Quick side note for non-New Yorkers: Dave Mims is the owner of the East Village’s longest running skateboard sales institution, which coincidentally, is approaching the ten-year mark of filing taxes under the name “Autumn Skateshop.”
Interview by Ted Barrow on August 27, 2006
And that’s when the Banks was really strange. It was weird. It went from being in the late 80s, early 90s, everybody skating and kind of cool, to this element of like, skaters being tough. A lot of people came down to the Banks and they wouldn’t even skate. Like they would just go there, and they were skaters, but they’d be just there hanging out, smoking weed, playing cee-lo. It was a crew.
Coming from Long Island, what was it like for you?
Let’s see, I started skating in ‘88, in Long Island. It was just local crews, everyone was friends. We’d come into the city in the late 80s and early 90s. In the late 80s, most of the banks were closed. Right where that pillar is, where you do tricks over and go from the smaller to the bigger, that part was fenced off, right by the pillar. For like a good year or so. So you only got to skate the small end.
When I first started going there, a lot of people lived under the bridge, there was a big homeless camp right inside the bridge, under the arch. It was open inside. You know that doorway that is cemented over? There was an open doorway and there were people living inside. So at that period, going down to the Banks to skate, you’d be hanging out with a lot of homeless people.
And those were the only people down there?
Yeah, and when you’d sit down in between runs skating, there would just be homeless people all over the place. And then when the meals on wheels used to come by, and deliver meals to the homeless people, like milk crates full of baloney sandwiches, they used to share them with us and stuff.
Do you remember any particular homeless characters that stood out?
None by name. There was one guy, and he used to cook eggs on the hot manhole cover. And at that point, I was taking the train out from Long Island everyday, pretty much. We’d start at the Banks. It was pretty much the meeting place. A lot of people who skated the city and the Banks were mostly from New Jersey and Long Island.
Not that many people from Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens?
There were are a few, but it wasn’t really. If you’d go down to the Banks, there’d be a lot of visitors. Puleo would come there, Tim O’Connor, Pluhowski, German Nieves, Charles Lamb was a little guy with his brother, you know? And then there were the local Chinatown kids like Ray Wong and Benny. A lot of people you’d know by just first names.
Um, Keith Harrison, Ray Wong, Benny. A lot of people who used to hang out at that shop down there, Benji’s.
Did you skate with Sean Sheffey?
No. I never saw Sean Sheffey there. When I went there, he probably just, wasn’t there. That was in the late 80s.
Did you ever get your board stolen? Beat up?
No. Threatened, I’ve been with people that got their boards stolen. Because there were so many out-of-towners at this spot, the local thug skaters would prey on these guys. And there was a lot of – more than boards – there were a lot of backpacks [being stolen]. Because people were coming from out of town, they’d have their backpack with their little HI-8 camera and their, uh, extra shoes and whatnot, you know? So a lot of bags were getting stolen. The same thing was happening concurrently at Love Park, in Philly, where I’d go a lot. I mean, it was the same exact thing. It’s funny how it’s everywhere.
There was this one guy, god I wish I knew his name, like a really built black guy, and he’d fuck with everybody. And he skated, and he like…
Was he the kid that got beat up at that Banks contest [in Thrasher]?
No. I know about that, but that wasn’t that guy. His name starts with a C. If you ask a couple people, he was the notorious dude. He’d go up to kids and be like, “Hey, let me try your board, I want to try out your board,” and he’d go up the banks, do the trick, and then ride away down Fulton Street.
And then probably, like, sell the board at Union Square or something…
Yeah. There was a big, like, selling board trade. Like you could get a complete, barely used, for around $15 at that time. And again, I only know here and Love Park, but that was something that was going on a lot. Either they’re stolen, or it’s people that are sponsored and selling it to buy weed, pretty much.
Do you have any specific incidents that you remember?
I don’t know. It’s pretty lackluster, you know. I was with a friend, we’d both come from Long Island, guy asked to use his board, you know, and rode off into the sunset.
Did you ever see that dude again?
That dude. I’ve seen him for years afterward, that guy, and you just don’t fuck with him. He was just this guy and you would just… Nobody fucked with him. He was a lonely motherfucker, because he just skated by himself, he stole people’s bags and boards.
No one liked him, but you couldn’t fuck with him.
Like that dude, once after that, I was skating the Banks, and I don’t even know what happened. We didn’t even cross paths, really. And he came up to me and was like, “You want me to break your fucking nose?” And I was like, “No, not really,” you know? He said I rode in front of him or something. He was just looking for me to like, have a reaction or something.
Is this around ’93 at this point?
Yeah. So I just walked away and he didn’t do anything, and I saw him at Astor Place later. Because pretty much the day’s set up would be, go to the Banks, up to Astor, up to Midtown. And he saw me there and asked me if I was looking to fight him. I was just like, “Nah man, you’re cool, man.”
Yeah? No way.
Yeah. But it was just that one dude that was a terror. It was a crew that would just hang out on the wall, they’d have a brand new skateboard, three pairs of sneakers, you know, hanging from their neck and stuff, you know, but uh…they’d be smoking weed, but not skating.
Sounds familiar. What for you was the most exciting era for that spot? Was it then, or was it later, when skating got a little bigger and smoother?
It was then. I mean, it was fun then. At that time, there were so many people skating in the city, and the city really was like, the spots, I mean you didn’t get kicked out skating anywhere. So it was basically the time when you had the run of the town, really. You would just skate all day. Downtown, midtown, wherever, you know?
What were those series of contests at the Banks like? Who put them on?
That was Benji’s. Benji’s skateshop started the contests. Benji’s Skateshop was a small store, when they first opened up it was in one of those old, like, uh, where they have the Chinatown newsstand type things, almost like a Canal Street shop, but of skateboards. Like, you’d walk in and you’d only have about…
Four feet, and then the rest of it was all this crap stacked up. It was a small store, but it was the only skate shop in the city.
And it was also really close to the Banks?
It was really close to the Banks. By the time I started coming here they were out of business, really. I went there once. SoHo Skates was gone, Skate NYC was gone, and Benji’s was this newsstand shop that was the only store, and they would host contest at the Banks. And that’s Dead-End Vinnie and whatnot, Harold beating a rat to death with a skateboard…
Harold beat a rat to death with a skateboard?
Yeah. The big finale to the day was that he beat a rat to death with his skateboard. But it was fun, you know, a lot of people would come out to it.
I entered one of the contests and totally fucked up. Did my first trick…
How would you skate a contest at that bank?
You would just go up, come down, go up, come down.
So you’d just do trick after trick on the Banks, without putting them together in a line?
Basically. Actually, Charles [Lamb] and I were in the same contest.
It was fun, it was a fun time. It was a good time to be skating in the city.
So when did you stop skating there, when did it stop being fun, or stop being an appealing spot to go to for you?
It’s not that it stopped being appealing, it’s just that it started getting fucked up.
In what way?
The bricks were getting all fucked up, basically. They put the fence up over the wall. The wall was fun to skate. They put that steel rail up on it.
When was that?
Probably in ’97. But I mean, yeah. It was still always fun, it’s just that that period then was sort of interesting. It was also, Zoo York was just starting around then, it was like the beginning of the height of East Coast pride in skateboarding. Everybody rode Zoo York, everybody rode Brooklyn Boards, everyone had their East Coast t-shirt on, you know? It was very East Coast pride, which kind of bred a less technical type of skating, but a little more interesting. So it was a time where you could be proud to be a New York skateboarder, proud to be East Coast.
So at that time did you participate in any vibing of out-of-towners?
No. I was in no position to, you know? Even when I became an in-towner, in like 1994, it’s uh…no, no. I mean, that was a very short-lived two year period, and I guess that kind of New York pride kind of bred this sort of toughness, like, “What are you doing in my city?” But even those dudes were from New Jersey, you know? I can’t really count the handful of actual New York skaters. A lot of out-of-towners.
What do you think about it now?
I’m not even in the loop about that. It was just, I mean I guess, thinking about it now, a lot of it was this East Coast pride thing. I mean, I don’t know if that went on in like California or not. East Coast pride. A lot of cee-lo, a lot of dice. Everyone was into dice. A lot of Phillies, emptied out on the banks. It was like, East Coast pride, splitting blunts, people would get beat up, but it was just part of the — you’d just sit there and watch them get beat up.
And then go to Burger King?
Burger King was…the skateboarders ran Burger King. It was pretty much just overrun with everybody from the Banks. Just like, everyone sharing one soda, and just hanging out there for hours.
But it was seriously like, you’d just let the fights go down, you know?
Stay out of the way.
Yeah, I mean, because then that shit’s coming to you. If you want to skate there everyday. If there’s this dude getting his ass kicked by some dude, you’re like, “Damn, I want to skate here still, so tough luck for that guy.” It was kind of like everyone for themselves. Every crew, the Jersey crew, the Long Island crew, you know, the out-of-towners, and it would just be pretty funny, because boards would get stolen daily, bags would get stolen daily, and everyone was just so helpless. Like the dudes would come up and take their shit. Not even do anything, just like, “My shit’s gone.” And then, like with my friend who got his board stolen, you’re just a little bit wiser, like the next time you come in, you don’t leave your bag far away from you, you just take your board, you skate. If somebody comes up to you, you skate away. It just takes the one time of getting your ass kicked or getting your shit stolen.
My friend who got his board stolen also bought a video camera on Canal Street that was filled with oranges. He paid $150 bucks for this camera, it was all factory sealed, you know, [the] guy [at the store] had the display camera, [my friend] brought it back to the Banks, opened it up, and it was a thing of oranges. So, you know, he learned a couple lessons.
What about getting robbed in Washington Square Park?
In 1993, I came in from out-of-town, just took the train to Washington Square park to meet a friend, and this gang of guys just came up to my friend to take his camera from him. We were just all walking.
Just a 35mm. And you know, we’re just walking and this crew of guys is all, “Yo, yo, yo! Stop for a second.” You just keep of walking, you know? And I’m walking, I have my other friend, look back and the guys are all around him, getting his camera. So I go back and go to grab him out of the pile of guys, and they grab me. They let him go, and get around me, like one on each side. Chain wallets were pretty big at the time, which was pretty fucking dumb when you’re coming to the city. It’s like a fluorescent arrow pointing to your money, like, “There’s my money, right in that pocket!” Big shiny chain, directing them to your money. So that’s what happened, they asked me if I had any money, I reach into my pockets and pull out some lint and like a token, like, “This is all I got, man” And then the guy pulled my chain out of my pocket. I had nothing more than a hundred bucks, but they got it. It was fucking surreal, man. It was this crew of guys, there was one guy on the wall with a wad of money like fanned-out, peeling it back, counting his money. He’s sitting on the bench like he’s the leader of the guys, and all the rest of them are around me. There are cops about fifteen feet away. They just said, “If you talk to the cops, you’re done.” Opened my wallet, grabbed my shit. I asked them if I could have like ten bucks so that I could take the train back to Long Island – and they gave it to me! So then I had my token and ten bucks, made it back to Long Island, and threw away the chain wallet.