One day I'm gonna fall in love.
Will that be my fault?
Or someone else's?
I wouldn't have called myself a skateboarder, but I loved to skate. I never left the ground, unless I fell. I wasn't interested in tricks or jumps or ramps, I didn't want to be flashy. I just loved the sensation of the road zipping by so close to my feet. Moving faster than the walkers but not fast enough to fear death. Coasting speed. Weaving in and out of small objects along the footpath. Kicking across empty car parks and unused bike lanes. It was a form of release, and a form of freedom. Plus unlike a bike, when you reach your destination it fits under your arm or under your seat.
So when I moved to Richmond in Victoria I was united with Hoddle street. I'd driven on Hoddle street before and experienced it's 'reputation' first hand. It was dubbed Victoria's worst road. A long hilly stretch that turns into Punt road. Six lanes of two-way traffic that's never dormant. In peak hour it's as packed in as a fat kids lunchbox (but unfortunately it doesn't empty as fast). A slow moving beast, in both directions, right when you need it the most. I moved there in winter without a car and I was forced to walk everywhere. Even when it was sunny you were never safe. Expect torrential downpour and hail around every corner. I don't know how much you know about skateboarding but you're a mad man to jump on in the wet. It was just over a kilometre from my house to Richmond train station, all the way down Hoddle street. It starts off uphill, but when you reach the next main road (Bridge road) the hill peaks and sinks back down for the remainder of the journey. The first time I walked down I fell in love with that sidewalk. Smooth pavement about eight to ten feet wide, and just before the road it raises into a perfect little bank like a long concrete wave that never peels. 6 weeks I had to wait for the weather to clear up enough to bring my board out of hibernation. The wettest winter I've ever experienced. Mother Nature just taunting me. But the day I looked outside my window to the clear blue sky I couldn't wait to commute to work. Showered, dressed, fed and out the door in record time and up the hill to Bridge road. I came to the intersection and looked down my mountain. There were small patches of pedestrians scattered down the hill, but nothing I couldn't weave around. Traffic was bumper to bumper and three lanes strong, thick with loud, smelly metal animals. Desperate and impatient to be let out of their cage. My four thick wheels hit the magic stretch and my front foot planted itself for take off, one kick off with my right was all it took to get the party started. If I straight-lined down I wouldn't be able to stop myself any other way than supermanning off and praying to Jesus, so I carved from one side to the other reducing my speed. Up the bank and back down towards the fences and walls of properties and buildings, then turning back and heading back up the bank. It was tight considering how fast I was going but still alot of room for fun, weaving in and out of bus shelters, around poles and water drains. Zipping past frustrated drivers in their heated boxes. I won't lie to ya, I would letting out a hoot.
A couple of times my board wobbled from the speed and I put my back foot against the ground sliding it along like a size 10 break-pad. I keep the trucks on my board loose for big turns and it doesn't allow me to go too fast. Just coasting speed. But this was something different all together. This was a concrete dream, a black tar ocean tapering off to my destination, with a perfect little bank to pull big turns and slides. I was in love. The angrier the drivers looked as I came racing up past their cars the more I smiled. I was well in my comfort zone of ability, but it wouldn't take much for this dream hill to kill me, it had plenty of chances. If my board snagged a large enough stick or rock while I was maneuvering up the bank I'd be flung off into oncoming traffic. If it happened while turning on the opposite side of the path I'd be flung into concrete walls, glass windows or people's front yards. Then there were cars coming out of drive ways and side streets for me to smash head on into. Pedestrians and joggers to knock down and mame. Small dogs to flatten, and countless others.
When the possibility of death is close at hand you don't have time to think about the meaningless shit flying around your head. Was this dangerous form of meditation worth the risk? Hell yes. Did it make the otherwise monotonous task of going to work in the morning, a rush? Obviously. My morning coffee was moved from 9:30am til 10:30am when the adrenalin finally wore off. Life was good at this speed.
My friend Sean came to me one day and asked if I had any ideas for a photo shoot. He had to do a big end of year project, a series of shots under the theme: Speed. It didn't take much thought on my part. I just said he should come and get some shots of me cruising down Hoddle street. Me, having the time of my life on my skateboard while the cars banked up and sneered at me. Me, in the open air zipping past cars that could otherwise move at ten times my top speed. He loved the idea.
We waited for the perfect morning; sunny without a cloud in the sky. We waited for the traffic to reach its thickest: 8:15am. Then he stood near the bottom perched on a fence, and snapped me doing a run down. I had as much fun as I always did and I got the thumbs up from Sean at the bottom. I walked back up the hill twice for him to try some different angles. By 8:30 he'd used up almost 4 rolls of film. We got our fair share of action too, a few drivers even hung out the window and sprayed some abuse. Sean snapped it all up. We couldn't have asked for a better response. I was a bit tired by the fourth run, but I staggered up the hill for one final descent. It was actually the last time I ever tore down that hill. Everything was going fine for the first half. I was making more aggressive turns, and I was feeling pretty confident. Maybe too confident. But his final shots, the seven photos that made up his final project tell the story better than I ever could.
The first shot was me on a turn at the top of the bank close to the traffic, a huge smile on my face. The driver in the car directly behind me looked beautifully confused. The second shot I was turning close to Sean blocking most of the shot as I headed back towards the traffic. The third shot captured the scene perfectly as it all went wrong. At the top of the bank my wheel caught a rock and locked up. The photo shows my body leaning the wrong direction into the traffic with my feet slightly off the board and a slightly horrified look on my face. The driver also looks a little horrified. The forth one sees the unmanned board rolling back towards Sean and I'm about to connect with the bonnet of a green Holden Commodore station wagon. The driver now looks completely horrified. Probably more concerned with her bonnet though. I dented it nicely with my back and wound up between the station wagon and the car in the middle lane. I think my foot clipped the middle car before I hit the ground. The fifth shot is my favourite, I'm not in it. It's just the driver out of her vehicle looking down at the ground, gasping. The sixth shot is me at my feet looking wide eyed and pretty dazed, the driver is in mid sentence. Even from one photo you can tell she's asking: 'Are you alright?'. The final shot is me planting a massive kiss on her. It's a great sequence.
I've always had a problem with time. I can get up hours before I have to be somewhere and I'll still find time to be late. It doesn't bother me anymore and those who know me have come to accept it. Maybe my life's so boring I'm running myself late just for the adrenalin. It worked in high school, that’s how I got all my homework done. At the last minute, with no time to spare, fear racing my pen. When you're late you can only think about one thing. Getting there. Wherever that is. You don't have time to think about all the other meaningless shit flying around your head. I was still just focused on 'getting there' when my husband crashed over my bonnet. He wasn't my husband then, he was just a near 30 year old boy. He'd kissed me before he'd even spoken a word to me. That just wouldn't have happened if I was on time for work that day. So from then on I just embraced it. Our first born was late too, he slept in six days past his due date. Although unlike his parents, little Dean never had a problem with time. He seemed to be making up for all the time wasted sleeping in, and possibly all the time I'd wasted throughout my whole life. Fastest kid I've ever seen. You couldn't stop him. He'd toy and taunt gravity with anything that had wheels. He mangled and broke every little trike and plastic pedal car we bought him. Then he moved on to destroy bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards. It was better than him sitting in front of the TV all day, and the majority of the time he came back in better shape than what he was carrying over his shoulder. It was only when he started hanging out with that Will kid that I got worried.
Yeah, me and Dean can't be stopped. If one of us stops the other one does the kicking. Teamwork. Pushing each other down bigger hills, and bigger skate parks. In school it's different, we need to keep each other awake. When you're forced to sit there listening to some boring dickhead harp on about something that happened hundreds of years ago you have too much time to think. Leave a teenager alone with his thoughts and you can guess where it'll lead. We need speed and excitement to drown out the thoughts and images that usually have right of way. Girls. Tits. Legs. Skin. Sex. It's even worse when you're staring at numbers with little lines and dots, and spaceman like shit floating around it. I don't care what happened before me, and I don't care about equations explaining things I don't care about. I especially don't care for sitting down. My life is ending man, one second at a time. And this is a big waste of time. Forced to move slow only makes us go faster when we break out of this hell hole. It becomes the motivation to charge bigger hills, steeper walls, and longer gaps. If we don't wake up tomorrow then at least we don't have to be forced to sit here watching turtles race down the street. Shit the grass is moving faster than us right now. We have a saying we yell to each other whenever we fall off or down. We'd yell out 'MORE SPEED!' That was our excuse for falling, we weren't going fast enough. I've seen Jesus flash before my eyes right before the concrete many a time. Then I'd come up bloody to a smiling Dean. No sympathy. He'd just shake his head and say: 'More speed'. When you're flying around at breakneck speed life doesn't seem real. Pure concentration. When it all goes pear shaped it's even more surreal. Everything stops and you watch your injury a few frames at a time. Your heart and brain still run at breakneck speed, but everything else crawls. The fast and the slow meet around you, but you're neither. You throw yourself to the gods and they either throw you back or they keep you. Our parents don't know it yet but we both got tattooed. Black cursive running vertically down our ribcage, 'More speed', only visible when we lift our arms up. We should take a photo of it.
I graduated top of my class eighteen years ago. Back when photography was still a passion not a profession. Sometimes getting what you want can be a curse. When I was studying all I wanted was to make a living doing what I loved. But taking photos for a living means taking other peoples photos most of the time, and when you get time to yourself you don't snap anything you feel passionate about. Probably because you don't feel passionate about anything anymore, not like you used to. Photography slows your life down, you observe and study everything just a little longer than you usually would. You need a steady hand, so you focus your breathing. You concentrate only on the light, and the focus. Adjusting the shutter speed is the real craft though, I think. How long the lense is open will determine everything about your photo. In fast motion pics the light has to be good enough to flood in for the millisecond the shutter is open. Capturing that one moment perfectly. When it's still like this you can leave it open longer, too long and any movement will blur the image. When I'm shooting it's all I can think about, I'm totally engrossed in it. None of the small time bullshit I think about matters. I just need to capture this one moment. For myself or for someone else. For pleasure or a paycheck. Today isn't very pleasurable. Right now I'm wishing I hadn't answered my phone this morning. I could still be in bed instead of here. Sleeping, instead of staring down at a twisted mangled body. The coffee in my throat feels like blood. The toast I ate half and hour ago feels like gravel in my guts. The Victorian police give me most of my work these days, not many people have the stomach for this kind of work. Today I wish I didn't! I never get told the details, it's just my job to come in and take the photos before they move the body. I make up my own stories of what happens though, I can't help it. Today a kid, still a teenager I'm guessing, it's hard to say for sure, there's not much left of his head. It'll make Identifying the body hard, visually or by dental records. The teeth are everywhere. I'm not sure what he was doing in the middle of the road at 8:15 in the morning but it looks like he's been clipped by one car, that explains the mess his legs are in, and the second car has run him over. Winter's barely over but he's only wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. One of his shoes are missing, and the white shirt is ripped and pulled up, covered in blood. Maybe they'll have better luck identifying the body from the tattoo's. He has one either side of his rib cage, running horizontally. One side says 'More Speed' in big letters, the other side is a little smaller and more elegant. I zoom right in to get a good picture of it. There's a little blood spatter right through the middle but you can still read it. I'm already thinking it'll be one of my favourite shots, I'll frame it and put it up in my study. I took my all time favourite shots right here on this very same stretch of road eighteen years ago. Seven photos of my friend falling off his skate board. My final piece of work to graduate. This one will look good right underneath them. Young dead blood spattered skin and the tattoo:
One day I'm going to die.
Will that be my fault?
Or someone else's?