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Day 18: Jason Tracy’s Cosmic Otter

In 1999, I moved to O’Fallon, IL (just a few miles from St. Louis) to open a yo-yo store in a local mall. What followed was one of the worst years of my life. Not to be overly dramatic, but it really just sucked. I lived out of my car, a Chevy Cavalier, for the first month and a half, and spent every day working my kiosk from 9am till 9 pm (except on Sundays 10am-6pm). I regretted moving from Chattanooga (my favorite little city in nation), especially when St. Louis’s long hot summer kicked in.

The humidity was so hot, that when I opened the door of my house to leave for work every morning, it felt like I was opening the door to an oven. The heat would press against me and I’d brace myself for another long day standing at a mall kiosk.

At least there was a Krispy Kreme across the street from my house.

One day I heard about the upcoming Van’s Warped Tour. I found out that many yo-yo companies would have pros there and there would be a performance stage set up and everything, so I bought a ticket… I think it was $60 bucks (or something crazy expensive), but I was able to find someone to work for me that day so I decided to splurge and attend.

It was another hot day, but I was really excited about seeing the pros, it was looking like it would the best thing to happen all year. When I pulled up to the event though, I was shocked to find out that there was only one parking lot and it was $25 to park. I had never been to an outdoor arena before, so I didn’t know this was really common. I literally had no money that day. Not in my bank account, not in my wallet, nothing. I had even spent the last of the change I could find on gas. So I had to pull away and find a parking spot at some apartments about a mile or two away and walked to the arena.

It turns out the land all around the arena (except for the parking lot) was swampland. I had no idea that they had swamp land in the Midwest, but soon I was knee deep in it. Finally I made it to the front gate and saw one of the kids from my yo-yo club sadly sitting against the wall by the ticket booth. They wouldn’t let him in with his yo-yo bag… a problem I soon came up against too.

“I’m sorry, those could be weapons. You’ll have to leave them in your car.” The door person said. I replied, “But Tommy was dropped off by his mom an hour ago and my car is parked a few miles away.” He gave me a look like I was full of bull, so I pointed to my muddy shoes as proof of my journey. “Look that’s not my problem, leave ’em outside then.” he said. We asked to see his boss, so he had us wait in an in between holding area for her. She ended up saying the same thing he did, and would not let us in with our bags full of yo-yos. She too suggested that we just leave them outside. I told her we were special performers and she could find someone from the yo-yo stage to verify that, so she left supposedly to look for the yo-yoers inside the event.

After sitting in that space for about an hour, I spotted a gap were there were no guards, so Tommy and I made a dash into the arena. Three hours after I had left my car we were finally in the Vans Warped Tour and on our way to see the pros. I was thinking about the expression “nothing good comes easily” and was starting to get pumped up again about being there.

This was the year following the big yo-yo boom, so all the companies had crazy money to spend on promotions. When a chance to exhibit and travel with the Warped tour came along, Duncan, Yomega, BC Yo-Yos, Henrys, ProYo and Fiend Magazine all jumped on it, making the Fiend North America Tour of 1999 the largest multi sponsored event in yo-yo history. The pros on hand were Steve Brown, Chris Neff, Mark McBride, Jason Tracy, Julius Szakolczai, Nick VanDerSchie, and Lester the duck.

When we found the yo-yo pros though, we soon realized that we weren’t the only ones effected by the heat and humidity. The energy at the yo-yo stage was low. At this point on the tour, I believe that folks were starting to wear on each others nerves, people were getting tired of travelling, string burns and aches were starting to develop, etc. So there was very little actual yo-yoing going on or near the yo-yo stage. Instead, the pros just seemed to grab the mic and find different ways to get girls to lift up their shirts in exchange for stickers. Julius, who is always a pro, was the only guy I can remember getting on stage and yo-yoing the whole time we were there. We did get to meet all of the pros though, and I recall Mark showing us how he made his extra long string, but most of the folks didn’t seem all that talkative. So after all of the crap we went through, Tommy and I just ended up yo-yoing with each other instead of with any of the pros.

Plenty of stickers were given out, and at some point Jason Tracy came over to us and gave us some of his beautiful Cosmic Otter yo-yos. The Cosmic Otters came in a few colors, my favorite is the “dreamsicle” one pictured above and below.

After an hour or two, Tommy said it was time for his mom to pick him up, so we said goodbye to some of the pros and I walked out with him. Unfortunately, after all the troubles of getting to the pros, the whole thing ended up being a total bust, I couldn’t have felt any sadder. While walking out the front gate I bumped into one of the pros that we didn’t see inside the event. His name was “The Lao”. The Lao worked for Infinite Illusions in Florida. He did yo-yo a little, but throwing tops was really his thing. The Lao and I totally hit it off, immediately feeding off each other and making up new tricks or variations of both yo-yo and top tricks. We hung out for at least an hour, it was great. The best part of the whole Warped Tour for me, happened outside the same gate that wouldn’t let us in with our yo-yos earlier. Man, if I would have known that I could have saved $60 bucks and had enough money to eat.

As I look now at my orange and white Cosmic Otter, it always brings back memories of one of the lowest points in my life. The crappy day, living in a city I hated, being flat broke with all of my money tied up in my store, eventually losing all that money because the store couldn’t even break even the year after the boom, etc. It’s weird to look at a yo-yo and be filled with this feeling of regret. It’s as if when I look at it, I’m looking into a crystal ball and seeing myself saying “Sure I’ll move to St. Louis, it sounds like a fun opportunity.”

Joe Mitchell has some awesome photos from the Philly stop here.

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