I’m happy to present you with the 4th installment in our “VS.” series.
The idea for this series is basically to do an ongoing interview of sorts, where the previous interviewee goes on to interview someone of their choosing. Previously, Jay Roe interviewed Joe Rich, and now Joe has chosen to interview Empire’s Tom Williams.
How many emails is too many to be left in your inbox?
If I have to scroll down at all in my email client’s inbox, that’s too many. That’s probably 18. If there are any more than that, I usually forward them to the house and try to get to them answered at night.
How much do you pretend that you don’t hear something, to avoid voicing how you really feel?
Actually ignoring something someone says directly to me, never. Running around the shop all day does result in weaving in and out of other people’s conversations, and I will chime in if I know the person well enough to think they won’t take it personally Cody Nutter. You have to always remember that everyone is entitled to their opinions; even if you think those opinions are horse shit. I can disagree with someone and not think they’re a total rube.
How does North Lamar compare to the rest of Austin?
This is an interesting subject, and I’ve spent considerable time studying it. There are only two spots on N. Lamar that I deem truly extraordinary. The first, and most famous, is the stretch from Rundberg north to Rutland. I spent ages 13-20 on that block, as my crew’s flatland spot was there. For whatever reason, it’s always been a zoo. I can’t point to one cause, because there are other areas in town with similar traits (economic situation, population density, etc.) that are nowhere near as crazy.
Little known fact, the boundary between two rival narcotic-trafficking factions ran right through that motherfucker. We saw all kinds of wild shit from the relative safety of our riding spot. You ever see a car blow up 30 feet away from you and ride past it to illegally purchase malt liquor? I have. Regarding Empire’s place on N. Lamar, there exists an unexplainable nexus of bizarre people and events that we witness daily. The rest of Austin? Ha! It’s a walk in the park.
What’s the most amount of time you’ve physically spent away from Empire since the day your doors opened?
My parents flew my entire family (their four kids, most of our significant others, kids, etc.) to Hawaii a few years ago for their anniversary. I think I was gone for four or five days. I saw sea turtles.
What was Trend to you before you started working there?
A myth for a while, then a center for the growing scene in Austin. When their first magazine ad came out, my friends and I were astounded that the PO Box was in Austin. This was before websites, online stores, etc. Local shops ruled the day, though there was some mail-order (4-6 weeks for delivery), and there were a couple of really nice shops here. They had pretty good selections, but all of a sudden there was some place advertising ALL the good shit, right here under our noses. I swear we went looking for Trend for weeks and never found it. We heard it was in a huge warehouse, and it turns out Tina’s family was running it out her mom’s garage. FOUR BLOCKS FROM OUR FLATLAND SPOT. I could literally throw a rock from my friend’s house and hit Tina’s roof.
The beginning of Trend is very interesting, it would probably make a great video or article someday. They moved into a small retail location on N. 183 later on, and we made the trek there every other weekend to check out the new goods. When the organizations who put on the contests all folded, Trend picked up the slack and put on the best jams. It was probably 5-6 years later before I started working there, and they had moved to 12th Street by then. Tina’s mom sold it to some dudes right before I started, so it wasn’t quite the same as in the glory days, but Tina stayed on to run it and we all tried to make it as cool as we could.
Do you ever ride with other people, or is it always solo sesh Sunday?
I ride pretty much by myself these days. It’s a tight juggling act between Tina / Owen and the shop. Tina handles most of the load with Owen, she definitely rules. I try to spend as much time with him as possible, even if that means I’m not on the bench or at the park as much as back in the day. I mostly ride at night, parking somewhere new and just exploring. This morning I went to House Park at 5:30 am after dumping off a load of old ramp debris in a dumpster. Get in where you can fit in. Sunday’s schedule is considerably more open, so I ride a lot then. I hadn’t ridden flatland in over a decade, but I put together a bike earlier this year and have been trying to relearn everything. I still suck.
What one person do you feel you have the most outrageous stories about. Why do you think you’ve been exposed to so many regarding that person?
There is one guy we rode with in the early 90’s who was THE shit. He was Austin’s answer to Jay Miron and DMC, and could ride anything. Had he held it together, he would have been one of the best. Flat, street, ramps, dirt. He was older than the rest of us, newly married, holder of real-deal job making bank, and owner of a home and two IROC Camaros. He rented a small warehouse (N. Austin) and filled it with ramps. People would come to town to ride that place. I saw Mat Hoffman there, Spike Jonze, Parrick with his mini-truck, etc. Super dope setup, clearly. He was a crazy person, we’d take trips to a small town an hour east of Austin to hook up with sluts, and he’d be doing 90-100 mph and just kill the lights. This is a small one-lane each direction road in the middle of nowhere. There were no streetlights. Unbeknownst to us until later, he had a small night-vision device and was using that to navigate. I had never seen any night-vision stuff before that, so I thought he was a spy. I might have shit myself when those lights went off.
One night, again without telling us, he rigged up a laser pointer into his baseball cap, and ran a wire and a switch down to his right glove. He could activate the switch and the red dot would light up whatever he was looking at. Ten cops converged on us because gangsters use laser sights. Anyway, if there was a sketchy situation that I found myself part of, he was usually involved. Why? Because he was insane. He eventually got hooked on rock and smoked through his house, cars, wife, job, and life. Effectively banished from Austin by the kind of people you don’t want to find you after you write them hot checks for crack.
In your mind, does any one year you’ve lived in Austin stand out?
Whatever year you guys did some video… what was it, Props or something? Oh yeah, the first Road Fools! Austin always had a strong scene, but after that video, it really started to get crazy in terms of people visiting (many eventually staying) and companies starting up here. There were big contests in Austin as far back as the mid 80’s, and the Homeless crew and Trend put Austin on the map in the early 90’s. However, the growing influence of videos, magazines, and ultimately the web really accelerated the rise of Austin’s “mecca” status in the mid and late 90’s. Road Fools 1 definitely was the event that things coalesced around to create the scene as it is today. Consider the number of riders here, the spots, and the industry representation. It’s incredible.
Compare Texas to Wyoming (I think your parents live there).
Completely different in many ways, but equally awesome. Wyoming has less people in the entire state than are in the Austin metroplex. Texas has huge stretches of nothing between huge cities. Wyoming has huge stretches of nothing between tiny cities. It’s a lot more laid-back and comfortable than Texas, but at the same time I like busy craziness at times. The landscapes are similar, though the contrast between differing landscapes inside each state is more widely divergent in WY. I like both places a lot, and would have no complaints spending the winter here and the summer there.
In 3 sentences, stand out story from Empire location #1.
The service station next door served as a makeshift homeless shelter, and there was a fairly steady population of dudes with whom we became familiar enough to give names: Dave Beera, Taj Michelob, Sick Murphy, Josh Wino, etc. I forgot what we called the dude who lived in the van behind the place, but one day he somehow obtained the services of a prostitute and proceeded to pound her during our business hours, ten feet from our front door, all while unknowingly being filmed by a visiting rider.
In 3 sentences, stand out story from Empire location #2.
The yoga place across the alley had some completely over-the-top block party one night, with fire twirlers, horrible techno, and an ocean of hotties. I texted KP and he immediately rushed over and started to sweet-talk a few of them and somehow convinced them to come inside Empire and watch him ride the bowl. Imagine three or four smelly hot chicks, probably high on Buddha and kombucha, being thoroughly amazed in an empty indoor wooden pool by Kevin Porter!
In 3 sentences, stand out story from Empire location #3.
This really doesn’t involve Empire except for proximity, but there is a DPS driver’s license facility nearby that has been closed for months. A guy who works there emailed us a list for a custom bike build, made the purchase, brought it back for maintenance a few months later and told us why the facility was closed. Apparently, someone was extremely disappointed with DPS, and broke into the place, dropped major doo-doo, and proceeded to pick it up and defile every surface within throwing distance with his turds! BIOHAZARD.
Was it a tough decision coming to terms with the fact that you were going to start Empire?
Not really, because we didn’t know anything else to do. After spending years growing the shop, cultivating relationships with customers, vendors, and team (you!), it was unthinkable not to continue that on our own. It was certainly scary, but once we made the decision and saw all the support, it was on. The hardest part was securing a location, and after that was wrapped up, it was really only a few months before it was business as usual. In the end, it worked out better to start something new than to buy Trend. I think creating something from the ground up is a lot more satisfying than simply augmenting something that already exists, even if it’s more difficult and you ultimately find yourself at the same endpoint.
Childhood idol that fulfilled all expectations upon meeting one day, and why?
I haven’t ever met one of my childhood idols. I don’t even know who the hell my childhood idols were at this point. Earl Campbell? He was dope when I was five. Robin Williams showed up at Trend towards the end for some inexplicable reason, and he was intense. Hilarious, politely talked shit to Tina (she retorted), AND he dropped $250.00 on clothing. That was a weird day.
If you had to live somewhere else in Texas besides Austin, where would it be?
A house on the Guadalupe River, New Braunfels.
Do you believe that one day, this country will get to a point where you will be running to the hills?
I seriously doubt it, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about what to do if there is some kind of catastrophe. We keep a few weeks of water and food on hand at all times, and I have guns and ammo. I don’t want to shoot anyone, but I would prefer it over being shot if the shit goes down. No underground bunker or panic room. If what we have isn’t enough, the event is probably too big to survive anyway.
How often do you not answer calls based on who is calling?
Rarely. Honestly, there isn’t anyone who I really just can’t stand talking to, so I’ll get it done. If I do avoid a call, it’s because I know I don’t have the time to properly deal with the caller right then and there, not because I don’t want to talk to him.
If you had one person only to consult about major decisions in your life, not including Tina, who would it be and why?
Wow, great question. More than anything, I hate being a burden on anyone or asking for help. If there is something going on that absolutely has to be dealt with, and I don’t know how to approach it and cannot figure out a solution on my own, I’d probably call my sister. That being said, I have yet to be faced with this kind of event and hope it never happens. No help, ever.
How many days out of the year do you leave Empire and the clock reads AM?
I’ve dialed in my schedule pretty well over the last year, and have it worked out to where I only do the stuff at the shop that can only be done at the shop. Other stuff that can be done at home is relegated to nights, and mornings before work. So, I usually don’t work late at Empire much anymore. We are moving to a new website in a month or two that will greatly improve workflow, which will help even more. It’s going to automate a lot of the stuff we do, and eliminate considerable amounts of overlapping bullshit.
What’s one thing you do at work that no one would ever see you do?
Dropping a dook in the private bathroom. This is going to sound really demented, but I have a friend with whom I share a competition for dook size. When he or I drop an impressive contender, pics are texted and taunts are made. Am I really sharing this? I want no one else to succeed…
Does going out riding now feel any different to you than it did 10 years ago?
Not at all. It feels the same to me as it did when I jumped that first curb when I was 10, or did my first whiplash, or first 360, or first anything. I was going to quit riding over a decade ago after a really awful crash, as I was positive that I was done and planned on selling my bike. However, when I was healed and strong enough to hop back on, of course I threw all of that out the window. My family still thinks I’m insane. I still love it, and will ride until I’m physically unable to do so. I don’t take big risks anymore, as there are people depending on me to be healthy, but that shit doesn’t bother me in the least.
Do you look around much at what others are doing when considering how you do things at Empire?
First thought when you open your eyes in the morning?
“Oh lord, did I leave something out of an order yesterday?”