In 1966, a book came out that publicly displayed the inner workings of a fringe culture involving regular gatherings of hundreds of slobbery drunken hulks of muscle and steel. They regularly risked their lives and safety to live and do as they saw fit, even if they didn’t fit into the larger society. Most importantly, there was always trouble when the beer ran out.
That book was Hell’s Angels by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
In it, the good doctor made this poignent observation that I personally believe can be applied to a certain sect of rollerblading:
A man who has blown all his options can’t afford the luxury of changing his ways. He has to capitalize on whatever he has left, and he can’t afford to admit — no matter how often he’s reminded of it — that every day of his life takes him farther and farther down a blind alley… Very few toads in this world are Prince Charmings in disguise. Most are simply toads… and they are going to stay that way… Toads don’t make laws or change any basic structures, but one or two rooty insights can work powerful changes in the way they get through life. A toad who believes he got a raw deal before he even knew who was dealing will usually be sympathetic to the mean, vindictive ignorance that colors the Hell’s Angels’ view of humanity. There is not much mental distance between a feeling of having been screwed and the ethic of total retaliation, or at least the random revenge that comes with outraging the public decency.
These men, these diehards, they are the population of the backbone of our industry. They are the ones with blood on the concrete and gas in the tank.
And never does our sport have such a spectacular exhibition—in contest and trade show form—of these fabulous creatures than the Bitter Cold Showdown.
BITTER COLD Showdown!!!!!
I don’t give a shit how hard or hardcore you think you fucking are, this is Bitter Cold. If you’re going to skate, you’ll most likely try shit that would put you in a wheelchair. If you’re going to party, pack some bond money in your sock. If you’re going to show up, you better be ready to rumble.
At this point, 99 percent of you know whether you are going or not. For those of you going, you have your million-plus-one reasons why you look forward to this shit every year. There are jobs, girlfriends, wives, and possibly some kids that require you to stifle that aggression and power inside that screams to get out every time you put your blades on. This is the only weekend you know that voice will be choked silence through debauchery served up by the good folks of Madison Heights, Mich.
Honestly, I don’t understand it. We end up leaving the stretch of four-lane road from the skate park to the Econo Lodge stripped and beaten like a snuff film actress and every year they put out signs welcoming our arrival. We’re the biggest cash cow of the year for the small town, but we try not to treat the good people like cheap whores.
(In all honestly, the people of Madison Heights and Royal Oak are far too accommodating for our antics and should be treated with nothing less than the utmost respect and civility we can muster. As far as their cops go, fuck them in the ass with a steel rod.)
As I say every year: if you’re not going, you better have some damn good reasons. If you’re in any way comfortable in your life and you’re not going, you have my pity—you are on the slow decline to death and mediocrity.
In other words…
“Let’s fucking take over weak ass Madison Heights (or whatever chump ass town we’ll be in) once again this year and fill the air with phat chronic shmoke, Steak ‘n’ Shake farts and tons of beer puke (whiskey included too). Oh and a whole lotta SHIT TALKIN…..the skating will speak for itself.”
— Erick Garcia, JSF el Presidente
Bitter Cold is not only a three- or four-day romp through the cold in a town where you can do nearly anything you want—short of rape and murder, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway—but it’s always the start of something.
I don’t go to Bitter Cold because of the partying and the stories.
I go to Bitter Cold for the 15-year-old in me. That awkward kid from flat-as-fuck Nowhere, Wisconsin who pushed carts through the snow and cleaned public bathrooms at Wal-Mart to afford skates and whatever else he thought Hoax II—and not his Catholic school teahers—told him he needed out of life.
If you’re one of those people who always sit around and complain about what isn’t happening in blading and you’re not doing anything about it, Bitter Cold is your chance to make that happen. You can talk to virtually anyone there—and every blader is down to hear a good idea—and you can start some shit. Not like sit at your computer like me and start some shit, but put a name and a face on your words and let everyone know what you feel.
Really, that’s all it takes to make something already so awesome that much better. You could talk to someone in February and by March you could be working on some really cool shit in the industry.
I know because I’d been there.
In essence, if it weren’t for regular trips to Bitter Cold, I’d be just another grom watching edits and writing shit in the comments. I’m fucking no one. I’m just another dude who has loved rollerblading since I was 14 years old. I studied videos like Hoax II and the VG videos as if they were pages of my personal Bible.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
My first Bitter Cold was in 2008 when I was living in Iowa. We took a 15-passenger van at about 90-plus miles an hour through shit Midwest weather to Ohio so a few people in the van could make it for qualifiers. They barely did.
Sure, I was 26 years old at the time, but I showed up to the park and grommed out fucking hard. I was running around, talking to pros I had never met—and probably never would—because growing up in Wisconsin and living in Iowa, well, you’ll never see a pro tour coming through. Ever.
The hardest gromming I ever did was approaching the Valo booth specifically to meet Jon Julio. The guy has always been a legend, but even since I was 15, he was a dude with a style that seemed inhumanly natural. So, even though I didn’t need them, I bought a pair of JJ Velros from Jon Julio himself. The 15-year-old inside me was fucking juiced.
The highlight of the trip for me, personally, was meeting Justin Eisinger from ONE Magazine. I geeked the fuck out because, well, I wanted to write about blading. It didn’t hurt that he casually mentioned that my first book was going to be reviewed in the next issue of the magazine. All of my blackout drinking—which of course I don’t remember—was in celebration of that fact. The writer in me was fucking juiced.
The following year, the caravan from Iowa gained more vehicles as we took even more first-time riders. This year, however, the party moved to Detroit and we took one of our homies, Tyler Noland, with us. A few days after Bitter Cold, Tyler reported to prison. Then again, if he wouldn’t have gone to Bitter Cold, I wouldn’t have got to known the metal-loving, hammer-dropping, Thor stunt double and he wouldn’t be living on my couch in San Francisco. He’s fucking juiced.
BCSD 2010, well, was by far the most interesting one. I had been writing for ONE magazine since 2008, but by the end of the trip, I would quit writing for them, have Mike Opalek and Arlo Eisenberg (my godfathers) discussing my first book, go to jail for standing up to cops who think choke-slams are a solid form of debate (and the same with putting a can of mace to someone’s eye while they’re sitting in the back of a cop car), watch Victor Arias keep his cool as a jailer basically pushed every one of his buttons (including talking shit on his family), get bailed out of jail by Jon Julio—again, my fucking childhood hero— and have Jon Elliot buy Erik Bailey and I lunch.
Oh, and then there’s Bar (or Bar Bar to some). Oh there’s something about a place with $5 pitchers and a karaoke machine that will really ruin a man.
I’m positive I was at BCSD last year, but I don’t remember much of it. There was a lot of drinking in the bleachers, and some shit with some cars in the road, and something about some shit I said at a restaurant. Really, it’s a fucking blur.
Wait, yeah, I remember something else…
JSF. That’s right…JSF.
No one yelled louder or created more of a fucking ruckus than JSF. Those guys repped their fucking crew so hard the memories of my homies blasting the bleachers permeated my whiskey-soaked skull.
So, yeah, you can expect some shit from JSF this year.
But that’s the point. The point is to go to Bitter Cold and rep the shit out of your friends. You’re supposed to be yelling and screaming as your homies are pulling out their best on the course. And then when you’re done all of you pile down into Bar Bar and you fucking talk to everyone you’ve ever wanted to talk to.
You meet dudes like Chris Edwards, Mike Opalek, Arlo Eisenberg, Rachard Johnson, Matt Mickey, Brandon Campbell, Brian Shima, Montre Livingston, Joey Chase, Jason Reduta, Kennan Scott, Justin Hertel, Jess D, Rob G, and tons of other people you wouldn’t normally run into on a daily basis.
And then you’ll have shitloads of cool stories that your girlfriend will tire of hearing about, but damn it, they’re awesome stories.
Why did all that funny shit happen to me and how did I end up drunkely writing about blading? Because I went to Bitter Cold.
Yeah, I can out-grom anyone in rollerblading because this shit is so fucking awesome it makes everyone else’s interest in any other sport seem depressingly tame.
Now, I’m a writer living in San Francisco that blades to and from a great-paying job and spends his weekends rollerblading and getting drunk with rollerbladers and there’s nothing I look forward to more than freezing my ass off, drinking cheap beer, and eating lethally-deep fried food for three days.
The 15-year-old in me is still juiced.
Sure, you can watch edits later and think you know might have been the real winner of rollerblading when there’s controversy in the judging—as there is every year—but you’ll have no idea what really happened.
You’ll have fucking missed it all.
You have my pity.
Now, thanks to Bitter Cold, I’m still writing this shit, blading is supporting the hell out of my books, and soon there will be a blading book coming out that many people who have nothing to do with rollerblading—especially other sports photographers—will be talking about.
Yeah, I’m fucking pumped to be part of something that awesome.
See everyone next weekend.
Blade or Die,
— Brian Krans, J.S.F.
P.S. — I’ll be slinging my books this weekend at the tradeshow, but if you’re one of those dudes with a good reason for missing, you can buy them direct from Rock Town Press’ Big Cartel site. We have a few choice endorsements.