Happy New Year.
To know where you’re going, you have to know where you have been, so before you look any further, if you have catching up to do, take the time to do it now…
You probably knew it all along, but here it is, the single, most important event to occur in New York City skateboarding from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2009…
1. The TF is born – 2001
This should not be a surprise to anyone; the TF towered over every other skateboard institution in this city from 2002 to 2007. Even when it waned from its glory days of 2002 to 2004, there was hardly a worthwhile competitor to take over its place in levels of sheer influence and power. Obviously the past decade left us with fond memories of learning tricks at Newport, weekday afternoon sessions down the FedEx four-stair, the bench-down-curb at South Street Seaport, dodging pedestrians while skating flat in the back of Union and late-nighters at CBS when most of the ledges were still waxed and broken in, but when we look back at it all, I’m sure most of us (or at least those of us who are sensible) would trade it for a late spring day, a janky yellow flatbar in the shape of a retarded letter U, a foot-high box with red edges, a few 99-cent Arizonas, a heroin-addict passed out to our left, the occasional girl with beautiful legs walking by in a sun dress, and a bunch of kids from Avenue D ready to stab one another over the last remaining Black & Mild in a pack they split.
However, I’ll be the first to admit that I am too young to have appreciated the TF in its heyday. I was there for the second weekend it existed (I missed the first one, sorry) watching Kerel do halfcab heelflip boardslides and Scotty Schwartz running backside feebles for hours upon end. I learned a couple of tricks there, had my first digital camera stolen there, and I even have a five-inch scar on my right shin for the remainder of my life that will be a constant reminder of the TF and what it did for my soul, but I simply was not mature-minded enough to grasp the unbridled level of power that this wonderful baseball diamond riddled with junkies and flatbars had during this decade.
You had to be at least in your twenties to have “got it.” Got just what the TF was, and how grateful you should have been for God putting you on this earth in this specific time period, and in this specific city. We weren’t the Greatest Generation, we weren’t the Baby Boomers, or anything like that, we were the TF generation. With Andrew Brown as my witness, there are still people in their thirties leaving behind six-figure jobs so they could learn backside nosegrind reverts on the TF box at this very point in time, when the TF is less than half the force it once was. That’s how amazing it is.
The following was written by Theodore Barrow in 2004, and it captures the beauty of Tompkins Square Park throughout its prime in a way that I am simply incapable of doing.
There is a park in New York City, a park that I love. I love it more than any other park, or person for that matter, that I’ve ever loved before. It has caused all of the most pivotal moments in my life during the last 3 years, and whether I don’t know if that’s because I’ve never left the park or if rather because all the important things that could ever happen to me have happened in the park, I’m leaning towards the latter.
What, you may be inclined to ask (ignorantly, I might add), is so important, so different, so especial about this little plot of dirt and asphalt between 7th and 10th Streets and Avenue A and B? What is so great about this shitty little park full of junkies, flunkies, yuppies, and puppies that you would get up from wherever you are in the city, be it Central Park West or Prospect Park East, and travel whatever distance you must, on foot, board, or train, a pilgrimage in grime and crills, to pay heed to this seemingly insignificant dirty piece of land with twisted trees and barking dogs?
Why, when there are plenty of other parks in the city? The rolling hills and racial utopia of Prospect Park, the bucolic blue-blooded mystery of Central Park, hell, even the strollers, brokers, and corpulent tourists looking for the World Trade Center in Battery Park would seem better than Tompkins. Why, then do I make this daily pilgrimage? Why, when I lived in Williamsburg and had no job, would I wait an hour for the L train and then walk in the rain to Mogador and eat a breakfast special with my last 7 dollars only to spend the rest of the day languishing on green benches surrounded by the fresh scent of shit and the rotting stench of festering dead squirrels? Why, when I worked full-time on the Upper East Side, would I rush through the underground tunnels of my work, past security checkpoints and door buzzers, until I hit the sidewalk, re-kindling years of L.A. bred road-rage on the sidewalks of Park Avenue, tail-gating septuagenarian plastic surgery disasters in fur coats and black nannies strolling lily-white miniature billionaires, cursing under my breath and nearly slipping in my Gucci shoes to shuffle my way to the subway, waiting in frozen agony in the train, racial epithets and insults pounding through my head as I made my way to my apartment, changed quickly, grabbed my board, jumped back on the subway and as soon as I got off pushed so hard down Avenue A to Tompkins that I now have heel-spurs and a bunion on my back foot. Why did I do this?
Why do I do this now?
In a word: girls. Well, chicks, to be more specific. I did all of this, wasted all of this time, for chicks. Somewhere in the first few weeks or months that I lived in this fair city, I wrongly assumed that Tompkins was full of the hottest chicks in New York. It was near skate shops, bars, and full of chicks. I would skate here, meet girls, and take them to the bars, and I would be very successful at it. I would blaze supermodels that stopped by Tompkins and were so impressed with how easily I landed switch feebles on a foot high flat bar and how nonchalantly I stomped 360 flips. I would get props and they would get wet and we’d all live together happily ever after.
That was my dream. To be honest, Tompkins wasn’t my first choice. At first, I thought that Union Square was the place to meet girls, what with all the model apartments (the mere idea at the time seeming like this heavenly realm of 70’s porn softened light and perky pillow fights) and colleges around, not to mention the Diesel store. But no, after a few nights of sitting on the stairs I realized that not only was I not alone in my quest for procreation with the opposite sex, but everyone else was about 10 years younger than me and homeless, hating their parents and playing hacky-sack, and this truly wasn’t the place for me.
I don’t know why I thought Tompkins would be better. I think I saw a model there once, she was Argentinean, or at least her boyfriend was. He had a thick moustache and a matching stencil on his griptape and he wore camouflage pants, a Hawaiian shirt, and stunk of b.o. She was gorgeous though, and I think it was about 2 years ago that I saw her last, sitting in the dug-out by the baseball diamond, watching her boyfriend skate like some smug heavenly maiden, a queen on her green wooden throne.
Speaking of the baseball diamond, that shit is getting way out of hand. In the first couple of years, there might be one baseball game a week. Now it’s pretty much every day. And that shit sucks when you’re skating and trying to meet girls, because even though we outnumber the baseball players, most of the skaters now are so crack-addicted and weak, so spineless and frail, that we would seriously get our shit served to us if we ever stood up for ourselves. Did I mention the drug problems that the latest group of skaters have all developed? We have motherfuckers nodding off on the benches at twelve in the afternoon, noses bleeding, and constant board-jackings for drugs or whatever. Dudes sleep in the park. It’s trife. But I love it.
I love it so much I want it to die. Jason Jesse said that about skateboarding and I never understood what it meant, but now I do. I hear all the old locals, the “real New Yorkers” who have lived here for more than a decade, back when New York was “dangerous” and Avenue A was “sketchy” and everyone went to the “Tunnel” and did “ecstasy” and “danced around” with “fluorescent colored rave shit on,” all these people with this profound sense of history and loss bemoan the fact that their city has changed. They too love it so much they want it to die. So they make it die in their heads, by comparing what it is now with what they imagined it to have been then.
I look at all the locals, the older locals tattooed and pierced and still wearing the vestiges of what was cool in New York 10-15 years ago, rave club-kid artifacts almost perfectly preserved, and I’m like “word.” That will be me some day. Sitting on the bench, next to the old Russian alcoholics, watching the Puerto Rican men drive by on their bikes with 20 mirrors and a boom-box pumping mechanical salsa, watching kids run and jump into syringe and dog shit filled piles of bark and dirt that the parks department deposited on the asphalt because, why? Watching junkies shoot up and nod off on the lawn, watching yuppies buy low and sell high all around the park, watching Harif take food from the homeless outreach program without a blink of remorse, and I will recall back to my early days here as a new jack. I will remember the first day of spring, getting an excited charge while looking at all the exposed skin sunbathing on the lawn, I will remember turning down casting agents and amateur photographers because I’m not really trying to portray myself like that, I will remember the fights the filth and the fur. I will remember quitting my first internship in a Chelsea art gallery right before they were going to hire me because it was getting warm and I wanted to skate the ABC box all day, I will remember the many miserable afternoons I spent there with no money and no prospects, hating the people that passed through the park because they had someplace to go and hating the people that hung around the park because, like me, they had no other place to go, and I will think back to it all as I’m sitting there with tattoos on my face and a studded black baseball hat upturned on the ground and containing roughly $1.73 of discarded change and I will think, yes, it was all worth it.