Can I Get in the Van? – I Hitchhiked to Texas and Almost Joined Black Flag
Illustration by Todd Ryan White
In the summer of 1981, a young and unknown 20-year-old punk from Washington, DC, named Henry Garfield jumped up onstage to sing an encore with Black Flag at a show in New York City. It so happened that the band was looking for a new singer. A couple days later, they tracked down Henry and asked him to come back to New York for a proper audition. They met him at the Odessa diner on Avenue A by Tompkins Square Park and took him to a nearby rehearsal space, where they ran through a set together. Afterward, the band went outside to talk it over. As Henry later recounted in his tour diary, Get in the Van, guitarist Greg Ginn and bassist Chuck Dukowski returned a few minutes later and Dukowski asked, “Well? Are you going to join or not?”
Henry, of course, was in. He immediately quit his job as the manager of a Häagen-Dazs, left behind an abusive family situation, and went on the road with his favorite band. Shortly thereafter, he changed his last name to Rollins and moved to Los Angeles. Within six months, the band recorded Damaged, a record that is widely credited with inventing American hardcore.
Back when I was a Black Flag-obsessed teenager longing to escape my own dead-end hometown in south Florida, the story about Henry’s complete reversal of fortune captured my imagination. In 1989, after Black Flag had already split up, I read an interview with Greg Ginn in which he lamented how hard it was to find dedicated, hardworking musicians. Being an idealistic 16-year-old, I called SST Records and left a message on their answering machine, offering to drop what I was doing and hitchhike to Los Angeles to play bass in his band. Ginn, unfortunately, never called back. Still, Black Flag’s uncompromising DIY ethic continued to inspire me, and eventually, I left home, worked hard, and carved out a fulfilling life for myself as a writer and musician.
I still sometimes think about how exciting it must have been to just walk away from a life you didn’t like, as Henry did, and start over completely. One gloomy, late night last winter I found myself sitting at the Odessa diner, ruminating over a lukewarm cup of coffee. I was sick, rent was due, my new book was going nowhere, and a snowstorm was raging outside. I thought of Henry, sitting so long ago at the same counter.
Later that week, to everyone’s surprise, members of Black Flag announced that they were reforming. In fact, there were two reunions: one led by founder and principal songwriter Greg Ginn—claiming the official moniker of Black Flag—and the other by former bass player Dukowski and Keith Morris, the band’s first singer, which would simply be going by Flag.
While fans debated feverishly which of these lineups was the true Black Flag, I was captivated by one tiny detail from the flood of news stories announcing the dual reunions: Ginn said that he would be playing both guitar and bass on the new, as-yet-untitled album.
It dawned on me: Black Flag did not have a bass player. I could be that bass player! I decided right then and there to find out where Ginn was living, hitchhike across the country, and persuade him to let me try out—just as I had attempted to do at 16. I knew all the old songs, and I figured that thumbing it instead of flying or taking a bus would prove to Ginn that I had dedication.
Last week, Reddit’s internet detectives swarmed on a subreddit for Houston, Texas after a user called Joelikesmusic posted a mysterious thread asking insiders what the deal was with a bizarre room at the localHotel ZaZa. As you can see in the picture above, the decor in room 322 errs more on the deeply unsettling, Jodorowsky side of a “comfortable, welcoming hotel experience,” with sinister paintings hanging above a concrete floor, what looks like a two-way mirror next to a bed that’s chained to the wall, and a portrait of Stanford Financial Group president Jay Comeaux overlooking the whole distressing tableau.
The room was accidentally booked for Joelikesmusic’s work colleague, who was then supposedly told that room 322 wasn’t meant to be booked at all. And it’s not difficult to see why—it looks like a snuff movie location. But despite the room being an absolute creep-fest, Kyra Coots, the Houston ZaZa’s head of e-marketing, told the Houseton Chronicle that—like the other themed rooms ZaZa prides itself on—the “Hard Times” room is just a “kooky” take on yet another theme: jail.
Being the internet, people have started to throw around entirely unfounded conclusions about room 322, based on wild speculations they’ve made about things they can ascertain from the photographs.
THE THEORIES ABOUT THE PICTURES ON THE WALL Some think they’ve linked Stanford’s Jay Comeaux to ZaZa President Benji Homsey, suggesting they could’ve been in the same or related fraternity chapters at university. Comeaux went to Louisiana State University, home of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity and the secretive frat, “the Friars.”
The goal of the Friars is apparently to resurrect DKE’s “Zeta Zeta” chapter—could the name ZaZa itself be a reference to this? Is Benji Homsey the “Benny H.” whose signature is on another of the room’s portraits?
THE THEORIES ABOUT THE ROOM NUMBERS Others have connected Comeaux and the Friars to the elite Yale Skull and Bones Society, which counts ex-presidents George Bush Jr. and his dad as members. The number 322 is supposedly relevant to the group, as well as the skulls and bones littering the room.
There are websites that claim the Skull and Bones Society dates back to 1832, when it “paid obeisance to Eulogia, the goddess of eloquence, who took her place in the pantheon upon the death of the orator Demosthenes in 322 BC.” The number 322 is also thought to reference the club’s founding in America after originally being established in Germany, it being the second chapter—1832 - 2. Writer on the occult Nick Farrell told me the numbers refer to “Hebrew geomatria—each letter is a number so you can add up numbers to make words; 322 means any of these. It depends on the context, but ‘lamb’ would be a common one and ‘man’ another, but it could also be the number of a demon.”
“I’ve stayed in this hotel at least 15 times. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
Clancy had shown me the video tour of our suite at the San Jose Hotel. It looked like The Hermosa in Scottsdale (except at The Hermosa, each guest has her own adobe casita). It looked like the Altis Belem in Lisbon (except the oceanfront Altis Belem is fancier and I prefer the San Jose’s APC.-style simplicity). It looked like Philip Stark’s hotel in Hong Kong, except the suites there are bigger, cleaner, and more stylish, with individual touches, like a beaded rocking chair from Africa, and the Stark boutique hotel has free breakfast, free snacks downstairs all day, and cocktails and cake in the afternoon.
When we checked in the staff was strangely surly. They acted like clerks used to act at cool record stores in the 90s.
“That’s the only problem with this place,” Clancy apologized. “They’ve always acted like that. But otherwise it’s great.”
We were in the largest suite but they couldn’t check us in for several hours. “Check-in,” they said, “is at three.” Apparently there is a great demand in Austin, Texas for $700-a-night suites. All four had been booked the previous night, according to the clerk in a newsboy hat, and none had been cleaned. He offered to hold our bags.
Things went from inauspicious to bad. It may come as a surprise, but when I get angry I go crazy. We were finally checked into our room at around five. That night, Clancy and I had the worst fight we’ve ever had. I broke the bottle of “Rainwater” that was provided free of charge. I shouted.
Two bearded, hipster security guards arrived. These two young men in black were in over their heads. Not knowing how to handle noise complaints (one said there had been four, and one said there had been six), they seemed to have come to our door thinking, “What would the officers on Cops do?” One had a Maglite. I sensed they were frustrated they couldn’t arrest me. I felt like they wanted to award Clancy, who gets quiet and—in his own words—exaggeratedly polite when he is angry, a Man of the Year Award.
The next morning a hotel manager called the room. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Clancy said that was fine, but that she would have to credit us for the second night’s stay. She said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” He was firm. They met in the courtyard, next to a tiny black-slate wading pool and the little boutique where the Hotel San Jose sells Toms shoes and $25 neon-green flip-flops.
“I’ve had complaints. You’re going to have to leave,” she said.
Clancy said, “That’s the business you’re in. I’m sure we’re not the first couple to have a fight in this hotel. Are you married?”
She shook her head.
“Well, one day you will be, and then you’ll understand that married couples fight, and you can’t decide when and where you’re going to have a fight with your spouse.”
He returned to the room. “We’re staying.”
Things went from bad to worse. The entire staff had been gossiping about us. That was understandable, but the strange thing was that they wanted us to know it. No one would look us in the eye, except to express contempt.
“This is fun,” Clancy said. “I feel like the unpopular kid in high school again.”
The next morning we sat at Joe’s, the pleasant coffee shop owned by the hotel, located on the other side of the parking lot. We debated about whether or not we should write this review.
What can I say? It’s a boutique hotel, like any other. We behaved badly. But there’s a reason The Four Seasons, The Rosewood, The Mandarin, and my little places such as the ones mentioned at the opening send their future managers to The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. While there, future managers work for a year, starting in housekeeping, or as busboys. It is because for a hotel to be good—let alone great—only one thing is required: courtesy.
If you are the kind of person who believes that Barack Obama is a radical socialist president who wants to fundamentally change America and turn us into a European-style nanny state, it couldn’t have been easy on you when he won reelection as easily as he did. Some conservatives have spent the last couple weeks making unhinged accusations about the vote being rigged—the most clearly racist of these was the GOP chairman in Maine who complained about dozens of unfamiliar black people voting in rural precincts. Others acknowledge that their side lost, but have moved on to petitioning the federal government to let their individual states secede from the union. It’s just like the Civil War, only instead of brother killing brother, tens of thousands of angry white people are typing at their computers.
Obviously, this is just a way to blow off steam. As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, “It’s silly.” No one should think for a second that all these people actually want to leave the US. (Maybe some Texans do, but Texans always want to secede.) I imagine a lot of the folks signing these things aren’t carefully considering every economic, social, and political ramification of a state separating from the country—they’re just angry internet people typing things in boxes. And internet people are pure id, disconnected from reality or common decency; that’s why 95 percent of YouTube comments are some variation of, “THE JEWS GOT ME FIRED FRM BEST BUY FOLLOW ON TWITTER @WETSOCKSSSS69.” Unlike paper petitions, which force signature gatherers to discuss the issues face-to-face with actual humans, the petitions on the government site can be set up in seconds, which can lead to silliness: Currently, over 1,000 people are demanding that a statue of the guy from Halobe built on the White House lawn.
So yeah, haha, let’s lookit the craaaAAaazy conservatives who are making the comparisons between Russia and the US because they got arrested for running a topless car wash. (That’s exactly what Derrick Belcher, who started the Alabama secession petition, has said.) But crypto-racist motivations aside, what’s so wrong with letting some states go?
There have been plenty of secession movements in the past that weren’t based on the hatred of a single president. Texas has had a long-running independent streak, of course, and there have been Alaskan and Hawaiian independence movements as well. The Second Vermont Republic is a kind of left-wing counterpart to the Republic of Texas. And my personal favorite secession movement, Cascadia (now apparently defunct), wanted to separate the western bits of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon from both the US and Canada. None of those causes has been nearly popular enough to actually succeed in seceding—plus, of course, the federal government’s massive military wouldn’t let any state leave—but making the states a little less united isn’t a terrible idea. Think about the problems it would solve:
1. If the red states left, liberals could finally have the country of their dreams. Imagine that Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, and Nebraska all followed the wishes of their wingnuts and left the US. All of a sudden, the House of Representatives would be controlled by Democrats, who would also get a further eight-seat edge in the Senate. As an added bonus, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the most conservative Democrats and a guy who caused all kinds of trouble during the fight over the health care bill, would be Duke of Lincoln or whatever and couldn’t infuriate the left anymore. All of the politically impossible policies that liberals from California to New Hampshire have discussed for years would suddenly become feasible, from single-payer healthcare to stricter handgun laws. And those rural red-state ingrates who denounce the federal government even while suckling on its money teat would be gone. Let’s see how those conservatives like it when they don’t get subsidized by the Northeast and California.
Although skateboarding waves the “No Rules!” flag pretty fervently, I’ve found that most participants are actually doing exactly the opposite. There’s an unwritten dress code that most skateboarders adhere to, as well as a list of acceptable tricks and companies that are considered OK to support. Like most subcultures that began as anti-establishment, if you stick around long enough eventually you will become the establishment. That being said, I’ve always been a fan of the true misfits within skateboarding. Somewhere near the top of that list would have to be Texas’ own Todd Falcon.
VICE: I’m sure you’ve answered this question a thousand times before, but is Todd Falcon an homage to Tony Hawk? If so, why did you choose the bird man as your spirit animal? Todd: Indeed! I came up with Falcon in 1985 as a name I would use if I ever went pro or needed an alias. Hawk has always been my idol for ramp, and Mullen for street.
Hawk was as amazing then as he is now, and I always looked at him as an inspiration to defy limits, so I purposefully chose the name as a tribute.
When did you turn pro? Do you think there’s something less than genuine about having a pro model for your own company? Not passing judgement, just curious. In 2003. Personally, I do not think it is less genuine, as many riders have been pro for their own companies, like Hawk, Alva, Magnusson, Hosoi, etc.
How you get there is apparently different for many pro riders. As I mentioned, I was not looking for this whole pro thing. I couldn’t have cared less. I stuck to skating for myself, inventing my own tricks, and living in my own world of rules about it—but then everything blew up fast the moment my footage got out there.
The next thing I knew I was on a Birdhouse DVD, my “Falconslide” was licensed in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, magazines and newspapers were doing cover stories on me, I was invited to pro competitions, pro demos, etc. So I started doing my own skate videos. The boards came out of fan demand, and I formed a team for a couple years, toured and promoted the DVDs, boards, and everything else.
True, but each of the riders you mentioned were initially turned pro by previous sponsors and carried their models over to their own ventures. I’m not trying to bust your balls, I’ve just always found it interesting that the only thing you have to do to become a professional skateboarder is essentially proclaim that you’re a professional skateboarder. You raise a valid point indeed. When things began, I received calls from Birdhouse because they were blown away by my original tricks. Shortly after came the magazines, videos, DVDs, and games, as I mentioned.
I never considered myself pro at that time, but others persuaded me to release boards because I was being included in the pro circuit competitions and demos, and my name was suddenly everywhere. I had offers from companies, but I turned them down in order to create my own company, Falconskates, because I am very picky about my work and I did not want another company deciding what my board would look like. I guess that’s a director thing, but I always want to create my own art that is unique and individual.
Then came the THPS games. I already had a handful of sponsors in 2003 including Tail Devil, Softrucks, Blue Water Clothing, and several local parks. I loved all the odd companies and underdogs, so I figured it would be cool to help them out.
Then came the DVD part in the Birdhouse disc and tours, so I finally just gave it a chance since I seemed to have some sort of branding already. It just seemed natural to offer the fans what they kept asking me for—it was for them more than anything. I didn’t—and still don’t—care whether I am considered pro or a kook… What people think about my skating doesn’t bother me, because I am focused on my film career. I am glad that there are fans who appreciate my originality and it is amazing to see so many skaters doing the Falcon Stomp. Skateboarding is my art and I have my own outlook on it. I appreciate EVERY single fan that I have, and I am totally HONORED to be able to say that I have so many throughout the world.
Hunting isn’t a sport, unless we’re talking nilgai. To kill one of these species of nearly indestructible antelope in the United States, you go to the 160-year-old King Ranch in Southern Texas. It’s as regal as its name—at 825,000 acres, it’s one of the largest ranches in the world and as big as a national wildlife refuge, and it’s still run by descendents of the founder. If you want to hunt here, you pay $750 per gun per day, plus a $1000 if you take down a bull, $300 if it’s a cow.