Skateboard Vampires

“How long will it take to get to Trento?” we all asked after getting off the plane in Milan, Italy.

“It should take about one hour and a half,” our Italian distributor Paulo replied in very good English.

Milan was our first stop on a short, post-summer European tour with DVS. Present were Kerry Getz, Keenan Milton, Team Manager Kelly Bird, Atiba Jefferson¿whose job was to document the entire thing on medium format, and me.

Because the flight to Europe is such a long one, the first thing you want to hear when you get picked up from the airport knowing you still have to drive to another city is that it’s only fifteen minutes, a half an hour, or 45 minutes away. All of these answers to the question would suffice, but an hour and a half? That’s not exactly what we wanted to hear, but the drive wasn’t too bad. We got a cushy Plymouth minivan in the middle of the afternoon, and an hour-and-a-half nap couldn’t hurt. In the end, I think we were all fine with the hour-and-a-half ETA.

I’d never been to Italy before, so I was totally unaware of how time worked there. In the United States and Canada, time works like this: there are 60 seconds in one minute, 60 minutes in one hour, 24 hours in one day, seven days in one week, and 52 weeks in one year. This schedule is as dependable as a kid asking me if I can do hardflips at every single demo in every corner of the Earth. There’s no escaping it … so I thought.

My watch read 5:30 a.m., but the clock inside the minivan said 2:30 p.m.¿California time is nine hours behind. Everyone’s next step, like any good group of traveling salesmen, was to synchronize their watches with Italian time. Done. Everyone synched up¿everyone except me. I didn’t synchronize my watch so when I made phone calls to the U.S., I knew what time it would be without having to do the math. I’m that lazy sometimes.

We all climbed in the car, and within five minutes we were all sleeping. Like I said, 5:30 a.m. North American, 2:30 p.m. Italian. If this were a DVD, I’d tell you to fast forward to the next chapter where we all wake up.

The sky was black with the exception of 200 stars. We traveled across the Italian countryside at 120 kilometers an hour, and that’s when I opened my eyes. It seemed as if we’d been traveling for hours.

“How long will it take to get to Trento?” we all asked again. “About one hour and a half,” said Paulo from the driver’s seat of the plush Plymouth minivan.

If we left at 2:30 p.m. Italian time and had an hour-and-a-half ETA, that would mean we’d get into Trento at 4:00 p.m. Italian time.

I looked at the clock on the Plymouth’s dashboard, and it read 3:30 p.m. I looked at the clock on my wrist¿11:30 a.m. According to my watch, six hours went by in North American time but only one hour went by in Italian time, and it was dark already. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t know too many places that get pitch black at 3:30 in the afternoon, and I wasn’t the only one feeling the change. Kelly looked at me suspiciously. I sensed the whole car felt it. Something was different.

“How much longer until we get to Trento?” Kelly asked first.

Paulo turned to Kelly, “About one hour and a half.” Vincent Price couldn’t have said it better.

According to my watch we’d been in the car for six hours; according to the Plymouth we’d been in the car for only an hour. But according to Paulo, we had “one hour and a half” to go. I started to get nervous.

This was my first indication that Italy didn’t move, or keep track of, or have any consideration about time like the rest of the world did. This was my first indication that we had entered into some kind of strange “dimension,” for lack of a better word.

Before I left Italy, I did some studying on the history of Vlad II, Prince of Valachia. Some of you know of him by the name Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. All of you know him by his most famous name, Dracula. What many of you don’t know is Dracula s a fierce warrior whose allegiances changed as often as Mark Appleyard’s sponsors. One day he would ally himself with the Turkish lords, and the next day the Hungarians. The week after, it would be the Roman Catholic Church.

Transylvania has long been considered his home, but what many historians don’t know is after he conquered and lost Valachia three times in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, he was forced out of Transylvania. Many thought he was tortured and executed, but according to Michael Pinyoles’ book Vlad, The Unkillable Warrior, he escaped to an isolated section of Italy. Trento, to be exact, where he started from ground zero and built another army¿an army of the night. Can you see why I became so nervous?

The next person to ask the question was Kerry: “How much longer until we get to Trento?”

Paulo turned from the driver’s seat, “One hour and a half.” Then he raised his hand in a somewhat wavy motion and said, “Sleep.” Dracula couldn’t have said it more eloquently. So we slept.

It gets pretty hazy after that. I remember checking into the hotel, where a beautiful woman with breasts peaking out of the top of her corset was standing behind the registration desk. Her hair was black and her lips plump like pincushions. There was no one else in the lobby of the hotel but us. She gave Kerry and I keys to our room. “Anything you need,” she offered, “and I shall get it for you.” It was like two cherry Popsicles melting on top each other when she spoke.

Kerry asked, “Is there anything to eat this late? We’re very hungry.”

She looked at Paulo. It was an important look. “If you are with him, there is plenty to eat.” Then she gave Atiba, Kelly, and Keenan their keys, and we all agreed to meet in the lobby in twenty minutes.

After I put my bags into the room, I asked Kerry if he thought it took a long time to get here. “Yeah, it seemed like it took five hours to get here, but my watch said it only took an hour and a half.” Then he added, “I didn’t know it got dark so early in Italy.”

My watch, which was never set to Italian time, had kept on ticking the way North American time ticks. The rest of the group’s watches, once they synched up with Italian time, kept Italian time.

One of the rudimentary powers they say Dracula had was the ability to manipulate time. He could make the days very short and the nights very long in a contained area. I suspected Paulo was either a minion of Dracula or the entity himself. I wasn’t quite sure, and I dared not express this to my friends¿they’d think I’d gone goofy.

Twenty minutes later … the girl with pincushion lips was gone. A bus full of tourists arrived, and people swarmed the lobby. Kelly, Atiba, and Keenan sat on a sofa next to the entrance. Paulo seemed to appear out of thin air and asked, “Shall we eat?”

The rest is quite ordinary. We went to a restaurant and had basic Italian food¿pasta and pizza. We returned to the hotel shortly after and fell asleep.

The next day the phone in our room rang four times before Kerry finally answered. “Wake up, it’s time to the demo.” It was Paulo.

“But it’s the middle of the night,” Kerry explained.

“It is no such thing. You guys were so tired from your travel, I let you sleep all through the day. The demo is in one hour and a half. I will pick you guys up in twenty minutes.” That was his best English.

I knew he said all that because I could hear his voice from the receiver despite it being pressed against Kerry’s ear. With much disbelief that we had slept through the night, Kerry hung up the phone, stood up, and took a shower.

The Demo We arrived at a park near a recreation center in the middle of nowhere. There were mountains on all sides of us. To the north of the skatepark a statue hid high up on one of the mountains. The statue must have been 50 feet tall for me to see it that well at such a distance. It was illuminated from its base. My natural thought was that it was a likeness of Jesus, but he had no robe or sandals or long hair. Under closer inspection, I saw it was a warrior of some type, but that was all the time I had to think about it because I had to skate.

All the skatepark’s obstacles had been built out of metal and looked very promising. When we started skating, the ground felt as if we were pushing on rubber, and we eventually concluded it was in fact rubber. You could push for days and still never get enough speed to ollie the pyramid. Things were looking quite bleak. A lot of kids had showed up, and among them was a kid named Fiat. I buddied up with Fiat and started asking him questions about the town and about our distributor Paulo. He told me Paulo was the richest man in town, he took care of all the townspeople, and he was a man of great power. He offered me this information because he thought the part in the Birdhouse video where I get my head cut off was real, and he assumed I have mystical powers that couldn’t be explained or understood by any other kid in the world but him. That’s fine.

I asked him about the ominous statue on the mountain. He told me it was a prince who’d barely escaped with his life from the land of Valachia. He told me his name was Vlad.

My stomach sank into the bottom of my signature DVS shoe. “Vlad Tepes?” I asked nervously. He answered with an excited nodding of the head.

I had a box full of product in the van, and I immediately ran and got it. I started giving everything I had away to these children of the night. I suspected they were all in on it. Kelly thought I had gone mad, but I told him to just trust me, and that I wanted to give all of the product away as a token of my appreciation to Trento. No one in our group was the wiser about the history I was studying before we left for Italy, and I wasn’t about to let anyone know what I knew. They defintely weren’t going to be put in any danger as a result of me not kickflip backside noseblunting the handrail over the pyramid, I would make sure of that. And because I went around, shook every kid’s hand, and gave them a sticker, we made it out alive¿something I can say the DNA team, which was there just a month before us and hasn’t been seen since, didn’t do.

Next thing I knew, we woke up on the plane in Prague.

Prague When we arrived in Prague, no one even commented on what happened in Italy. I think everyone else may have thought they’d gotten drunk and just didn’t remember. I don’t know.

Our Prague stay was very short. We checked into the hotel and went skating on the top of a hill that overlooked the entire city. The whole area was covered in marble¿the benches, the steps, the ground … everything. Keenan, who started to get sick, didn’t skate for the first two hours he was there. He had the chills and was sweating profusely. I asked him when it started happening. “Last night, I started to feel it last night.” He said this with a peculiar look of confusion on his face, as if he was trying to remember what he did last night. I made a mental note of it and kept skating.

The marble paradise was so overwhelming for Keenan that despite his sickness, he started to roll around a little bit. In a matter of minutes, he switch-flipped over a bench the way you wish you could kickflip regular, and he followed that up with a switch backside flip over another bench the way I wish I could backside flip regular. It was that easy for him.

Whatever happened the previous night, it wasn’t only Keenan who was different. Kerry skated the way one of those characters in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater skates, only it was real life. Atiba, who I don’t really skate with very much, was frontside crooked grinding better than Stalin suppressed the people of Czechoslovakia for all those years.

Before our demo, we went to the main square. It was like a ghost town. Over 400,000 people had left the city because of World Bank demonstrations scheduled to happen that same weekend. We walked through the sess of Jesus, but he had no robe or sandals or long hair. Under closer inspection, I saw it was a warrior of some type, but that was all the time I had to think about it because I had to skate.

All the skatepark’s obstacles had been built out of metal and looked very promising. When we started skating, the ground felt as if we were pushing on rubber, and we eventually concluded it was in fact rubber. You could push for days and still never get enough speed to ollie the pyramid. Things were looking quite bleak. A lot of kids had showed up, and among them was a kid named Fiat. I buddied up with Fiat and started asking him questions about the town and about our distributor Paulo. He told me Paulo was the richest man in town, he took care of all the townspeople, and he was a man of great power. He offered me this information because he thought the part in the Birdhouse video where I get my head cut off was real, and he assumed I have mystical powers that couldn’t be explained or understood by any other kid in the world but him. That’s fine.

I asked him about the ominous statue on the mountain. He told me it was a prince who’d barely escaped with his life from the land of Valachia. He told me his name was Vlad.

My stomach sank into the bottom of my signature DVS shoe. “Vlad Tepes?” I asked nervously. He answered with an excited nodding of the head.

I had a box full of product in the van, and I immediately ran and got it. I started giving everything I had away to these children of the night. I suspected they were all in on it. Kelly thought I had gone mad, but I told him to just trust me, and that I wanted to give all of the product away as a token of my appreciation to Trento. No one in our group was the wiser about the history I was studying before we left for Italy, and I wasn’t about to let anyone know what I knew. They defintely weren’t going to be put in any danger as a result of me not kickflip backside noseblunting the handrail over the pyramid, I would make sure of that. And because I went around, shook every kid’s hand, and gave them a sticker, we made it out alive¿something I can say the DNA team, which was there just a month before us and hasn’t been seen since, didn’t do.

Next thing I knew, we woke up on the plane in Prague.

Prague When we arrived in Prague, no one even commented on what happened in Italy. I think everyone else may have thought they’d gotten drunk and just didn’t remember. I don’t know.

Our Prague stay was very short. We checked into the hotel and went skating on the top of a hill that overlooked the entire city. The whole area was covered in marble¿the benches, the steps, the ground … everything. Keenan, who started to get sick, didn’t skate for the first two hours he was there. He had the chills and was sweating profusely. I asked him when it started happening. “Last night, I started to feel it last night.” He said this with a peculiar look of confusion on his face, as if he was trying to remember what he did last night. I made a mental note of it and kept skating.

The marble paradise was so overwhelming for Keenan that despite his sickness, he started to roll around a little bit. In a matter of minutes, he switch-flipped over a bench the way you wish you could kickflip regular, and he followed that up with a switch backside flip over another bench the way I wish I could backside flip regular. It was that easy for him.

Whatever happened the previous night, it wasn’t only Keenan who was different. Kerry skated the way one of those characters in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater skates, only it was real life. Atiba, who I don’t really skate with very much, was frontside crooked grinding better than Stalin suppressed the people of Czechoslovakia for all those years.

Before our demo, we went to the main square. It was like a ghost town. Over 400,000 people had left the city because of World Bank demonstrations scheduled to happen that same weekend. We walked through the square looking at all the shops with no one inside of them. We passed by all the police who had been called in because of the possibility of rioters from the demonstration. Keenan was looking at a pair of shoes in the window of a shop when Kelly yelled like someone had hit him in the back of the head with a rock. We all turned to Kelly to see what the deal was.

“Look!” He pointed to the other end of the square, where thousands of people were congregating.

Being the good team manager that he is, Kelly said, “I think we should get out of here.” So we returned to our hotel to sit around until we had to go to our demo.

Meanwhile, Keenan was getting worse. His skin was cold, and his eyes were bloodshot. He was doing his best to stay conscious.

After we got to the hotel, Atiba turned on CNN, and we saw about ten-thousand people being teargassed by the police. The demonstrators were throwing rocks through KFC’s and McDonald’s windows. They were throwing rocks at the police, and the police were fighting them with their riot shields. Outside our hotel window we heard helicopters flying through the air; inside our hotel we saw demonstrators getting the short end of the stick.

“Where the hell is that?” Kerry asked. But before any of us could answer, the reporter came on the screen, and underneath her image in nice typewriter-style font it read: Prague.

The people we had seen twenty minutes earlier, pouring into the square just twelve blocks from our hotel, were the people on the television getting tear gas pumped into their lungs by the riot police. This was, by far, my strangest trip to Europe.

The Demo The demo was at the skatepark where Ed Templeton knocked himself out in the summer of 1999. Right away, Kerry started doing every trick there was. I could give you a list, but there’s no point.

Keenan sat on top of one of the bank ramps¿he was almost going into convulsions he was so sick. That didn’t stop him, though. He skated around a little bit and showed everyone who wasn’t there how he really skates. The demo was incredible. Probably the best demo I’ve ever been a part of. There was only one flaw¿no one attended. Everyone had left the city because of the demonstrations. Every skater, at least. We skated into the night, and it felt like it did ten years ago when the amount of people who skated could be counted on one hand.

What happened next was another reason Prague and Trento would not be just another skate trip.

Keenan fell asleep in the car on the way back from the demo. Although Keenan’s skin is naturally brown, it turned blue after he fell asleep. His temples were sweating, and his skin was ice-cold. Kelly and our distributor carried him up to the room. He was mumbling to himself in what sounded like Italian, but I wasn’t quite sure. After they put him in bed, I noticed he had two circular scabs on the upper part of his neck, almost under his ear. I asked Kelly if Keenan had met up with a girl while we were in Trento. “Yeah dude, you know the girl that was at the front desk with the breasts peeking out of her bra? He went walking around town with her all night.”

My stomach sank to the bottom of my shoes again. They got him, and now he was going through his transformation. If we all wanted to stay alive, I’d have to drive a wooden stake through the heart of Keenan Milton that night. The skate world would not understand. DVS wouldn’t understand either, and they might take away my new signature shoe. Birdhouse would definitely take away my board. I would be on the run the rest of my life, and the only thing I would be guilty of would be saving our lives. I had to risk it.

While everyone else slept, I went into the Prague night to try and find a wooden stake. It took me three hours to find one sharp enough to possibly drive through Keenan’s heart. When I returned to the hotel, the only thing that awaited me was a note that read:”Sorry guys, I had to go back home. I’m just too sick to continue on with the rest of the tour. Maybe next time. Keenan.”

The writing on