I originally met our genial host, "Mat Max," back in the early 70's. I was working for Hal Jepsen at the time. ("Work" being much too strong of a word. It implies both effort on my part and compensation on his!) Anyway, Jepsen and I went over to Max's home in Malibu to meet with his father, who was (still is) an establish writer (novels, how-to's, TV, etc.) I don't remember the particulars of our visit, other than Max was really cool...plus I made mental note to look up his younger sister in a couple of years.
Max and I didn't run into each other again for over 10 years -- he was a goofy foot, so we frequented different surf venues -- but his reputation as a cajones-to-the-wall surfer and a standup guy was widespread.
John Parker, on the other hand, had been long time friend. He and I were Liddle hull fanatiques and 2nd Point (Malibu) denizens. John was a good surfer who had more power in his little toe than everyone else in the water combined. Plus he was skilled at clearing out the riff raff at 2nd Point when things got ugly on weekends. A handy guy to have on your side in the water!
John and I also ran racing karts, and occasionally attended motorcycle and sprint car races together. He was kind of Norm-on-Cheers 15 years before Norm-on-Cheers. We would turn up at some punk ass track in a distant county, and everyone in the pits would scream out "Parker!"
I knew him for ages before I realized his first name was John. He was just "Parker" to everyone who hung with him back then.
One afternoon in 1984, after the first few 4GF's had been prepped for "commercial sale," Parker calls up and says, "Let's go to the TQ races! (3/4 midgets.) And bring one of those kook-raft, rubber-duckee thingees you make. I gotta bat-shit crazy friend who wants one." (John wasn't big on mat surfing at the time.)
With the prospect of making the first sale of a 4GF on the horizon, I threw a fresh mat into the trunk of my car and headed down to Ventura.
Mistake number one: In my fervor to prepare for my moment of commercial glory, I forgot to bring cotton for my ears. Parker was a racing purest, and watched the races from the closest (loudest) possible vantage point. If he could stick his head into the intake manifold of a F1 engine while it was at speed, he would. The cotton was a must-have when you went to the races with John.
Mistake number two: I was unaware that the local Harley shop had recently started sponsoring a TQ car. Meaning, in the field of screaming Kawasakis, there was going to be a Harley-powered midget. Sounds innocent enough. Unless you're in Ventura. The Ventura Hell's Angels were on par with the seminal Oakland and 'Berdoo chapters when it came to "flying the colors." Which meant they were coming to the races that night...and their boy was going to win, or, one would assume, somebody's ass was getting kicked.
I met up with Max and John in the parking lot at the Ventura Fairgrounds that afternoon. John liked to get to the races at least 2 hours before hot laps. It gave him time to socialize with every owner, driver, pit crew member, groupie, flagman, hotdog vendor and ticket jockey. I pulled out my 4GF, and Max checked it out. He was stoked and said he wanted to buy it. Whoo hoo, my first sale! I had no idea what I was going to do with the $85 I was charging him -- it was the most money I'd made in over a year -- but I was pumped!
"Um, can I pay you in a few weeks? Max asked, respectfully. "Or maybe next month? Or by the end of the summer, for sure?"
Having worked in the surfing industry since 1969, I was thrilled with the prospect of such a prompt payment. We shook on the deal, and Parker hustled us inside the grandstand to score "good" seats.
At that point, mistakes one and two came together. We ended up sitting down front...in the choice, 300 decibel seats. Then the local Hell's Angels started to arrive in clumps of three or four, taking seats in our immediate vicinity. They wanted to hear that unmuffled Harley blast by up close and personal. (As it turned out, they had the right idea. It was pretty damned awesome.)
One interesting thing about John...for all his eccentricities, or maybe because of them, he really knew his stuff about motor racing. When he applied his racing knowledge and uber-passion to cycling, he ended up in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. http://www.mombat.org/Yeti.htm
Another interesting thing, he was in touch with his feelings and wasn't shy about verbalizing them.
A third interesting thing, he wasn't afraid of anybody.
No sooner than the midget field started turning run-in laps on the wet clay track (gurgling along at about 1/3 throttle) Parker turns to us and yells, "The Harley hasn't got a chance. Listen to that P-O-S! Who ground that camshaft, my grandmother? Ugh!!!"
Did I mention we were sitting next to the Ventura chapter of the Hell's Angels?
I also was faced with the choice of either enduring the noise, or looking like a complete wuss and putting my hands over my ears. Valor being the better part of discretion this evening, I manned-up and took the aural beating.
Then Max and Parker started betting on heat races. Very loudly.
"Ten bucks on the #17 car," Max shouted as a prelim heat took its warm up laps.
"Bullshit! #4 can't lose!" Parker bellowed back.
It was painfully obvious to everyone in our seating section that neither guy placed any bets on the Harley car all night. Plus, Max was gambling with money I kind of assumed he owed me.
The Harley got eliminated in the quarter-main. Disillusioned, the Angels left the stands and headed out into the night air for a cold one, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My hearing was gone, but at least now I was free to cover my ears. There was nothing left that could go wrong.
Except one thing. Max had been winning bet after bet off Parker. He turned to me just before the feature race and said something like, "I'm up 40 bucks. You can collect it from Parker later and take it off my tab, OK?" Collecting bets off John Parker is a story unto itself, and in retrospect, I'm pretty sure Max knew that.
Anyway, the first sale of a 4GF was made, I eventually got paid, and Mat Max turned out to be a stoked and talented raft rider. He also became one of my most-favorite friends ever!
As for John Parker...he never got into mat riding. But he was in his full glory that night in Ventura. He brought together two people he knew would synergize (Max and me) and there was nothing in it for himself besides having fun. That's what makes Parker, Parker.
Addendum, 10/09/08: One more quick John Parker story... This was right after Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America because some old photos of her were published in Penthouse. John, Mat Max and I were sitting in the pits at the now defunct Oxnard kart track. The offending issue of Penthouse started making the rounds during lunch. Parker looks it over, takes a bite out of his hoagie, then says, "Yeah, well, she's still Miss America to me..."