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Fringe elements.

FOR THOSE LIVING IN THE MARGINS, the desert is a perfect place to blend in and make a claim. What better locale for the fringe elements to thrive than in an area never even meant for humans to live--especially the pink and obese, floating in pockets of refrigerated air from food source to diversion and back again. The wafer-board homes ring further and further around the city, their inhabitants forever dependent on freon and petroleum while precious water spills out to make the squares surrounding their giant silver cars nice and green--grass most of them will never even touch with their hands. The developers were told to go build in Hell, and they found somewhere almost as hot. And though the desert is endless, the pastel cracker boxes are practically sitting on top of each other. The yard? Went out in the '70s. Sprayed-on stucco paste hints at the thick adobe walls the original desert inhabitants needed to survive the severe temperatures, but the new fringe knows nothing of survival, only naive defiance. Wi thout their cars, they would all surely starve. The closest super market is 20 minutes away and you could never make it on foot. Not now. Not in August. So they are forever snacking from the AM/PM--the Big Spicy, the chili--cheeseburger dog and even the humble regular dog. Poor regs, rotating slowly out of its own grease, until it shrivels up--wrinkled and flaccid--and gets tossed.

"You like cameras?" the man asks you.

You thought he was going to hit you. His eyes say he might.

"What? Cameras?" you answer back, stupid, looking at your own camera around your neck.

"My buddy's got a fuckin' Nikon at home! A case! Lenses! He'd pro'lly sell it for five, er, six hun'red bucks!"

You're standing in the door of a convenience store. You just wanted a soda.

"I can take you to him!" he continues. One eye wanders to the side of the socket and he stifles a sneeze that seems like it's coming from his brain.

"No thanks! I'm good!" you smile. "Got all the cameras I need!"

He stares an extra second too long, moves on.

The desert is sketchy. Why do you think so many Cops episodes are filmed there? A domestic disturbance and Randy's in the front yard with his shirt off again. It's a sketch comedy cliche. But it's real. You tune in and check out the desert freaks--the fringe--freakin' out and grabbin' for a piece.


As we passed the Twenty-Nine Palms turbines, Ed and I decided everyone needed a temporary desert name to flesh-out their road trip experience. A true desert name should embody all the history of the pioneer's struggle of heat and dirt with a generous tip of the hat to the sub-suburban cultural quagmire currently shaping Arizona's modern youth. It's harder than you think to come up with a really satisfying one. Ed was happy co-opting television cowboy names like Wyatt and Buck, along with a few that sounded suspiciously pirate-y like Black Bart. I leaned more towards the modern kegger aesthetic with your Brodies and Doobies. The finest desert name I heard, however, was a real one. On a side trip to the new Apache Junction park I happened to photograph a local who was trying his luck at the popular new style of bowl skating-hurling yourself over the trannies and into the flat. As he rolled away triumphant I asked his name.

"Dustin Cutlip," he told me.

"Dustin what?" I asked.

"Dustin Cutlip."

Dustin Cutlip. Dust-in-cut-lip. It was gonna be hard to beat.


No better sign of skateboarding's ever-improving public status can be found than at Scottsdale, Arizona's infamous Wedge--a naturally-occurring skate spot that was transformed into an actual skate park after years of consistent use. For better or worse, the Wedge, named for a set of banks once used to blast off of and, in times of plenty, over and onto scrounged picnic tables has been joined by a slippery arrangement of city-sanctioned lumpy bowls and quarterpipes as well as rails, flat bars and the like. The original hubba ledges are still there, too, and the whole mess is lit until 10:30 and constantly swarmed by thrill and decal seekers alike.

Wedge legend #1: Randy Colvin ollied the entire Wedge, bank-to-bank.

Judgement: Most likely false.

Although Colvin pushes mongo, it is doubtful that even his superior speed would have been enough for him to clear the estimated 20-foot spanse to land safely in the other bank. This report was probably created by confused Rubbish Heap viewers who mistook the monster ditch gap which capped his part in said video for the mighty Wedge. Colvin did, however, pull off a taildrop-to-kickflip-in on an adjacent rail to bank, viewed by Erik Ellington, among others. More recently, Colvin was seen punching his own nuts against the wall of a bar, but this is a record few wish to celebrate.

Wedge legend #2: The Muska ollied the river at the Wedge.

Judgement: True.

Although, as can be easily seen in the Guilty video, he did so off a makeshift launch ramp. However, Muska's noseslide through the kink of the hubba, which is otherwise only sessioned on the lower half, is a feat that never falls to impress all who bare witness to the dog-shit run-up which includes two different stairs at two different angles, among other impediments. He also must have had to shake down every rollerblader on the premises to get enough wax to make that thing slide, 'cause it's ROUGH. Muska is currently the most popular skater among the Wedge locals, with all but Manzoori getting mistook for him on our recent visit.

Wedge legend #3: Erik Ellington has a Wedge tattoo.

Judgement: Kind of.

In celebration of his many happy hours at the Wedge, Erik's pal Vince Vargas got the words El Calza, which he was told meant The Wedge in Spanish, tattooed on his leg. Soon after, Vince learned that he was the victim of some dodgy translation and his tattoo really said something more along the lines of The Briefcase. Undaunted, and even further committed to honoring his friend and the many great afternoons of fly-outs they had enjoyed together, Ellington tattooed the words, The Briefcase, in English, on his own leg along with a crudelyinked rendition of said valise. He is said to get a special feeling every time he sees it.


Though widely regarded as one of the finest satires of the Arizona white trash experience, the Coen Brother's examination of modem man's struggle with the burdens of adulthood, described by leading man Nicolas Cage's HI McDunnough as "Something big, pressin' down," and embodied by a bounty-hunting biker, hell-bent on revealing HI's worthlessness in the straight world, is a conflict not unfamiliar to skateboarders--a group where the cutting edge is 16 and 23 is over the hill. Just as HI finds himself cruisin' by convenience stores that aren't on the way home, so does the aging skater meander past a favorite curb, so tempted, on the way to meet work, wife, or other responsibility

The dialogue, a Dinty-Moore-Beef Stew of Faulkner-by-Wal-mart is so intricately assembled it takes literally tens of viewings to pick it apart and taste every savory scrap. Raising Arizona is second only to The Big Lebowski in required Coen viewing, and towers over current bullshit garbage posing as white-trash comedy like Joe Dirt.


Some of Erik's friends' reported getting chased out of the Sahara by a board-wielding crackhead in the daylight hours, so we were especially spooked when squeezing through the chain-link hole and onto the premises at two in the morning. Rather, I should say, I was spooked. You see, I come from the school of pool skating wherein you try and keep your presence secret from those who may wish you arrested for trespassing. Not so for the new school, most specifically Josh "Outside Voice" Harmony who was shouting and screeching at his normal earsplitting decibel from the moment he got poolside with all the prudence of a drunk howler monkey. Ed did little to discourage him as he threw crap from the fourth floor while the rest of us tried to feel past the pot-holes and onto the coping in the dimly-lit bowl.

"Do you think there's ghosts in there?" someone asked.

"If there are, you'll find them up in the burned-out section," Ed replied, pointing. Further inspection of the charred fourth-floor revealed some above-average Satanic drawings, an ominously-marked mirror which Ed grabbed and loads of inky-black halls and stairways--airless and moon-shadowed with electric skeleton bits hanging from the ceiling and trap-door shafts around every odd angle.

It was hard to get too scared with Harmony yipping and Ed starting a witching-hour orange fight, but me, Diego and Spanky got out of there first out of concern for our freedom.

We drove back to Phoenix at four am and Brockman revealed to us that he never knew people skated in actual swimming pools. He thought all the ones in the magazines and videos were at skateparks. Live and learn.
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Author:Burnett, Michael
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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