Our friend Steve Crandall tells the story of a pool riding session from his recent trip through California. Click below to check it out.
All photos by the Cran-man.
I ended up in the Fresno valley in California on the 13th day of the new year, on a road trip, and by default, in the midst of a mission to ride some empty swimming pools, behind foreclosed and abandoned homes. One of the pools was a permission, and at some dude named Ray’s house. I was excited to check it out, as it had also been outlined in concrete trannies on the deck. I figured Ray was an old pool shark, and didn’t mind sharing his paradise with some bike riders.
When we got there, its was a relatively unassuming, lower income neighborhood, and Ray’s place seemed modest from first glance, a one story green house with a fenced in backyard, and a few Thrasher stickers on the old black tin mailbox near the front door. We passed through the gate, and into the backyard, which was all concrete, with a mix of dialed cement trannies, mixed with an obvious learning curve of DIY skate work ethic. In the center was an empty swimming pool, probably 30 or 40 years old, it was rad. Ray wasn’t there when we showed up, but when he did arrive, he wasn’t who I expected. Chad Osburn knew him and made the friendly introductions. It was not what I imagined…
Ray was a 50 some odd year old mexican dude, had almost no teeth, was deaf and mute. He wasn’t even really a skateboarder, he just had a pool, and let skaters hang out and build stuff. That’s when I started to notice things were a lot different than what I had anticipated. The yard reeked of dog shit, and piss, was littered with empties and trash. The house was also in shambles, no windows, and the roof was dilapidated, with linens draped over holes in the walls separating the outside from inside, where a few dogs were barking and chewing there way through a particle board barrier. The inside of the house looked like it had no electricity and was basically a squat. It was scene, and only to be compounded by a 3 year old neighbor kid named Bumper perched on the fence, barking and making noises like the kid from the Mad Max movie, and the arrival of a methy looking neighbor who also seemed to have trouble with words. It seemed like no one could communicate conventionally.
While I was processing all of this, Ray was busy sweeping up the area, cleaning dog shit out of the bowl, and hurrying around the yard, like housewife with unexpected company. He was smiling, and making welcoming gestures, grabbed an old beat up skateboard, pumped around tiny bit, laughed, clapped, and in his own peculiar way, welcomed us to his home.
We spent the afternoon with Ray, and Bumper, learning the lines in the pool, cracking jokes, having a time, and generally just getting stoked. At some point Ray pulled out a spiral bound notepad, and a pen, and wrote some notes, telling some stories as he could with this method of communication, about how he had been sick, some day to day stuff, and then asked, if we had a good time. It was really heartwarming. Here is this guy, who can’t speak, can’t hear, lives in squalor, is broke, and has what some people might call nothing, and without bounds, he was sharing all of it with us. He was enthusiastic, welcoming, friendly, and seemed quite simply, and genuinely happy to see people smile at his home, and enjoy themselves.
Learning to ride a pool is as unique and can be as difficult as anything, and being around bikes my whole life has taught me a lot. What I learned from Ray that day sat with me pretty heavily. Part of me felt bad for him, and his situation, but in reality I was just stunned how someone with so little could share so much, and how much that meant to me, on a sunny afternoon in Fresno California.
After shooting some pics, we all kicked in a few bucks to Ray as a gesture of appreciation for his hospitality, and we gave him a few cold Busch beers out of our cooler, shook hands and said our goodbyes. Before hitting the road, we got in the deep end for a photo, and asked Ray to shoot the snap. One thing for sure Ray had no clue how an smart phone worked, and trying to teach a deaf mute how to shoot a photo with one of these devices is pretty damn funny. Fortunately the lesson Ray taught us were much more valuable than any notion of what we had come to rely in our modern conveniences.
Thanks Ray, you rule!