A Tribute to Sam Osborne:
Things were looking grim. I was just out college, direction-less, broke, and miserable living with my mom and her douche-y second husband in the unheated spare room, trying to scrape together some money to pursue a vaguely defined ambition “to travel” that was clear I neither had the means or motivation to actually do. The living with mom thing was only supposed to be for 2-3 months before I figured it out, and now I was creeping into month 6 and I knew I needed to get out before I slit my wrists, and a casually offered suggestion from a 75 year old customer whose table I was serving offered an out: “You’re young, you’re in good shape, you should do what my granddaughter did- go wait tables in Mammoth and ski bum for a season.”
Yeah, right, I thought, on my way home from work that day. “ME? SKI BUM?” I thought, nay, chortled to myself. I had skied a total of 12 times my whole life. Unlike most skiers, I did not come from a skiing family, as my family tended to have an aversion to both snow and careers that provided the means to pursue snow sports. Furthermore, I had been competing as a distance runner for the last 8 years, and if there is one thing XC coaches forbid you to do, besides slack on mileage, is skiing. I had snuck a few days in here and there, gleaned some technique from my bourgeois (some kids had all the luck) friends who had grown up skiing, but I was not the demographic who is going to make a life decision and commit a whole year to something I had done a dozen times at most, something I liked but certainly didn’t love. I didn’t feel I was the prototypical kid who grew up skiing, watching Warren Miller films, and dreaming of the day he could tell school to fuck itself and go do what he really wanted and ski all the time.
I could be sure that certainly was not me. What I am, though is a open minded guy with a sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. After my “ME? SKi BUM?” moment, I recalled an article I had read in an outdoors magazine at least 7 years earlier, before I had ever skied before, by a writer who believed everyone in America, or even the world, should spend a season in a ski town skiing every day before they start their life. He described being broke, eating hotdogs and Ramen 7 nights a week while living in Colorado and never being happier since he could ski every day. He spoke of the freedom of it, the sensual pleasure of skiing powder, and the simplicity of a pared-down life before embarking on his career, family, and all the other aspects of the rising tide of cement that forms around oneself to anchor a person into adult life.
I had never skied, but that article stuck with me, and at that moment it spoke up. I needed a change. It was september. Ski season was around the corner. Something new and adventurous beckoned- why not?
Cut to November 3rd, 2001, 6 weeks later. I’m there, desperately looking for a place to live. No one had told me that finding a room in a ski town at the beginning of the season would be hard, so let me tell you: It’s fucking hard. Any place advertised already had 30 applicants before I showed up. I had resorted to walking into random businesses just asking strangers if they had space. The pressure was on- All my stuff is still packed in my car, crashing with a stranger I found in my college’s alumni directory and had never met before showing up to her door 5 days earlier, whose generosity I was beginning to strain, I’m sure, and I needed a solution, fast. A realtor - again, I found my normal non-soliciting self begging a person who sells houses to tell me about renting rooms- I pleaded with suggested something radical…or at least it seemed that way to me: broadcast my needs on the local radio station.
“Huh? The radio station? for an apartment?” She explained that in Mammoth, being such a small town, they had a radio program every day called “Tradio” (ie Trade+ Radio= Tradio). It was a small town craigslist, you know, without the hookers.
I did it, and it was as weird as you could imagine. The guy before me was asking if anyone had found a single ski- describing the length, make, and binding- that had fallen out of his pickup because he forgot to tie it down. He had so much of that particular brand of under-achieving-knuckle-dragging-stoner-on-permanent-vacation that you could practically hear the drooping eyelids and THC residue in his voice. Then it was me- the DJ introduced me, and I couldn’t have sounded more like Brainiac McCollege-Grad. ”Hi, I’m here to ski, I just got out of school, I have a job, I’m nice, and um, really clean.” I lied about the clean part, but figured it couldn’t hurt.
3 days, 3 long, tense, on the brink of homeless days, later I get a call from my future roommate, having never spoked to this person before: “HEY BRO! What’s up Adam, the AD-MAN! So you’re looking for a place to crash? Come by and see me!” Sam lived in a 2-bedroom first-floor condo built in the 70’s, which was also the last time it was remodeled, and was waiting for the season to start because he had a job lined up with the guy who owned the local tubing hill for kids whose parents skied and were sick of spending 120 bucks a day on ski rentals and ski lessons when all the kid wanted to do was slide down a 60 yard snow mound, on their back. Problem is, there was no snow yet, and he was down to, at the age of 48, a total net worth of 900 bucks, and he wouldn’t be able to make his next condo payment (his other asset beside the 900 bucks) unless he took a roommate. Which is why he called me.
As for the place, It was a little funky, but clean, cheap (I think my rent was $475 a month!), and most importantly, available. He was from San Diego, where he grew up surfing, then lived in the hot-dogging 80’s in Steamboat Springs, then back to CA before moving back to mammoth to ski again. Sam was a great roommate, pretty respectful, easygoing, and really nice. He liked Bailey’s, referring to skis as “boards,” referring to himself -as evidenced by the sharpie writing on the back of his ski boots- as “The Oz”. He was from another time, a surfer ski-bum from the old days. He actually had a son who was a year older than me, who was a drummer and did construction. I am not sure what he thought of me- I think he was mostly confused, as I was this athletic, effeminate by his standards, recently out of the hyper-intellectual environment of liberal arts college to a decidedly anti-intellectual California ski town, and I really liked Classical Music which I played constantly. I had just discovered Ravel’s Bolero (You love it or you hate it, I love it) and every time I would play it he would be un-impressed. ”Ravel’s Bolero? Fuck that, BECK’S BOLERO!” At which point he would pop in his cassette tape of Jeff Beck’s Bolero from 1964. So, we balanced each other out.
My personal favorite detail about him, which I have since integrated into my own vernacular, was how Sam referred to ANYTHING good as “Tits,” e.g. “I was skiing underneath Chair 22 and the snow was just TITS” or waking up to his discovery of a half full bottle of Bailey’s in the cupboard above the fridge followed by him yelling, at full volume, “Titties!” at 7 AM. God Bless ‘im.
I’ve since moved on, back to the city, pursuing comedy and writing, and now even have my own apartment I found without the help of a radio station. Sam, wherever you are, I hope you have the cash to get a sweet new set of hardcore GS boards and that the powder this year is as Titties as the snow you deserve.