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Subterranean Movements: It Happened in Downtown St. Petersburg


The promotor wore a backwards cap. It was red, and tilted back carelessly at such an angle that his long bangs hung out and curled around his forehead and pointed at the thick plastic frames of his eyeglasses. He moved like lightning—back and forth across the room and down the hall and back, baggy pants flopping everywhere while he inspected all corners and consulted with the owner, and with band members, DJ’s, and skateboarders.


He passed by me and I asked him who won the contest—Barely stopping he turned and told me, “Some guy with red shoes.” 

Right, I thought, but what was his name? I wanted to ask the promotor this, but he was gone; and the identity of the man who 10 minutes earlier ollied 7-skateboard decks stacked up in a row, effectively winning the Drunkin’ High Ollie Contest, was lost forever. 

Now the promotor had a camera, and was springing around the room ping-ponging between members of Article-47, the loud noisy psychedelic grunge rock band who’d just begun playing; and the flash flashed a million times. 

The promotor had enthusiasm. I lit a cigarette and went to the bar and ordered a beer. 

Earlier that night I was on Anna Maria Island, consoling a friend who that afternoon lost his wallet, keys and iPhone—and I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but apparently it was a fun day at the beach. His keys were long gone, he knew, but the rest he’d left in the bed of a truck belonging to a musician friend of ours who lives in Palmetto, who wasn’t answering his phone. 

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m going to a show in St. Pete and won’t be driving home until late. Paul will be getting home around the same time, and I’ll stop by his place on my way down.”

He thanked me and offered me a beer for the road. I declined, and completely forgot about all of this until sitting down to write Saturday night. I hope it all worked out. Regardless—

Downtown St. Petersburg is a good place for Friday nights. There is much to do and too little space for anything to be boring. On these nights the metropolis comes forward, and the sidewalks clatter, and the roads all screech, and it feels good to walk around knowing that nobody gives a damn who you are or where you’re from, or where you’re going. 

I was going to a rock and roll show. Article-47 was playing, and I dig them—They are a trio who plays this weird, spacey, noisy lo-fi grunge rock full of electric guitar effects and groaning moans. They’ve got this little chic named Jasmine who plays bass and sings, and thumps along her long black hair mopping all over the microphone and I have no idea what she’s singing, but she looks like a little baby Joey Ramone and it sounds good. She trades spots with the drummer and he plays bass and sings while she plays the loudest drums in the world. And during all of this, a tall and short-haired guitar player spazzes out fantastically, frantically, over a black Fender stratocaster screaming neons—his approach to guitar playing is highly creative, and occasionally requires a drumstick.

When I arrived, the bar was full and the band was still setting up. It was nine-o’clock. I noticed a lot of skateboarders—and not just people who looked like skateboarders, but actual skateboarders, with skateboards. I bought a glass of beer and went outside to smoke a cigarette away from the crowd, and noticed among a set of show-bills Scotch-taped to the bar’s front window a flyer for something called The Drunk’n High Ollie Contest that was happening tonight at 9 p.m. 

I thought perfect, skateboarding; skateboarding is good. What a rad surprise. I love skateboarding—it has a long and rich history in our fair state, and the Tampa Bay Area is the heart of it. Not to mention I’ve been a skateboarder for many years; but I won’t go into that now. Now we must focus on the events of this past Friday night, when I was in St. Petersburg, gearing up to dig this thing. 

What this was going to be, you understand, was a competition to see which skateboarder would be able to perform the highest ollie. Given the name of the event, it was presumable that alcohol would be involved to some degree. I didn’t know the details, but I did know that all of the important ones would come later, if they had to. 

I went for another beer. There was now a few photographers on the scene, and the promotor was amassing a pile of skateboards about 10-yards up the sidewalk. The skateboards would be stacked vertically on their sides, and competitors would ollie over them. After every round another deck would be added to increase the obstacle’s height, and most boards ollied wins.  

A van pulled up to the curb; it was covered with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum logos. A man got out of the van and set up a table with a stack of plastic cups and a one thousand-seven hundred and fifty mililiter handle-bottle of rum—Sailor Jerry rum, of course; and a crowd poured out of the bar onto the sidewalk, and lined down the curb as far as the promotor’s pile of skateboards. 

The skateboarders had all come out of the bar as well, and were hanging around the Sailor Jerry table. The promotor got everyone’s attention and called out the rules— Participants had to be 21-years old, and after every successful ollie you had to take a shot of rum. The prize for the winner was a bar tab and an assortment of swag from sponsors.  

It started with one deck. Someone hassled the promotor, “You gotta ollie one!” He turned and said, “I don’t gotta do ----.” 

The contest was an impressive thing to see. Article-47 played a great set.


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