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Class 5 rapids: toy machine US tour, '04.

I FLEW IN TO MEET the Toy Machine team in Albuquerque on Southwest Airlines--aka Southworst, aka The Greyhound of the Sky. Southwest is the people's airline, and after squeezing past about 100 of them and their carry-on packages of plush Sea World toys and duty-free specialty fudges, I found an aisle seat next to a small bearded man with his nose in a magazine. We were in the air about 45 minutes when I felt a poke in the ribs and turned to find my row-mate prodding me with his rolled-up reading material.

"CHECK THIS OUT!" he whispered excitedly. "Ha-ha!"

I took the magazine from him and discovered, as it sprung open on my tray table, that he had actually handed me two magazines, a copy of Better Homes and Gardens, and, shoved inside of that, a well-worn issue of Hustler.

"Didn't think I was getting that excited about home repair, did you?" he said.

He was looking at me expectantly, as if he had just shown me a photo of his newborn. "Whoa," I said, nodding my head in an exaggerated way as if to say, "Yes, this is hot stuff. Wow."

With him still staring at me, I flipped through a few spreads of gaping genitals and money shots, trying to gauge what exactly would be a polite amount of time to peruse a complete stranger's porno mag before giving it back.

"That's some good home repair, huh?" he giggled. I returned it to him and stared forward, trying to process what had just happened.

Issue one: This guy had obviously purchased the copy of Better Homes and Gardens specifically to act as a hide-out for his Hustler. Couldn't he have grabbed a used newspaper or just stuffed it inside the complimentary copy of Sky Mall (or held it strategically behind a soiled handkerchief)? And if you were going to buy a brand new magazine to hide your smut, why not purchase a magazine you might actually like? Does this guy have no interests outside of the world of pornography?

Issue two: The porn in question was definitely not purchased at the airport, but was something brought from home. When packing for a trip, who brings old magazines. pornographic or otherwise? And if you were to bring some back issues of your favorite skin book, why include them in your carry on? It was obviously something he's looked at before. He knows how it ends! What kind of person can't be without his pornography for two and a half hours?

Issue three: Why did I nod and smile? Sure, I was caught by surprise, but why couldn't I have just handed it back to him immediately, saying something like, "No thanks, weirdo!" Why did I nave to give him the courtesy of pretending to give it an appreciative once-over? Surely I can be confident that I'm no less of a man if I give some freaky dude his porn back without giving him the satisfaction of some sort of semblance of camaraderie.

Issue four: And what the fuck did he mean by "Didn't think I was getting that excited about home repair?" That excited? What the heck was he doing over there? Did I miss something? How visibly excited could a man be on a plane without it drinking into criminal territory?

With these thoughts a-churning, I was interrupted once again by him as he reached over my lap to toss the magazines at a man in a suit who was sitting in the seat across the aisle from us. The man was reading a paperback when they bounced into his hip and I snapped up straight and stared directly ahead, mortified that he might think I had thrown him the nefarious package. My worries were alleviated when my new pal leaned forward and gave the man the double thumbs up. His tongue may have even waggled a little.

"Didn't think I was getting that excited about home repair, did you?" he asked the confused man. Fuckin' Southwest.

I JOINED THE TOY MACHINE DUDES in Albuquerque, which they had driven to the three days prior. Being in God's Land of Hot Ditches brought back a flood of memories from the time some six years ago when, as a first-year Thrasher employee, t had been sent to conduct an interview with an underground legend named Rocky Norton. Honestly, I didn't really have a very good grasp of the job (and had not yet fully discovered how impulsive my boss is), and I didn't think it was all that unusual to be sent to stay at the house of a dude I had never met--and to have four or five days to shoot an entire interview with him.

Rocky had come to Thrasher's attention after sending a tape to Deluxe. What team manager Mic-E saw astounded him and he called Jake over to check out the footage: A muscle-bound skater as big as many TV strongmen, using his immense upper body to bunny-hop onto rails, off walls, and down second story drops.

"Mike, this guy's crazy! We're sending you to get the story!" Jake told me. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a much more astounding experience than any other interview I have conducted since. Sure, Rocky was a little unsure of what to expect from me. And I was pretty much dumbfounded by the terrain he wanted to skate (which included the four-story steeple of a church, the roofs of a line of tool sheds and a 15-foot drop off the side of school), but overall it came together pretty well. Check the June '99 issue. The cover says it all: "Rocky, Pumped and Psychotic!"

We bumped into Rocky at the demo and the next day he took us on a tour of some of Albuquerque's better ditches and street spots, including the incredible Indian School ditch that we got to race down from the top. It was truly one of the most fun on-board experiences I have ever had. Totally awesome.

WAL-MART IS A TERRIBLE institution of retail homogenization that threatens to rob American towns of their identities while dooming their people to dead-end oppressive jobs and shabby ill-fitting price-point pleated slacks. It also happens to be Billy Marks' favorite place on Earth.

"Dude, Wal-Mart!" you'd hear him bark from the back of the van. Billy has one of the most extensive DVD collections of shitty teen movies on the planet, but is forever in pursuit of even more titles. Somehow, he always seems to know the release date of every last one of them and his cries for Wal-Mart stops become more consistent and sharply pitched as these days draw near.

"Dude, Scooby Doo 2 on DVD! Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart! Ed! Van Wilder! Wal-Mart! Dude! DVD! Wal-Mart!" you could hear him warble from beneath well-placed headphones. In Pueblo, Colorado, Billy's wish finally came true and a stop at a Super Wal-Mart not only netted him a few new films, but a small arsenal of BB guns, paint balls and sling shots for the rest of the bunch. Anticipating some water action, even anti-Wal-Mart Ed snagged a two-man inflatable raft for under 20 bucks.

COLORADO HAS SOME sweet-ass spots, and our visit was punctuated by a trip to Boulder Creek and its harrowing Class-5 rapids. Actually, Class-5 is a qualifier Ed started using, and there's a very good chance he completely made it up. Regardless, talk of such rapids--the black diamonds of the creek world--pumped up the excitement level as we drug the two-man raft down the path at Evan G Fine park.

Though not quite as notorious as rivers and lakes, creeks are a flocking place for white trash, which meant we were fitting in just fine.

"Dude, we look like such creek trash right now," Ed said as he, Diego and I loaded the two-man at the top of the rapids. Right beside where we were waddling and giggling, two experienced kayakers, complete with helmets, goggles, radio beacons, gloves and paddies, were double checking their gear and plotting their course.

"Fuck it, let's do this!" we yelped and pushed off past them, three grown men in a poorly-constructed pool toy. "Ow-owww!"

Creeks, while having the fun of small waterfalls and quick-moving currents, have an equal amount of dangers in the form of sharp rocks, waterfalls and quick-moving currents. We made it down the first, gnarliest falls no problem, and were quickly being sucked into the second when the mid-section of the raft got bogged down on a large boulder just as we were about to plop down through the white water. Diego was sitting in front and got bucked off, head first, over the bow! Freed of his weight, we lurched forward off the boulder and proceeded to run straight over him. Before we could figure out which one of us was going to jump in and get his mangled body, his head popped up.

"I hit my face on a fucking rock!" he proudly announced. We wailed with laughter and had a few more thrilling minutes before we realized two of the inflatable chambers had sprung a leak.

"Bail it out!" Ed yelled. "We've got to bail it out!"

Thirty seconds of worthless bucketing later and we were all in the water, bumping along the sharp rocks of the bottom as we helplessly clung to our deflating ship.

"Fuck this!" we finally shouted, and swam for safety, edging along as we stubbed the shit out of our toes and shins. We eventually made it to the shore and crawled out only about 10 feet before we would have been tossed, boat-less, down the last of the rapids. The Wal-Mart two-man shot off like a banana peel--on to foul the world in accordance with its lineage. With plastered grins, we lay back on the rocky bank and took turns telling each other what bad just happened.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI was the last city I went to with the Machine (though they continued on their tour for several more weeks), and it was really kind of a downer after the Class-5 rapids. The weather was awful--painfully hot and humid--except when it was dumping rain, and we spent much of the five days holed up in a squalid Days' Inn. The sketchy sheets barely concealed the deep brown of the amoeba-shaped stains on the mattresses and we talked every day about moving to a different hotel, which we never did because we could never get it together to wake up early enough to check out. Every morning at 11:01 they'd charge us for another night, and we'd feel obliged to use it.

It was there, languishing on our twin beds, where Diego and I discovered we could only watch a TV program if it was in list form or if something or someone was being drastically improved. The 101 Sexiest Hollywood Secrets! The 100 Hottest Hotties! TV's Wildest Commercials! J-Lo's 101 Hottest Big Screen Moments! The Swan, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Trading Spaces--we watched them all.

"For the love of God, rank something!" I'd cry out, desperately flipping through the channels anytime I couldn't find one of the countdown shows.

"You're ugly and your life is so shitty!" Diego would yell every time we found a makeover show.

WE QUICKLY GOT stupider and stupider--and it's of such little interest that I'll break here and tell you an interesting story about my girlfriend's family. This is about one of Wanda's great aunts and her husband who had a happy, harmonious married life living in a small town in the southwest. (Note: my girlfriend's not named Wanda, but wouldn't it be cool if she was?) The only thing that separated them in the slightest was the fact that he was staunchly Catholic and she was an equally devout Southern Baptist. So for the 50-ought years of their marriage, she'd get up every Sunday and go to the First Baptist Church and he'd go to the other side of town to attend services at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. I don't remember if they had children or not, but for the purposes of this story, let's assume they were childless.

So they'd each go to their own church, in accordance with their personal faith, and then they'd meet afterwards for Sunday dinner, which worked pretty well for the first five decades, until one day when the husband had a debilitating stroke that left him unconscious and all but incapacitated. The doctor gave him only a few weeks to live and as she sat at the bedside of her beloved husband Wanda's great aunt began to worry about the afterlife. She wasn't concerned that her husband wouldn't go to Heaven, exactly; he had been a good partner and a generous person. Her concern was that somehow he'd end up in a different Heaven than her.

Here's where the details get a little sketchy. The story goes that Wanda's great aunt decided to make sure this didn't happen. With the help of a few faithful, she was able to shuttle her husband out of the hospital and over to the First Baptist Church. There, assumably witnessed by at least one sane person, his all-but-lifeless body was hoisted into the dunk tank with a minister and baptized. His family was very unhappy when they heard about it, but the great aunt slept much better at night after he died, confident that they'd someday be reunited in Heaven, the same Heaven--the Southern Baptist one.


With the entire industry teasing up, the 2004 season saw the Machine combing down their once flamboyant coifs.


Harm fans will notice an overall thinning down as well as more conventional shaping of what, at one time, looked like something out of the front row at Altamont. Gone too (sadly) is the beard and, with nuptials forthcoming, perhaps the last of Harm's briefly inflamed "wild side." He still looks like a million bucks, however, and is sure to make the bridesmaids swoon come this July 31st. Congratulations Josh and Jenna!


Predictably, the magical Argentinian hair-cut comb continues to stay the Oasis-by-Buenos Aries course. But it the hair hasn't changed much, it should be noted that Diego spent much of his spare tour time aggressively tanning and working his forearms with a vigorous in-the-van barbell regimen. Should he pursue these latest hobbies with the same intensity as his skating, expect to see a Fabio look-alike jumping your pyramid by summer 2005.


Like the Billy of yesteryear, Johnny reflects his get it done-guy role with a Skate and Destroy hairdo: no gels, no combs no bullshit. If he joined the Marines today, all he'd need is a little off the top.


Much will be made elsewhere of Billy's every-man, friend-of-my-dad's appearance, but his new look is also interesting on a geometric level. The strong lines of his eyebrows and mustache combined with his penchant for striped shirts seem to convey an overall horizontal thrust. He looks almost as if he's part of some sort of visual puzzle like the type you find in children's science magazines. Stare at him for 30 seconds, close your eyes. and then stare at a blank piece of paper. Shit, I bet something cool happens.


Never having the thickest mane to begin with (and undeniably closer to 40 than 18), Ed's hair style options are really kind of limited. And The Slick is a perfectly respectable hair style, even if it does seem to be wandering into Euro-hawk country in this particular photo. He's thirty-fucking-two! What do you want? Dreadlocks?


Stylish hats reigned on Austin's locks for the bulk of the trip, but he did have one awesome new wardrobe addition: tank tops! Not the Red Dragon's spouse-beating type, but a more soft, pastel-hued collection procured from some far flung corner of a J Crew catalog--or, dare I say, a Gap Body bargain bin. Austin kept pace with Diego's tanning and they could often be spotted comparing their chocolatey midriffs between kickflips and double-set attacks.


To get on Toy Machine you have to be, going for it 110-percent at all times You need the tricks, the determination and, yes, the pizzazz! And while this might explain why flow team rider Matt Bennett brought and used daily (and unashamedly displayed!) a woman's hair flattening iron and hair dryer, I was still totally and utterly flabbergasted.

"He brought a fucking hair dryer on a skate trip?" I wandered around in daze, repeating the question incredulously. "A fucking hair dryer? And a crimping iron?"

Only Ed seemed to commiserate with my shock. "Hey, these are different times," he offered. Fuckin'-A right they are. When my friend Ultimate Phil goes on a skate trip, not only does he not bring a comb (which he does not even own, I might add), his toiletries consist of a toothbrush lashed to the side of a can of aerosol-propelled Brut deodorant with a rubber band. No toothpaste. no mousse, and certainly no fuckin' woman's crimping iron. The rest of the flow program's hair was just as troubling, with Max from Kansas City's Ralph Malph-nest of ginger frizz being the closest as any of them came to carrying on Toy Machine's tradition of hair excellence. The future looks sketchy at best.


MUSTACHES on smirking hipster's have been called ironic, trendy, campy and probably even (by now), painfully passe. But there's another word you can call a mustache (whether a man wears it 'cause he thinks it's funny or 'cause it keeps his lip warm), and that word is American. Mustaches are a classic American look worn by cops and next-door-neighbors alike.

"Bill Marks. Pleased to meet you!" you could imagine Billy saying on the day he moved into the house next door. He and your dad would compare power tools and talk of dreams of fishing boats and soon become fast friends in the detached, paunchy way only dads can.

"Son, go over and ask Bill Marks if we can borrow his good outdoor broom," your father would command. And you'd go over there, look him straight in the mustache, and ask.

And why not? He's Bill Marks, a friend of your dad's.
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Author:Burnett, Michael
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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