Authors: Mat Hoffman,Mark Lewman
WITH MARK LEWMAN
The Ride of My Life
Geovanna Teresa Papa, AKA Joni Hoffman.
[FOR JONI HOFFMAN. I MISS YOU, MOM.]
Austin, Texas 1986. It was a demo for the Texas AFA—one of the first shows outside of the Edmond Bike Shop and Mountain Dew shows I was asked to ride in.
My dad’s boyhood home. The only thing I remember about this house when we visited my grandparents were Raggedy Ann 8 Andy dolls. They kept me entertained on our visits.
My dad, Matthew Hoffman, is the original take charge, do-it-yourself guy. He grew up with nothing. Dad’s family were hardworking, salt-of-the-earth midwestern folk, but they were superpoor. The “House of Hoffman” was literally a shack in a field—no plumbing or doors; it was barely a step above camping. My father quickly learned that determination was the way to overcome hardship. As is the case with young people who possess a lot of raw willpower, my dad clashed with authority on occasion. He was not really a juvenile delinquent, but definitely someone with a defiant, reckless streak inside. “Never back down” was his modus operandi. When he was eighteen years old, he’d do stuff like bet his friends a quarter that he could lie across the hood of a car and hold onto the windshield wipers while one of the guys drove it down the street at one hundred miles per hour. Although cashing in on these wagers didn’t make him much money, it is how he earned his reputation: wild man.
My mother’s family comes from the southern part of Italy. Both her parents’ families jumped a boat for America, Land of Opportunity, and wound up in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, an industrial mining town. My grandmother’s family lived on top of the hill on High Street, which was the prosperous section of town. My grandfather’s family came from the “other” side of the tracks in Ridgeway. He met my grandmother and the two courted, which started a long tradition in my family of proper, respectable young ladies falling for disreputable young men. My grandfather, Al Papa, began to get restless in Ridgeway, but he had no money to leave town. He hopped a boxcar and rode the rails west, leaping off in Elkhart, Indiana. A small Italian community took him in. It took Al two weeks to get himself settled and then he went to a used car lot to test-drive one of their cars. He cleverly unhooked the odometer and headed back to Ridgeway to give my grandmother a plush ride to their new home. Young, married, and on their own for the first time, they stayed in Elkhart and started a family. My mom, Geovanna Teresa Papa, was the youngest of their three children. She grew up in a house flush with ethnic pride, old country traditions, and heritage.
Geovanna Teresa Papa, AKA Joni Hoffman.
What more can I say about this photo? My mom’s skating! I’m so psyched I found this one.
Matthew Hoffman, looking suave and debonair.
Dad met my mom when he was a cook in an Elkhart restaurant—he was seventeen, she was sixteen. He loaned his car to a buddy in exchange for getting set up on a date with her. Almost immediately their relationship aroused the suspicion of Mom’s father. Her dad did everything possible to discourage the two teenage lovebirds from seeing each other. My grandfather tried intimidation, Italian style, to convince my dad to back off: “If you don’t stay away from my daughter, I’ll have your legs broken.” But my mom and dad were in love, and that’s a hard force to disrupt. When their love was forbidden, that was the proverbial gasoline on the fire.
My parents got married in a secret ceremony in 1962 and hit the road in a beat-up Oldsmobile. My dad’s instructions to the minister were to wait three days before submitting their marriage license, so their names wouldn’t show up in the newspaper until after they had made a clean getaway.
The newly wed Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman left Indiana and made brief detours through Minnesota, then Nebraska, finally stopping at the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma is the dead center of the United States. It’s where the original “forty acres and a mule” concept of post-Civil War American freedom started, and it seemed like the perfect nesting ground. My dad figured that nine hundred miles was enough distance from their past to allow them to start their life together. When my parents settled here, they had nothing but a car, some clothes, and their dreams. There was no turning back; their only option was to make it.
Equipped with an outgoing personality and a drive to succeed, my dad was a natural salesman. He got his break selling hospital supplies for Zimmer, a big distributor of everything from ankle braces to artificial hips. He rolled over whatever stood in his path like a tank, closing sales, earning customers, and reaping plenty of commissions. He became the number one salesman in the country. He had found his true calling, and before long he struck a deal with Zimmer to run a distribution hub in Oklahoma and West Texas. Things were looking up.