French Fries & Black Coffee

I haven’t been to Los Angeles in a while.

I used to make it out there pretty regularly, back when I was a touring yoyo demonstrator for Duncan and even before then when I was working for the CA-based Team Losi. I was a semi-regular fixture at Golden Apple Comics, and at most larger contests….sometimes as a guest judge, sometimes working a table, sometimes just running around and acting like my typical jackass self. But those days are well behind me, so like I said, I haven’t been out there in a while.

It hasn’t changed much, to my eyes. A lotta stores closed and new ones slid right into their spots…so the buildings and signs changed colors and logos but on Melrose you don’t see new buildings springing up a lot….unlike back in Jacksonville where they’re puking out new construction constantly and every trip to visit my folks is paired with a healthy sense of bewilderment as I try to recalibrate. But even with years between us, LA still looks & feels familiar and I gotta admit….I really needed that.

Started off my trip having dinner with some good but recent friends. Jeff is the creative director for a company that blends AI and music and is a long-time music industry veteran. He and I have a lot of parallels in our origin stories, so when we first met we recognized each other as brothers right away. His partner Lindsey is a gifted photographer and creative director, and his kids are friggin’ adorable. We had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Terroni, and I gifted the kiddos some CLYW kendamas that I brought with me. (They already have yoyos, I had to mix it up ha ha)

I spent my Sunday at Family Style Festival, an outdoor food festival run by The Hundreds. I have another company that I don’t talk about much with yoyo folks, but we worked with The Hundreds about a year ago on a project and have another one coming up soon, so I wanted to get out and see how their live events looked. I had the best lobster roll ever, picked up the greatest streetwear collaboration of all time, hung out with my friend Anita who I also haven’t seen in too damn long, and generally just had a lovely day in the warm California sun.

Monday I met up early with Mark McBride for breakfast at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. For all yoyo players out there who have fond memories of late nights at Dennys, this is the vintage turbo-charged version of that. Canters has been around since 1931, and if you ever find yourself in the area it’s not to be missed. The food is great and the atmosphere is basically “greatest shithole diner ever”. It’s been open 24-hours a day, continuously, for 90 years and it definitely feels like it…everything is well-worn and faded but comfortable. Pastrami and eggs, rye toast, and slightly-better-than-you-would-expect black coffee…not a bad way to start a day.

If you don’t know Mark McBride, then you’re missing a sizeable chunk of yoyo history. There are five main styles of yoyoing: 1A (string tricks), 2A (two-handed looping tricks), 3A (two-handed string tricks), 4A (offstring), and 5A (counterweight). I created 5A, and Mark created 3A. Between the two of us that’s an awful lot of ground covered in modern yoyoing. It’s also worth noting that Mark created the very first yoyo-themed streetwear brand (40 Watt Halo), which I plan to re-launch with him soon. (I literally typed that sentence and then texted him to tell him we’re doing it. This has not been thought out. Don’t ask me about it for a while.)

We met up with our friend Brian (Glasseye, founder of the DXL Crew, early Duncan Crew member, and a foundational part of the SoCal yoyo scene), and headed off towards Melrose. We nosed around record stores, reminisced about contests, remembered players we haven’t thought about in years, watched as all the moisture left our bodies, and enjoyed a rare moment together. We’re been friends for decades, and in that time we’ve gone from some guys doing some stuff with yoyos and just cruising through life to becoming fathers and business owners. We’ve loved and we’ve lost; we’ve buried friends and friendships and put a lot of carefree years way, way behind us. But for a couple of hours all that melted away and we were just three yoyo players wandering around LA…doing tricks, talking shit, buying records, and grabbing hot dogs from Pink’s. None of us said it, but you could tell we all needed it.

Our lives are complicated now. We have seven kids between the three of us! Hell, I run three different businesses and a non-profit….my schedule alone is enough to keep us from seeing each other, never mind everything Brian and Mark have going on. The days of seeing each other 4 or 5 times a year are long behind us and it’s painfully clear that the time together we have ahead of us is gonna be scarce. I read a Twitter thread recently that really put the fear in me. The takeaway is that you reach a point as an adult where your friends who live in other cities, with other lives…you reach a point where 99% of the time you will ever spend with them is now firmly in the past. The time you will spend with them in the future is a trivial fraction of your total time with them in this life.

I tried hard not to think too closely about this while I was scarfing down chili dogs with Mark and Brian, but I did allow myself a brief moment to stop and look really hard at the scene so I could commit it firmly to memory. The shadows cast on the wall from the table umbrellas, the splatter of chili on the foil wrappers. Mark got a turkey burger, Brian got chili cheese fries. Two teenage girls bought Pink’s t-shirts as a souvenir. A young woman with an impressive snake tattoo across her back and shoulder made eyes with a good looking guy about her age who was there with some friends. She wore black, he work a white t-shirt and blue shorts. I took the clearest picture I could of the moment, and then went back to just being in it so I could enjoy it. How are the kids? They’re good. How is work? Ah, it’s busy. Remember coming here with Paul? Miss that guy.

We finished up and headed back so Brian could make it home to pick up his son after school. Mark and I spent the rest of the day and night together…swung by his office so he could make a meeting, grabbed dinner with another old friend, caught a couple of bands at the Echo, and then ended the day where it began….at the same booth at Canter’s Deli. We split a plate of fries and some Russian coffee cake, and I knocked back a few more black coffees so I could stay up all night and make it to LAX by 4 AM for my early flight home.

We pulled up next to my hotel, and stood on the sidewalk for a bit finishing up our favorite kind of heated conversation…where we both agree on the desired result but can’t seem to agree on how to get there. I apologized for an old mistake I didn’t realize I’d made, we embraced under a streetlight, and then he went his way and I went mine. In the limited number of days we would ever have together, another one was now behind us and I like to think we were both a little richer for it.

It was good to see you again, LA.

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