“Too Tall Hall”
Ron Hall Was A Friend Of Mine
by Reviewer Rob
It was 2 a.m. in Venice Beach one chilly November night last year with no one on the boardwalk except a lone artist painting a canvas and a skateboarder cruising down the concrete strip, sleeping bag under his arm. I walked out to the top of the sand berm at the high tide line and took a photo with my phone for Instagram. The next morning Tony, a highschool buddy from San Diego I hadn’t seen in 20 years, posted a comment on it: “That’s my neighborhood.”
We messaged back and forth. Found out he’s shacked up with a woman in L.A. who’s a former lead singer. Tony and I made tentative plans to meet for a surf. A while later my phone rang. Tony wanted to get more info about what I was doing up in L.A.. Small talk drifted and we began talking about our mutual friends from when we were kids.
Tony asked, “Remember Ron Hall?” Of course I did. Ron and his older brother Jimmy lived a few block over from me and I knew him from seventh grade until 11th grade when things began spinning out for me due to my mom’s shattered nerves after my dad passed away when I was sixteen.
Tony had been telling his girlfriend about his friend Ron he knew in highschool that had played for the Tampa Bay Buccanneers when she said she had known a guy named Ron who had played pro football when she was partying down in Costa Rica and he “was a freak,” partying like crazy and having sex with his girlfriend while people would watch them. I began to laugh at this, thinking ‘good for Ron.’ But Tony continued: “So I looked him up on the internet — and he died.”
For a moment I was speechless, briefly thrown into a mild form of shock. Ron Hall had always seemed indestructible to me, like a mountain or something. There’s people you expect to die young. Ron wasn’t one.
When I knew Ron he was a tall, goofy guy with lots of natural athleticism — pretty sure he was well over six-feet tall before starting highschool. My group of friends back then, me, Ron, Tony Balona, the O’Dell brothers and Clark Nelson, all learned to surf together at the about same time, in the summer between eighth and ninth grade. Because of his sheer physicality Ron was a kind of guidepost that you looked to of how to be tough. Clark remembers Ron was a thrillseeker always up for adventure, and almost nothing was too crazy for him to try. I once saw Ron eat a whole bowl of breakfast cereal with cranberry juice instead of milk!
Another time Ron and I were going to the annual Halloween “Scream In The Dark” haunted house event in Escondido to try and meet girls when a large racing tire came off a muscle car that was speeding on the opposite side of the street that San Pasqual High School is on — someone must have left the lug nuts loose, possibly as a prank. It was night time and Ron had just lit up a joint and we were passing it back and forth. Then there was a loud “clang!” followed by a screeching of metal on asphalt across the street that caught our attention. Ron and I watched the driver of the car hold on to the steering wheel with a look of intensity on his face equal to the one of amazement on ours I’m sure.
Then I heard a faint “ping – Ping – PING” getting louder, which was the sound of the detached wheel from the muscle car coming closer. The black blur flew past me at speed, slammed into Ron’s thigh with a sickening loud thump and sent him spinning though the air. He landed a dozen feet away. The wheel, now visible, sailed down the road, bouncing high and almost striking the light of a street lamp as it flew underneath it. I never saw where the driver of the car stopped but Ron was unable to walk or even stand, his leg broken in more than one place. After that he was in a half-body-cast for I think at least six month, and he ran with a limp for a year after that when a car stopped for us hitchhiking. In spite of this he still recovered to play varsity football by his senior year. Ron was tough.
During the late 1970’s there was a long drought in Southern California that ended with a winter of torrential rains. San Pasqual river in Escondido filled the dry lake basin at Lake Hodges to the brim of the dam for the first time in years. The roaring river feeding it could be seen from the back porch of the custom home Ron’s parents built a year or so before in the avocado tree studded hills above the valley. So it might have been Ron’s idea what to do next.
I asked Clark Nelson to recount a good story about Ron. “Almost the best story,” Clark said, “was when we had my mother drop us off near the Wild Animal Park and we got in the rubber raft and rode the rapids all the way down to Lake Hodges and the 15 freeway. We were dodging barbed wire fences, downed electric lines, and floating dead cattle all the way down. It was very dangerous however we didn’t consider that at the time. That was the year that the great California drought broke.” This was after a rocky start to their friendship a few years before in middle school. Clark was always up for a fight and according to him he had gotten into a scrap with Ron’s older brother Jimmy and had knocked his tooth out. This lead to Ron “picking” on him on the school bus ride home one day.
“I felt cocky and confident that when we got off the school bus I would beat him down,” said Clark. “After being knocked to the ground probably more than six times and getting back up my confidence was waning. The ice-cream man was watching the fight from his truck and was yelling to stay down. He was right to tell me to stay on the ground … Shortly after that we became fast friends. ”
Everyone had good memories about adventurous hijinx with Ron. “We used to get together and do fantastically stupid things,” Clark said, “like lighting gasoline-soaked tennis balls on fire and bouncing them all around, hitting fences and his house, leaving a trail of fire wherever it went. Strapping model rocket engines on anything with wheels. They would fly some of the time and roll some of the time but always end up smashing. We would break into his parent’s liquor cabinet several times a week and steal just enough liquor from each bottle so that it wouldn’t be missed. Which typically would be brought into junior high eighth grade and drank in the bathroom just prior to going into main class. I really have no idea how we got away with that. Smelling like tequila-vodka-whiskey-rum and liqueur all at the same time.” The other thing was, before we had driver’s licenses we’d always find ways to get to the beach which was twenty miles away. “We spent a lot of time hitchhiking to the beach and surfing. It really is incredible that we did not get into any real kind of trouble,” said Clark.
That’s right. It’s incredible. We spent a lot of days in the late 1970’s hitchhiking from inland North County to the beach with our surfboards. People would stop for us, as we stood with out thumbs out and our surfboards leaning up next to a telephone pole nearby. Then they’d let us pile them in their cars and give us a free ride. The late 1970’s was a much different era. We’d get construction workers to buy us sixpacks of beer from any local 7-11 or liquor store along the way that was available. It was with Ron that I had my first beer, during the summer between ninth and tenth grade, Schlitz Malt Liquor from a sixer of 16 ounce cans, if I recall. I think he’d learned the get-someone-to-buy-for-us-beers trick from his brother Jimmy. At night we’d sleep on the beach in sleeping bags near a fire ring next to our surfboards.
We also had something else in common other than girls, surfing and getting stoned. We held a disdain for jocks. As teenagers, you may remember, everyone is cloistered into groups, and we definitely were not in the jock group. According to Tony and Clark, Ron was being constantly asked by the coach at San Pasqual High to be on the school football team. He finally did join in his senior year and upon graduation immediately received a full college scholarship and lived a surfer’s dream playing for the University of Hawaii. Then he played tight end for Tampa Bay and Detroit.
“Too Tall Hall” (a name Clark gave him) was making touchdowns on national television while the rest of us were getting drunk in bars back home in San Diego. Ron was a formidable boozer as well as a star athlete so I’m sure be balanced his work on the gridiron with hard partying. He was more than tough enough to pull that off and also, well pretty smart like that. He knew a lot of tricks. Tony Balona recounted more common knowledge and childhood memories with me over the phone that day last November, when he added a strange anecdote: his girlfriend had bumped into Ron in Jaco Beach in Costa Rica in his post-football career life. After playing professionally for nine years and recovering from more leg injuries Ron came back home to San Diego where his mom lived. I think Mrs. Hall had moved to Rancho Santa Fe by then. One summer day Clark saw him carding patrons at the door to the beer garden at the Del Mar Fair. Clark said he didn’t recognize Ron at first though. His face had changed, gotten beefier, he said, more “square”. Something about his brow was different, too. And Ron was even huger. “There might have been some chemical enhancement,” Clark surmised. Later on Clark added that this was “pure conjecture”. But given the era and Ron’s pro career it would be assumed he had plenty of reason to juice. It was Ron who noticed his highschool buddy after over 13 years or so and struck up a brief conversation as he checked Clark’s id. Then they parted.
Tony’s story had a plot twist. Some time after this chance meeting with Clark, Ron must have left for Costa Rica. Tony’s girlfriend said that in 2002 she and a friend of hers, also a “cute blonde,” stayed with “this American ex-football player at his house” in Jaco Beach. His name was Ron Hall and they’d met him in a sushi bar. He invited them to his house with his girlfriend and spent the next two days doing lots of coke and inhalants, she said. Once he had them wait outside a pharmacy while he went in to get a shot of Demerol for pain due to old non-specific football injuries. Apparently opioids are easy to get there and they’ll inject them right into you inside the pharmacy. “Ron was partying like a freak, doing lots of coke and having her and her friend watch him have sex with his girl,” Tony said, laughing. “Ron was a FREAK!”
Yeah, although I never saw that behavior when we were kids it kinda sounds like Ron, I guess. He was a wild one and not afraid of much. Then Tony said that after his girl told him this old story he ran a search for Ron’s name and to his surprise found out – he’d died. It seems Demerol, coke and booze for extended periods might not be good for your health, even for a mountain of a man like Ron. But then I thought: lots of drugs, sun and surf, plentiful tourist girls and a cheap economy – sounds like Ron found his slice of paradise before he died at age 43 in 2007, “of natural causes,” according to his Wikipedia page. For a guy who I remember had always liked to say “Hey you only live once so why not fuck up?”, he seems to have gotten it kinda right.
From the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ website: “One of the best tight ends in Buc history and one of the most popular players during his seven seasons in Tampa Bay. Played briefly with the Lions on leaving Tampa after the 1993 season, seeing action in 19 games across two seasons in Detroit. His 209 receptions still rank 11th in franchise history and 2nd only to Jimmie Giles amongst Buc tight ends and any all-time Tampa Bay roster would have to include Hall as Giles’ back-up. Famously used to walk across hot coals as his party trick when at university in Hawaii. Died in May 2007 from natural causes at his home in Costa Rica.”