It's just past 12 noon and the mind-numbing aromas of roasted chicken and cheese-smothered macaroni tickle the nostrils. Empty tins are being filled with popular menu items that can be recognized blocks away.
Soon, hundreds of panting fans will be watching the celebrity of their dreams sign autographs, all while enjoying a feast. This is no routine Thursday for Boston Market CEO George Michel and his fellow journeymen.
The brief morning tranquility of Ridge Road in North Arlington, New Jersey comes to a screeching halt as his arrival nears. Shrieks of teenage excitement flood the crammed parking lot, passersby look on with curiosity, management begins to sweat. Like Ali G, Ryan Sheckler is "Indahouse."
His free-flowing blonde hair is stuffed beneath his grey Red Bull snapback, his ears stomped with thick diamond studs. A pro skater who doubles as a teenage heartthrob, Sheckler seems unfazed by the bevy of screaming girls and inspired bros. It's just another day in the life of the San Clemente-bred boarder.
But today isn't about Sheckler becoming the youngest pro skater to ever win gold at the X Games (2004), nor is it about his kickflip over a Big Apple taxi. Today is about mashed potatoes.
"Once you find those good mashed potatoes somewhere, it never leaves your brain," claims the enthusiastic eater.
And while the taters may be magical, the memories are even more fulfilling. "The best memories, dude," he says. "And then every time you sit down and you get that plate in front of you, you're just like, ‘Oof!’…you just get excited."
His genuine thrill when speaking about Boston Market is naturally enjoyed most by Michel, who could hardly contain his vibrant smile. According to Michel, Sheckler was recently quoted as saying his perfect last meal would be Boston Market. Those intriguing words provoked Michel to make a call, in hopes of colliding with an athlete who defined what the restaurant chain is all about, a healthy lifestyle.
A partnership was sparked.
On Thursday, August 23rd, the time had finally arrived for the donation. Sheckler signed autographs and smiled for fans lined up around the corner, took photographs and naturally ate "free food, yeah!", as he yelled excitedly before filling his plate. "He sent me this amazing card that says I can get food whenever I want for free, which is crazy," says the cheerful boarder. "I couldn't even believe it."
But the highlight of the day was Michel's donation of $10,000 to the Sheckler foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping children with serious illness and action-sport athletes with severe injuries. Or, as Sheckler puts it, dedicated to helping "everyone." People helping people, it's powerful stuff.
Sheckler may play the part of confident celebrity, but beneath the surface is a philanthropic optimist simply looking to have a good time and help the world. He's been called a sellout, a television star, a business mogul. Yet, there's something about his radiating innocence that sticks with those who give him a chance to speak.
He's just enjoying all the world's flavors.
But don't fool his cherubic charm for weakness. "I've broke this elbow like five or six times, this one, four times," he says as he nonchalantly points to each arm. "Actually," as he begins to reminisce, "my foot injury was the worst...I separated my first and second metatarsal...a Lisfranc injury, I was out for 10-and-a-half months," he says. "Definitely the gnarliest one."
It's Sheckler's honesty and colorful vocabulary that keep the world inspired, almost in shock that such love for humanity exists.
At 22 years old, when most kids his age are anxiously searching for jobs and praying they can escape their mother's basement, Sheckler has already traveled the world, starred on his own television show, The Life of Ryan, and taken the skating world by storm.
As Sheckler puts it, "the world is just waiting to be skated."
The only boarder to land every trick he tried at the summer X-Games in 2003, Sheckler has been revered for his rhythmic style and fast flow. Bailing doesn't seem part of his repertoire.
With the Street League Skateboarding Championships taking place this past weekend, Sheckler clearly had a stacked schedule. But that didn't stop him from joining fellow phenom Nyjah Huston and mentoring youth on a Street League course. Something about helping young kids and eating quality mashed potatoes has this star swirling with cheer.
In hopes of reaching future boarders, Sheckler said, "have fun man, just have fun with it, understand you'll fall a lot and it will be difficult," says the seasoned boarder, "but you'll only get better."
Beneath the glistening surface is a maturing young man who just wants to make his dog fly and eat some free chicken. He's simply living the dream.
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