in Zoe’s empty home through the hottest part of the day. Although it was March, the heat still baked Las Vegas throughout the early afternoon, and we were grateful to have someplace to hang out that wasn’t a casino. The show wasn’t scheduled to start until 10 pm so we knew we had plenty of time to lose our money later that evening. I’m not a gambling man – the thought of giving my money to any person that has more than me in exchange for a cheap thrill reminds me too much of using drugs – but when you have 12 hours to kill in Las Vegas, even the morally opposed will spend a few minutes on the penny slots.
The day was a long, blurred sequence of events ranging from eating plate after plate of bread sticks at the Olive Garden to losing what little money I had on game show themed slots –nothing exciting enough to recall in detail. As the clock ticked down, we found out that the show, originally scheduled for 10 pm at the MGM Grand, had been moved to midnight at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay. This was a potential problem since we hadn’t planned on finding accommodations for the night, nevertheless, a problem worth worrying about after the show. We decided to go to the House of Blues early, as we had nothing better to but wander around casinos and spend money that we didn’t have. When we arrived, we saw that the marquee read Charlie Murphy was performing at 10 pm with the Great Pit Ball to follow at midnight. As most concerts, comedy shows, and the like, the Charlie Murphy crowd didn’t leave the small venue until well after midnight, and the tattooed patrons in camouflage shorts were not allowed to enter until after 1 am. For anyone that has ever been to a hardcore show, this is very atypical. Hardcore is one of the few musical acts I have ever been to where shows generally start and end on time, a minor asset that draws me even closer to the genre.
As the opening bands played, it was obvious that security was tight; this has always been the case at other House of Blue brand shows I’ve attended. The “no moshing” signs didn’t seem to be for decoration, but an actual ordinance that was to be enforced by the ten or so security guards stationed in front of the stage. This resulted in many ejections during the first few bands, something I was completely fine with, since the rowdy ones were people who had been drinking most of the evening and in all honesty, didn’t have the spatial awareness to be slam dancing anywhere near me. By the time Madball performed, the crowd had thinned out significantly. Freddy Madball told the crowd that this was their show and that the bouncers couldn’t stop them from moshing. This got everyone riled up and even more people kicked out. When the headlining band, Sick of it All, was about to go on, the people still on their feet were outnumbered by bouncers two to one. This included me and my few friends, a guy named Jake I had previously met in Salt Lake City (and have since seen at shows in Brooklyn), and a few other stragglers that had not given up on what was sure to be a great night. They took the stage around 3:30 in the morning. Lou Koller opened with a beautiful scream achievable only by him, “WHAT’S UP EVERYBODYYYYYYY!!!! WE ARE SICK OF IT ALL FROM NEW YORK CITY!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL DOING AWAKE?!?!?!” At this point, the small crowd was rowdy, ready to mosh, and didn’t give a damn about getting kicked out. Here we were, hundreds of miles away from home, awake for 20 hours, and ready to see a band that hadn’t play in Utah since the 90’s. My favorite record was an album recorded at Gilman Street called Live in a Dive. It’s an album I recommend to anyone listening to SOIA for the first time, since 90% of the songs they are likely to hear at a live performance, and anyone who knows hardcore music knows that albums are simply to learn the songs for when you go to a live show.
Good Looking Out, Call to Arms, Just Look Around, Step Down, and of course, Clobberin’ Time were some of the hits I remember them playing that night, but the encore, Us vs. Them is what really sticks out about this particular show. All night, every front man was inhibited by bouncers from stepping off the stage and into the crowd in order to give the audience a chance to sing along, a practice very conventional of hardcore shows. During the encore, Lou jumped off the stage to let us sing. This naturally turned into what is known as “the glorious pile-on” as depicted in their 1994 Step Down video, where the crowd climbs over each other in an attempt to have their chance at singing a word or two into the microphone. Of course, as was the theme of the evening, this glorious moment was met by the Gestapo violently pulling people off of the pile in a final attempt to enforce their silly rules. As the lyrics were being sung, and the pile grew larger and more aggressive; an overwhelming feeling of passion for hardcore music took hold of me.
Brother! I’ll always look out for you, if I feel it back.
Sister! We’ll brave the outside world, off the beaten track.
The pile of people clawing to reach Lou seemed to climb to the ceiling, regardless of the fact that there was only about ten of us. Even though we were heavily outnumbered, our oppressors were motivated by the fact that their jobs required them to keep people in line, whereas we were motivated by much more. In a flurry of chaos, a gargantuan security officer started ripping kids off the pile two at a time. My friend Greg seized the opportunity to use this man as a prop for which to vault onto the very pile he was attempting to dissipate. He hung onto the man’s shoulders and rode the monster into the middle of the dance floor like a raging bull, which allowed the pile to grow more powerful and uncontrollable by the smaller, less dedicated bouncers. The mountain of hardcore kids formed like Voltron – fewer in numbers, yet stronger in synergy – to finally take control of what was theirs from the beginning.
When it’s us versus them, you can always count on me.
When it’s us versus them, it’s a global unity.
The show concluded around 5 in the morning. The adrenaline produced by the early morning riot ran heavy in our blood, and riding this wave, we decided to make the trek back to Salt Lake City that day. By the time we hit St. George, one of Utah’s southern-most cities, the rush had worn off and alternative plans were decided. We stopped at a hotel around 7 am and after speaking with a clerk, managed to rent a room until 11 for $40, an amount well-worth not dying in a car accident on I-15 through some of the most boring desert scenery known to man.
The following day, we told the story of our trip to Justin’s girlfriend who had urged us not to go, saying that the entire plan sounded like a bad idea. Imprinted on her face was a look of “I told you so” as the details of our voyage unfolded. Justin, the most soft-spoken of our group –who was not actually into hardcore music at all, but simply joined us for the adventure – was known for frequently submitting to his girlfriend’s requests of what she thought would be best for him. In a rebellious, uncharacteristic act, he protested her disapproval of our trip, stating that although things didn’t go as planned, they went exactly how they were supposed to, which made for a fun and exciting weekend that would not have happened if we had listened to her. Justin didn’t mosh, stage dive, or partake in the glorious pile-on; however, the spirit of the weekend had impacted him, if only in a small way. I have always been a believer that the most rewarding experiences have no plans, most likely because planned experiences have certain expectations, and expectations, even when satisfied, diminish the returns gained from experience.
More information about The Great Pit Ball can be found here.