by Baca Loco
Since every baller embellishes a paintball story or two I’m comfortable playing the storytelling gray–and (this time) it’s not a tourney versus rec or scenario thing. Besides, this is the story of the first time paintball was what I had imagined it might be. And more, as it turned out. No, I’m not trying to justify playing the gray; I’m explaining how this can be called the first time even after admitting that technically, it wasn’t. (Huh?) This was the time that kept me coming back.
But just so you know how this might have gone: The real first time was at an unsupervised and unorganized field in the spare lot of a gun store and shooting range where the owner was trying to take advantage of what he hoped was the first wave of the next fad. The guns were beat up Tracers and the paint was horrendous. What’s a chronograph? There were no referees, no safety briefing (unless stay away from the eastern side of the field where you might accidentally shoot some people’s houses counts)–nothing but a half dozen utter newbs and a narrow sandy field thick with briars and pine. And I’ve no intention of telling that story because there’s nothing really to tell. We were there because my teenage son bought a paintball magazine and began eating, sleeping, dreaming paintball before he began playing. The only effect that attempt at playing paintball had was not to dampen his enthusiasm but temper my expectations. More telling, despite the miserable circumstances and conditions, my son came away from it convinced that paintball was completely (and totally) awesome.
After doing some research on local playing fields and buying a gun, a fixed barrel Phantom pump, and gear we tried again. The “local” field I’d decided on was about a ninety minute drive but they’d been the only one to have a website with pictures and player endorsements and compared to the gun range it seemed so professional I figured it would be worth it. The entrance was about a half mile off the interstate. There was a small sign, a rancher’s gate and a narrow winding dirt road that disappeared beyond the surrounding trees. Down the road there was no formal parking but spaces around a half dozen or so covered tables. Most of the tables looked like they’d been hammered together out of scrap. Away from the tables were a pair of port-o-johns and past the tables was a small trailer and hut. Around some of the tables players dressed in olive drab and camo were talking and preparing for another game. We chose an empty table feeling conspicuously out of place. Even so, the scent of turned earth, vegetation and wood smoke seemed perfect, as if this was plainly where paintball was meant to be played as the popping of distant markers mingled with the barking of a pair of dogs chained by the hut proved. We checked in, signed our waivers, got a friendly safety briefing and by the time that was completed we were more than anxious to get playing even though–or maybe because–we had no real idea what was coming next.
I still remember that first game at a real, honest-to-goodness paintball field as if I was observing myself from a distance. And I felt that way at the time too though I can’t explain why. I wasn’t excited, I was intrigued. I wasn’t expectant, I was curious. Until the whistle blew. And everything changed. Prior to the game the refs had explained the field for the newcomers and encouraged everyone to take a lot of ground quickly. Not knowing any better I did exactly what they suggested and ran until I realized paintballs were zinging all around me and I threw myself down behind a tree that didn’t come close to offering real cover. Fortunately there was also a depression in the ground on my side of the slim trunk and I pressed my face up into the exposed roots applying the ostrich principle (If I can’t see them they can’t shoot me) for all I was worth as paint continued to whiz by and smack the tree and ground around me. Suddenly paintball became immediate and real, visceral and intensely exciting. So much so I wanted to laugh out loud. I quickly realized that while I wasn’t a sitting (or laying) duck I wasn’t secure either and that was great, too. It meant I had to do something besides not get shot. (Although being at risk and continuing to survive was a big part of the thrill.) I called out to my teammates and discovered most of them were quite a distance behind me. That first time it didn’t bother me in the least. They were the ones missing out. Slowly the game began to unfold. I tried to use my forward position to relay information. To spot the opposition’s positions. I worried about being flanked because my depression wouldn’t save me then. I tried to bring my gun to bear but I didn’t try too hard because I didn’t want the game–this first real experience of paintball–to end. I knew I didn’t have the skills to compete and it didn’t matter. All I wanted was to keep playing. And fourteen years later I’m still hooked though my relationship to the game has evolved pretty dramatically over the years.
There you have it. One story out of a million. What’s yours?