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.

Enter the Knight Riders

It sure was nice of my Yankee Ridge buddy, Stuart Tarr, to recognize my first publication, the Cap’n Crunch Courier (CCC) in his dedication to my 1965 yearbook. Things would really change quickly the next year, as the Generation War heated up and eventually boiled over. I was stuck in a program for troublemakers and had few classes with my friends and intellectual peers.

One Saturday my family went hiking at Turkey Run in Indiana, and I cracked my knee while rock climbing. I smacked it so bad that an egg-like shape swelled up and they put me on crutches for a week. Near the end of the week, however, I found myself in the second fight of my life.

A girl in my class was making a huge deal about what adorable teddy bear eyes I had and was debating this with the teacher and a bunch of other girls. Now, I was super shy and I thought I was going through school pretty much unnoticed by the opposite sex, so I was way too embarrassed to respond. But I saw a frown on Harvey Treat’s face. And I soon heard him murmur: “He doesn’t need those crutches…it’s an act.”

Maybe Harvey had a crush on that girl; I don’t even remember her name. Later in the day, in shop class, I see Harvey has his crew all ganged around and I get this paranoid feeling Harvey is talking about me.

Thankfully, the bell rings and I head for my next class: band practice. I’m opening the door to the band rehearsal room, when I suddenly notice Ronald Dix standing right next to me. Ron kicks me in the shin. (Keep in mind, I’m on crutches.) Without hesitation, I kick Ron back about as hard as I could, at which point Ron lands a fist square on my choppers. I dropped my crutches, grabbed Ron by the throat, back-tripped him to the ground, and pinned on the floor. By this time, I noticed a crowd around us, some of whom were cheering me on.

“You beat his ass,” said Bugsy after everything broke up. See, Ron was smaller than me, but he weighed more. He was a jock, a wrestling champ. He wore a crew cut. He was a member of the Junior Red Cross. He was as goody-two-shoes as it gets and I had no idea why he wanted to mess with me…unless it was a dare Harvey had put him on. I’d never had any dealings with Ron in my entire life.

When I got to band practice, news of the fight had already spread, plus I had a split lip and couldn’t play my trumpet, so I got sent to see Mr. Walljasper, the school disciplinarian. While waiting on the couch outside his door, I started to break down. I was afraid I was going to be branded a rat and didn’t know what I should say. Although it was against my instincts, I ended up telling Walljasper the truth. He called Ron into his office immediately and expressed his disappointment that a exemplary student like Ron had behaved so badly. We shook hands and Walljasper escorted us both to the gym, where a pep rally or something was already taking place. I just remember the intense shame of having to walk through there knowing the fight was being talked about everywhere. I didn’t think I’d won or lost; I just felt sick at heart that I was making enemies without even trying. I was a super scrawny kid, and looked like a pushover to a lot of bullies, but the truth is, once they messed with me, they soon discovered I was a wiry son-of-bitch with a lot of heart.

The next day, the school held the final sock hop of the year, and it featured the debut of the Knight Riders, four guys from my class, one of whom was playing an organ, which was quite unusual. “Gloria” by the Shadows of Knight was my favorite song at the time, but they were playing something just as intense! I was instantly blown away and went to the very front row and bomped hysterically throughout the song. When their three-song set was over, I went backstage (the cafeteria) and let it be known I was a devoted fan on the spot and hailed them as true rock geniuses. I’d thought they wrote that song, but months later, while attending a rehearsal, I’d realize it was “Get Off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones they were playing. I dropped the Cap’n Crunch Courier and began plotting how I was going to engineer myself into a rock band.