From Skateboards to Motocross

As far as I know, I was the first kid in my town to make a homemade skateboard, months before you could buy them. I’d discovered the sport from my cousins, Tom and Jerry, who’d gone to California in 1963, where they discovered surfing. When they returned to Valparaiso, Indiana, they quickly invented dune surfing because waves on Lake Michigan were seldom big enough to ride but the lake was ringed by huge sand dunes. My cousins also started making skateboards and then buying the latest models once they came out commercially. This was years before the sticky wheels with grip revolutionized the sport.

Eventually, the local model-race-car center started carrying the initial round of skateboards. I avoided the typical small board and bought one that would be normal by today’s standards, but back then it was considered huge. It was called The Makaha. I wanted a big board so I could do tricks. My favorite was jumping over a broomstick about four feet off the ground in my basement, but I also liked to jump curbs and lay down flat on my back. Like all boards at the time, it had no kick tail.

In 1964 I started publishing my own newspaper while in junior high. It was called The Cap’n Crunch Courier. When Cap’n Crunch came out, it broke all records for sugar content in cereals, forever earning a place in my teenage heart. None of the original issues of that esteemed fanzine seem to have survived, unfortunately, although I did locate some of the drawings I did for the first issue (above), in which I published an entire page of cartoons devoted skateboarding. I had a couple of skateboarding buddies, one named Steve Tyler, whom I made fun of here, and the other named Stuart Tarr, who also become a journalist.

 

Here’s a photo of me (left) and Tyler in class at the time. You can see I was a class clown, always instigating one hilarious prank or another, like my snowball fight in Leal School against Patton’s gang. That’s Andy Miller waving his arm in the back. This had to be during winter because I’m wearing a heavy sweater my mom knitted for me. She always made the best sweaters and socks around winter time and got inspired with her knitting after we went to Europe for a year.

Within a few years, our skateboards would be replaced by cheap Japanese motorcycles. It started with a film called The Great Escape, which depicted Steve McQueen jumping a fence with a German clunker built like a Harley. My cousin Tom had earlier led us into dune surfing and skateboarding, so, of course, we followed Tom into this new passion for off-road motorcycle racing, although none of us but Tom had a driver’s license. My brother even stuck with the sport, although today he rides track and not off-road.

Cap’n Crunch Courier

Even though I’d been put in a special program reserved for problem kids, the best thing about going to junior high is I got to reconnect with my friends from Yankee Ridge. That’s me and Steve Tyler in the front row and Andy Miller is waving his arm in the back. I joined the newspaper staff (Tiger Tracks) but was soon relegated to being “jokes” editor, which involved copying jokes out of paperback books and turning them in to the editor. The lamer the jokes, the more she seemed to like them.

The head alpha-male in my class was Harvey Treat, who looked like a young John Wayne. Harvey was already starting quarterback, a position he’d continue to hold all through high school. Harvey also played guitar and performed solo at one of our sock-hops. His guitar sound was similar to the Ventures, all instrumental and lots of reverb. When Harvey found out I was on the staff of Tiger Tracks, he asked me to slip his name into the gossip column, which I was able to do once. (“We like the way Harvey Treat sings ‘Heart and Soul’ on the piano.”) But when I tried a second time, the editor nixed it. She, like some of the more conservative girls in school, had already taken a dislike to Harvey I guess.

Since Tiger Tracks wasn’t really providing much of an outlet, I soon created my own publication, The Cap’n Crunch Courier. (The name was taken from my favorite breakfast, which had the highest sugar content of any cereal in the supermarket at the time.) I wish I could find a copy; I thought I saved some. It was a comedy fanzine that I Xeroxed at my dad’s office in the biochemistry department. My mom encouraged me to publish the paper and helped me make the copies. One of my main targets was Mr. Walljasper, the assistant principal and school disciplinarian. There were a lot of funny stories and cartoons about me and my friends. My cousins Tom and Jerry had turned me onto a new fad in California that had just emerged: skateboarding. My weekends were spent tooling around campus on my Makaha board.

Fortunately, I do have some of the original cartoons I published in the Cap’n Crunch Courier. I remember sitting in the lunchroom one day and I looked across and someone was showing Mr. Walljasper a cartoon making fun of him that I drew and published. I ducked down and just hoped nobody pointed me out as the culprit. Walljasper was interested in finding out who was responsible, but he never did confront me or catch me handing out copies.

When JFK was assassinated, they herded us all into the gym for a moment of silence. By the following year, the Generation Wars would commence. Some people call it the Generation Gap, but it was really a war.