p-1: The Evil Hill on Mariposa

n+1 vs The BelieverIf print does disappear, I will be only partially responsible. I’m doing my part to keep a few print publications healthy. But I can’t subscribe to everything. The question is always the same: what to read and how. A loyal subscriber to The Believer, alas, my subscription has lapsed, and just prior to the 2013 music issue, which turned out to be jazz inspired. Bummer.

I’ve been comparing the cover changes over time of the New Yorker with the cover changes of the Rolling Stone. “Time is real,” Cornel West reminds us. But a few weeks ago, finding myself reading, with interest, no less, in the New Yorker, a “Tables for Two” eatery review of a restaurant I’ll never eat at, I decided I’d better augment the New Yorker and replace The Believer with something new. Meantime, I had discovered Kirill Medvedev, and noticed that n+1, which I follow, sporadically, on-line, was giving away the Medvedev “It’s No Good” book with a new subscription, so I went for it. And last week, the Fall 2013 n+1 print issue arrived, red dressed, calling itself the Evil Issue. Evil? Really? I felt the proverbial wince of buyer’s remorse.

I sat down and opened my n+1. I glanced guardedly through the table of contents, not one for haunted houses, horror films, that sort of thing. Something here by Marco Roth on politics, on drones – ok, that’s evil. A drama piece titled “sixsixsix.” Why do folks think Satan evil? Consider Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at Uberty [a lot] when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Still perusing the evil issue’s table of contents and glancing through the articles to see what I might want to start with, I came to something from the Stanford Literary Lab, titled “Style at the Scale of the Sentence.” I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve decided it’s at the heart of the evil issue for a reason. Then I saw this, which took me by surprise: Alice Gregory’s article titled “Mavericks: Life and death surfing,” and soon found myself into the evil issue in earnest.

If the entire evil issue was instead titled “Mavericks” and filled with Alice’s writing about surfing I would be a happy reader. The only problem with the article is it’s only ten pages, which means back to the Literary Lab’s “Sentence” article too soon. Maybe I should have renewed The Believer, after all, seen if they’d send me the music issue I missed. On jazz! Jazz in the evening can turn an evil day good. Wondering about the etymology of the word evil, I found this in Wiktionary: “from Proto-Indo-European *upo, *up, *eup (“down, up, over”).” Ah ha! That’s a definition of surfing. One of the best pieces of journalistic writing on surfing I’ve ever read came in the New Yorker, back in 1992, written by William Finnegan, himself a surfer. “Surfing is not a spectator sport,” he says in the second of the two-week, long article. In the first week, Finnegan had said, describing the surf at Ocean Beach, off San Francisco, “The waves were big, ragged, relentless, with no visible channels for getting through the surf from the shore.” Conditions in the water, often fast changing, are difficult to read from the shore. Waves always seem bigger to the surfer in them than to the spectator watching from the beach or from a cliff high above the water. I read the long Finnegan piece twice before mailing my two copies with the articles to an old surfing buddy, not much of a reader, who later called me, totally stoked.

Preparatory to surfing, back in the day, hey-hey, kids growing up in South Santa Monica Bay rode skateboards: literally, the wheels removed from old roller skates and nailed to the bottom of a two by four, crude vehicles compared to today’s boards. I lived on Mariposa, at the bottom of a long, steep hill, followed by a short straightaway, then an easy hill ending at my house on the corner. The houses on Mariposa backed up to railroad tracks (since removed). Between the railroad tracks and the back fences was a path the local kids called “Devil’s Path” or “Devil’s Pass,” a shortcut toward downtown. We regularly rode skateboards up and down the mild Mariposa hill, but to ride a board from the top of Mariposa was considered a daredevil feat.

One day, my friend Pete Ponopsko, a few years older than me, took a skateboard to the top of upper Mariposa. He was going to ride down the big hill and would pick up enough momentum to carry him through the straightaway and down the lower hill all the way to the bottom. A small crowd of skateboard aficionados positioned themselves mid straightaway, where we could watch Pete whiz by on his way to the lower hill.

One of the problems with early skateboard technology was shakiness. At fast speeds, the boards wobbled side to side. Another problem had to do with the metal, roller skate wheels. A pebble might catch under a wheel and brake it, stopping the board and throwing the rider forward. We never knew for sure what went wrong with Pete’s ride down the upper hill. Some said the board shimmied so severely he simply could not keep his balance. Others said he hit a rock and pearled. Still others said Pete chickened out and tried to jump off. Whatever the cause, the effects included a startling array of raspberry red scrapes and bruises along one side of Pete’s body, from his ankle to his ear. It was said Pete slid on the sidewalk a distance equal to the length of a 1956 Ford station wagon. It was an evil wipe out, and it was a long time before anyone tried to ride upper Mariposa again, but by then skateboards were wider and thinner and longer and fitted with smooth rubber wheels and stable wheel bearings, and Pete was already an old-timer.

Joe at the top of an evil wave. Well, an evil photo, anyway.
Joe at the top of an evil wave. Well, an evil photo, anyway.

Follow Up: n+1 has put the Alice Gregory Mavericks piece on-line, 9 Oct 13.


  1. Dan Hennessy says:

    I remember building that first skateboard and trying the biggest hill around . Cities are now building the skateboard parks . Things change .

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Sidewalk surfers, now part of the No sign. Bunkboards some used to call them. Why? Sat on them. Some guys used to sit on their boards, wobbling down the hill. My brother John got one of the first rubber wheeled boards. Took it up the small hill in front of the house for the maiden voyage. We were all watching. About half way down, first ride on the brand new board, he pearled, hit a rock, the board kicking back into the street, under the wheel of a car – broke it in half. Evil ride on an evil day.

  2. From the US I recently re-activated subscriptions for Parabola and Glitter Train..
    I admire your passion, the metaphor of your life inaway. We did some dare-devil things with skiers down deep ravines with enough speed to make it halfway up up the opposite steep. My mother would have fainted. And I remember a well-to-do student from Malaysia who shipped over a colourful open taxi with a massive roof-rack to transport his wingy thing (glider) to ride the airwaves down mountains. His aim was die Zugspitze but he didn’t get permission. We watched as he broke his arm coming down a lower mountain. Scary stuff.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      I’m reminded of an old TV show called “The Wide World of Sports.” In the show’s intro., we see some serious wipeouts, including a skier coming down a steep run who goes off track and crashes and bounces into a pavilion. The show featured a slogan: The thrill of victory: The agony of defeat. I don’t know how long the show ran, but a few years later the New Yorker ran a cartoon. In this cartoon there are two panels. In the first panel, a drawing of a businessman, standing, somewhat slouched, holding his briefcase down by his side, hatted, staring inscrutably, no expression. The caption to this panel said, “The thrill of victory.” In the second panel, a drawing of a businessman, standing, somewhat slouched, holding his briefcase down by his side, hatted, staring inscrutably, no expression. The caption to this panel said, “The thrill of defeat.” … I’ve never skied. Not a lot of opportunities around LA. … Those kiteboarding, or gliders from cliffs, at the whim of winds, crazy stuff.

      1. Humans are strange creatures …

  3. Geannie Newell says:

    We used to ride down Mt. Tabor on a board slightly better than what you described. Fun times. Thinking back on those days I’m pretty surprised I never injured myself. Not something I would try today.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Hey, Geannie! They still ride up in Mt Tabor. A few years back I watched a film crew filming a guy doing tricks. But when I saw him fall onto a rail bar a few times, I could not watch any more. Long board skateboarders often ride the winding hill from the top. These long boards are sometimes 5 or 6 feet long, very wide and stable, and flex to absorb the shimmy. These riders are often graceful, winding back and forth as they fall to maintain a slower speed. One evening I talked to a couple of guys with long boards. Their idea was to ride from the top all the way down uninterrupted through the exit at 69th and down to Belmont where they would turn left and ride down Belmont all the way through 60th. I last saw them making the turn at Belmont. My brother John who still surfs brought his long board skateboard to town a few years back, and I got on it on 69th and rode down past the house, but Susan freaked out a bit. Said if I fell she was not taking me to the hospital. I didn’t fall, but like you said, we were all pretty surprised! In mild conditions and if the water’s not too crowded, I think surfing is less dangerous. Better to fall into water than onto asphalt. Thanks for reading and comment. Will be thinking about you next time I’m up in the park. Hope all’s well! We should get together for coffee one of these days. Send me an email! Joe

      1. Geannie Newell says:

        Susan had such a good point. About three years ago I bought boards for my grandsons while I was visiting them in Colorado. I thought some responsibile person should show them the basics like how to balance, so I did. My son was the one freaking out. He informed me that I wan’t as young as I possibly thought I was and that I had no business on a skateboard! Some people just don’t know how to have fun.

  4. I love this story! Being so young when we moved north I hardly remember El Segundo, the hill on our street I do remember. Love the stories behind it all!

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thx, CB – Used to give younger brothers and sisters rides, standing them on the nose of the board, holding on to their shoulders, riding tandem down the lower hill. Extreme sports!

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