By Jake Howard
My parents graduated from high school in San Francisco in 1966. They weren’t hippies. They were as straight as could be. They were even voted cutest couple in the yearbook. It’s always baffled me how they could have so profoundly missed all the sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll of the City by the Bay in the ‘60s. Not once did they put flowers in their hair in Golden Gate Park or drop acid on Haight. What a waste!
Because of this, in my formative years I thirsted for some counterculture vibes, for anything against the norm. I ended up skating the hills of SF, started surfing, made a pathetic attempt to grow my hair long, rolled with the dope smoking set, held punk rockers in high regard, went to Dead shows, read On The Road. My young brain was a potpourri of weird. Then, when I was probably about 16, I saw Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Something about Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison tickled me, and subsequently so did his haunt in Venice. In ’94 I beelined it down south, found a bungalow in Marina Del Rey and started stalking the freaks and fun on the boardwalk.
All of a sudden I was in the epicenter of radness. It was like I’d come home. Coming up as a skate rat, Tony Alva and the Dogtown crew had perked my interest attacking banks and backyard pools. Then Natas Kaupas came around and blew my mind. His elevated ollies, extended wall rides, the whole Santa Monica Airlines line of boards with the black panther artwork, it struck a chord. I have a black cat today because of it. And when I moved to L.A. I was able to hit all the spots they cut their teeth on. The icing on the cake came years later when the skatepark opened.
Of course, Jim Morrison had long since joined the great spirit in the sky by the time I moved down there, but the throwback murals, back alley watering holes and ever-grooving transient population kept things visually interesting. The white men trying to jump on the basketball court, the muscle beach ‘road heads, the jugglers and hustlers, the tapestry of humanity was rich to say the least. The first time I saw Harry Perry, the iconic rollerskating guitarist, cruise by I was an instant fan. He just seemed to make Venice a brighter place.
But time stops for no man. Eventually I had to get a “real” job and Venice took on an all new meaning. I always sucked at math, but ever since I wrote a love note to a girl in 7th grade I knew I could successfully scribble words down. My grandmother once told me, “Write what you know.” It’s still the best piece of professional advice I’ve ever gotten, and it threw me into the always-entertaining game of writing about my heroes—mostly surfers and skaters at the time. Thankfully Venice is a haven for the creative. A struggling writer can take solace in that. Profoundly contributing to the evolution of a guy like Lee Clow, one of the founders of the Chiat Day agency and the man that launched Apple’s groundbreaking marketing campaign in ’84, I figured there had to be something in the water that made people great.
I don’t know if Venice made me a great writer, at best I’m probably average, but 20 years down the track I’m still trading words for pennies. Venice has changed a lot. It’s grown up, some would it’s become gentrified. That’s probably true. It’s not the wildwest that it once was, but for anybody that’s spent any significant time there, it will always be the epicenter of radness.