The MTV series Rob & Big was like an episode of MTV Cribs, except you never left. You didn’t want to leave.
Show co-stars and collectively lovable knuckleheads, Rob Dyrdek and Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin, were just too damned fun to hang out with.
It was perhaps a natural progression for Dyrdek, the skateboarder who went pro at 16. He had grown accustomed to commissioning fellow camera-weilding skaters to film him. Those gliding Spielberg’s couldn’t resist catching lightning in a bottle at every trick Dyrdek executed on Ohio skate parks.
Landing in L.A. not too much later, Dyrdek parlayed that skate-umentary practice into the everyday of reality TV, which was booming circa the mid-2000’s. In between impromptu skate sessions, Dyrdek and Big Black imaginatively unlocked the fun at every turn, by a collaboration borne of mutual respect for one another.
Two peas in a pod of pure, positive attitude
Rolling on 22’s, the dual, Zen mind saw promise in every character they met, down whatever path their murdered-out UAV would take them.
That was their mantra. From 2006-08, when the show aired, a drowning American economy had near seized into a doldrum of prosperity for much of the middle and lower classes. I was preparing my thesis in journalism. Our professor had suggested the entire class produce content for a news website that would focus on young professionals striving to survive in an unyielding market at most ventures. College grads were settling for part-time jobs, over-qualified, underpaid and marred by impossible debt from what seemed then like pipe dreams of success. They had gambled on themselves and had lost. Now, the federal banks were looking to collect. By any means necessary—an indentured servant barista, for instance, shilling double-hot lattes to the Baby Boomers, with long-established equity, who could afford them. Hey, at least Starbucks offered healthcare.
I chose to entitle my thesis, “Do Work!” It followed two contractors aggressively seeking residential construction work throughout the South Shore of Eastern Massachusetts. They were brothers. They were independent businessmen. They’d buy vacant lots and build houses on spec (speculation that, once complete or near completed, the house would sell to a would-be homeowner). Just like so many college grads desperately searching for income, Brothers Jared and Shane Crowley were also gambling on themselves. They weren’t sitting around their Marshfield office waiting for incoming client calls. They were hitting the streets in their trailored red pickup truck. Picking up jobs. Specking out houses and building them and selling them. They were, in my eyes, the embodiment of ‘Do work.’
Of course, I had gleaned this from the do-or-die attitude promoted by Mr. Dyrdek and Mr. Boykin. Those two had neither the time nor the luxury to think, to sit and ponder in these quicksand times. Sink or swim. Do or die. Do work.
A cross-country road trip soon followed my graduation, upon completion of that thesis (which earned an ‘A,’ by the way). We took the scenic route in a Subaru, first dipping down into Washington, D.C., then to Arkansas, clear across Texas, stopping in Austin and El Paso. We wedged the Grand Canyon in there. We completed the trip rolling into Hermosa Beach, in Southern California, for a night, ultimately reaching our destination in The Valley, Burbank. My colleague had enlisted in an L.A. Emerson satellite program for film. I was just along for the ride and flew back east a few days later.
I mention this anecdote not as some acknowledgment of closure having completed and submitted my ‘Do work’ thesis successfully. That’s merely coincidental. You see, one particular garment had protected me this entire road trip across 3,000 miles. It was a ‘DO WORK!’ hooded sweatshirt. Big Black’s unmistakable face filled out the ‘O’ in “WORK!” His official signature, “Christopher ‘Big Black’ Boykin,” lined the bottom of his most popular catchphrase. Its fabric emulated Big Black’s male stripper name, “Black Lavender.” From head-to-waste, I was draped in crushed velvet every time I donned the garment.
That is, until Hermosa Beach. We stayed at a guy’s house my friend and travel companion had known from back home. All that I know is that I slid in with the hoodie hanging on the handlebar of my roller luggage. We strolled into his room, slept over. When we left early the next morning, the coveted sweatshirt was nowhere to be found. Had her friend stolen it? Could the smooth, black velour have slipped from my luggage’s grasp on an errant turn navigating the outside stucco hallways of the Spanish Mission-style apartment building?
I felt true loss that day, en route to L.A. True loss that I hope to regain, by a very simple, but profound idea—perhaps even what that hoodie represented.
From the lips of Dyrdek himself:
“The number one rule: Always surround yourself with good people.”
Since that fateful West Coast day a decade ago, I’ve scoured the Internet for that hooded sweatshirt. That particular design has been discontinued. And lesser search results take its place on every Google query I’ve ever performed. No matter. It’s not about the hoodie. It’s about Big Black. It’s about Rob Dyrdek. And, most importantly, it’s about Rob & Big. For three MTV seasons, they captured lightning in a bottle by surrounding themselves with good people and positive ideation.
That’s a principle I won’t forget, a Black Lavender ideal I can’t possibly lose. Through the teachings of Rob & Big, I know that the crushed velvet velour of true creation, compassion and empathy folds around every bend. As long as you’re looking. As long as you’re surrounded with good people.
Don’t relent. Do work.