From The Mag

Racquetball, Anyone?

Racquetball, anyone? by Moe Viletto | ‎
Written by Moe Viletto

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Originally printed in issue #39 (January 2013) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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This is a true story. No embellishing was required. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

It was hot summer nights that August in ‘92 and the building construction boom was slowing down. The five skyscrapers that had been under construction for the last three years were topped out and becoming tougher and tougher to gain access to. A small group of us had made hundreds of jumps from these lovely man-made mountains. The tallest one soared to over a grand. I made 30 from this baby. My mentor made 52.

Gaining access is now going to take some work and creativity. My old long time jumpin’ buddy Strech was downtown on a weekday and went into an already up and running eight-cornered building to have a look-see. He managed to take the two elevators to the roof access and found not only an unlocked door, but it was propped wide open. A bit of recon, noting the handmade signs the construction crew had set up on all the faces, told him the Native Indians were hired to re-caulk the marble face of this beauty. The roof was scattered with all types of tools, ropes, rigging, and insulation. These guys were going to be here for a while. Strech powowed up with me and three other good buds.

Blain grew up in BASE during the Carl Boenish era and was considered one of the top BASE experts of the city for many years. This kind family man helped to mentor me in this era of pioneering BASE.

Schtick was a very sharp student of mine who had some Hollywood notoriety. We would be putting this to use as part of our plan to get to the roof. He went into the building the next day and walked up to the guard desk to check the directory. He noticed a real estate company named Lyon And Lyon on the 38th floor. If we ran into trouble, Schtick would be looking to buy some property and we would just be tagging along after a game of racquetball. Our running joke was Schtick was gonna “buy the farm.”

The fifth member on our mission to steal a little altitude was Johan, who at the time was a college film student trailing me and doing a documentary on BASE jumping. He was going to sneak in with us and shoot first light video jumps of Strech and Schtick. Blain and I were on probation for molesting buildings in this city for years so we would jump at night if conditions allowed. Johan would film and hide under an air conditioner and then sneak back out of the building the next day.

After another meeting we planned on dressing as if we were returning from playing racquetball. This allowed us to carry gym bags to stash our gear and other survival gear as we planned on staying on the roof from Friday night to Monday morning if need be, since there would be no construction work over the weekend. We also brought construction hats and work shirts to change into so we would blend in during the day. Three days’ worth of camp stove fuel, food, water, reading material, and music topped it all off. Oh, and of course racquetball rackets purposely exposed in the side pockets of our gym bags which hid our rigs. After two days of fine tuning our plan we were off to the big city.

Adorned in disguise number one with sweat band, ear buds, tennis shorts, and shoes we split into two groups at the last moment thinking we looked too obvious. Probably not a good idea but we were sketchin’ a bit. Blain, Schtick, and I went in first followed by Strech and Johan. We went straight to the elevator, hit the top floor button and we were off.

When the doors opened we would have to transfer over to another elevator that went to the roof. And when the doors did open, the chief engineer was standing there, hands on hips and blurting, “Where are you guys going?” Damn, we were all so surprised that each of us blurted out a different floor number and stuttered around. “Let’s go down to the guard desk,” he said sternly and got on the elevator. He worked his way to the corner next to the control panel and hit the down button. Fuck. This is NOT the way I intended on going down.

Suddenly the elevator stopped before we got to the first floor and the door opens and there stood Strech and Johan, filming no less. Before we could warn them of the engineer they squeezed in and down we went. When the doors opened, Hollywood Schtick and the engineer went over to the guard desk. Strech and Johan went into a concession store and Blain and I walked straight out of the building. Our actor boy was choking. He couldn’t remember the name of the realty company. Strech wandered over and helped. How could he not remember Lyon and Lyon? Just keep lyin’ and lyin’!

The guard had remembered Schtick from days before when he did the recon and showed him on the directory where to go. He asked, “Know where you’re going now?”

Everyone got back on the elevator and roofed out. Except for Blain and me, who were standing across the street making a plan to do another building we knew the ropes on. Just then a compact yellow truck pulled up. It was Randy, a skydiver who did courier work in the city. He grinned and asked us what no-good deeds we were up to. We gave him the scoop and he said to hop in the back of the truck. He drove down into the parking garage below our building and backed up to the loading dock right next to an elevator that goes directly to the roof. Thanks Randy!

We expressed it to the top only to find the rest of our crew changing into disguise number two, construction garb. They were setting up camp in front of a huge microwave dish. I laughed and said it was too soon to cook dinner! We all giggled and laughed as we could not believe we all ended up on top. We set up camp near the stairwell next to a huge air conditioner and took time out for a fun game of hackey sack. When the sun set among the big sticks shrouded in pollution we fired up the stove and ate dinner.

PD New Beginning

This building had eight corners. Eight good exit points. Lots of choices. After some assessing we chose our best corner with a nice empty parking lot to land in right next to an alleyway where we could stash our gear and filter in with the homeless after the jump. Fitting in with the homeless would be easy for me because I was homeless. Well, I had been living in a ‘91 Honda Civic for over a year.

Photo courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

What may or may not be a photo of the construction of an 8-cornered building in Los Angeles that Moe Viletto may or may not have jumped from.

But we weren’t going anywhere due to the excessive winds, so we did some interviews for Johan’s documentary, telling stories of the hundreds of jumps we had made from the many buildings surrounding us. And at the same time creating a wealth of evidence for the enemy should they somehow get hold of the video. Around midnight we elected to set up our sleeping areas. Strech was passed out face down in a pile of foam insulation. Schtick was behind the air conditioner using a skull and crossbones flag as a blankie. I was in a large duffle bag with only my head exposed. I could zip up all the way inside if I needed to be invisible. Johan was under a piece of black plastic next to Blain who set up at the top of the stairwell. G’night John Boy … Night Mary Ellen …

At around 2 a.m. I woke to a rope that was striking my face. A night security guard had come to the roof to have a smoke. Blain heard the stairwell door open, jumped up with his rig, and tripped on the rope that was hitting my face. The guard was having trouble seeing after being in a lit stairwell and now in the dark. He was standing only a few feet from the head of Johan who was nestled under the black plastic trying not to breathe.

He shouted to Blain, “What are you doing?” Blain responded, “I can’t tell you.” The guard said, “Come on over here.” Blain replies, “I can’t do that.”

The guard started toward Blain, tripping on the same rope that woke me yelling, “Wait! Wait ! No … No …” This woke Johan and Schtick. Blain bailed over the edge. The guard turned around and bolted down the steps.

I woke Strech and said there was a guard up here and Blain jumped. Then the building alarm went off. We were scrambling in the dark. Rackets, food, and magazines were strewn about as we donned our rigs. Running to our corner we heard sirens in the distance. A firetruck, an ambulance, and a cop showed up. They were looking for the pizza stain on the sidewalk. The guard must have thought it was a suicide.

Schtick, being the showboater, said, “Fuck it. Let’s give ‘em a show.” I said, “Whoa there buddy. We ain’t busted yet.” Blain hadn’t been seen and the cop probably informed the guard that it was more than likely a BASE jumper, as they had seen us regularly in the last three years. But those were buildings that were under construction at the time.

In fact many nights the cops would pull into an adjacent lot and watch. They were used to us as I personally spent three to five nights a week there. One other time a security guard nabbed us sneaking into his building under construction and called the cops. They came and picked us up and dropped us off down the street. “Too much paperwork,” exclaimed the nice officer. I followed with, “Thanks, see ya tomorrow!”

So after finding no splat spot and circling the building once, the vehicles all left the scene. The alarm was still wailing. The winds weren’t good. We all agreed to pick a corner with pilot chutes ready in case the guard came back. We would take the risk and jump in the not-so-good winds to avoid getting busted.

Two hours later the alarm shut off and the wind quit. It was like they were on the same switch. We all moved to our favorite corner and jumped with no issues. Johan spent the night under a running air conditioner wondering what was happening with the sirens. He didn’t know if we got busted or were busted … up. He managed to sneak out at noon with no issues. We later found out that a bank located in our building was robbed the previous day. Probably why the chief engineer was on alert.

We all met up later and wondered what they would think when they found rackets, helmets, food, and the Sunday paper on the roof! Maybe the construction workers had a game of roof racquetball at lunch that Monday.

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