San Diego. El Cortez. Rhino slowed the truck and pulled onto a darkened street. His headlights stabbed the night. We were on a hillside just off the 5 freeway. He pulled to the curb and switched off the engine. Silence. Rhino pointed to our right side where a building loomed behind a large wall. Plywood covered some windows and doorways yawned vacantly at us. We got out of the truck quietly and gathered our things. I had been warned to stealth and secrecy. This was the golden hour. 1:00 am. The night watchman let a few guys ride… it was agreed upon. We went to a hedge area that Rhino directed us to and began scaling up and over a block wall. Scaffolding climbed up into the night above us and we gripped the steel bars and swung down inside the property. Arms reached for skateboards. Helping hands.
We saw the pool spilling out before us. A moon glittered far, far away. Feeble light washed the area. We smiled. This pool looked unreal. Spit gutter perfection. Others had been here before and heavy grind marks were silent testimony to the urban assault. The night wore on. Shadows breathed. Unreality. Everyone felt the eeriness… Once a place of bustle and family respite, the El Cortez was a pale shadow of its former glory. Toilets and bathroom fixtures littered the grounds. Refuse was everywhere. Boards and planks. Construction. A backhoe had torn deep grooves in the pools plaster face. Its end was soon drawing near. I took one last look before climbing back over the wall. It was quite the experience.
Over the following years, the El Cortez was refurbished and reinvigorated. I went and stayed there one night. I drank ice cold Steinlager and washed down a few Percocet. I splashed in the pool and held my feet in Smith grinds on its newly tiled top. I day-dreamed of a better time. Emptiness. Dirt. Abandonment. Paradise. Skate- Ozzie