On the Washington Heights Report: Awesomely, Skateboards Rule the Heights!

18Nov08

In which The Gay Recluse covers the teen beat.

We first noticed this trend at the beginning of the summer, when we were walking past a group of kids — including some girls, which was extra cool! — on Fort Washington Avenue, all of whom were messing around with skateboards. Then we noticed a regular crew skateboarding on the median around 166th Street and Broadway, where the A-train exits, and then further uptown under the George Washington Bridge, across from the bus terminal. This is where we took the following pix a few weekends ago.

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We were like: “So umm, hey guys, can we take some pix?” and they didn’t respond beyond the merest shrug, a gesture of disdain, suspicion and — yet! — acknowledgment that conveyed the impossibly wide gulf in age/culture that exists between a dorky forty-year old gay recluse like us and a bunch of ass-kicking skateboard kids. But this being the 21st century in the USA — or really, NYC — they both ignored the camera and played to it, perhaps wondering if this could be the day they became stars.

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Here’s that excellent kid in the red shirt and long hair heading into a jump.

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And another guy doing the same… We ask ourselves why it’s so awesome to see these kids skateboarding, and admittedly, some (much?) of the answer is contextual, to the extent we wouldn’t get nearly as excited seeing the same thing in say, a parking lot of a mall in the suburban wasteland where we grew up. But here — in the “ghetto” — it defies the prevailing stereotype of the teenage hoodlum, the kid who hangs around on the corner in baggy pants and baseball hat, dealing shit, fucking beyotches and talking shit about shit. Or hey, is it possible that these are Dominican kids who don’t give a shit about the Yankees? It kinda seemed that way! Ponder that, mainstream media, next time you write about Washington Heights — “where baseball is almost a religion” — and imply that every kid growing up here wants nothing more than to be the next Manny Ramirez. Whether true or not, we imagine these kids to be rebellious in the best way, we imagine them saying: fuck baseball, let’s head up to the bridge.

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We also loved the performance aspect of it, the way those not skating stood around with an air of casual disinterest, when of course they were watching every beat, with the certainty that they would eventually have to take the stage. It reminds us of when we were learning to surf, the way we would straddle the board with our back to the shore, watching intently until a wave came, and a couple of kids would go after it and — because we weren’t very good — we would just sit there terrified, trying to figure out the exact etiquette — not only of surfing, it seemed, but our entire existence — except without ever asking.

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To be around these kids was to remember the terror and confusion of adolesence, the desire to both rebel and conform, without understanding the deeper meaning of either impulse. Perhaps this is another reason we romanticize these skateboarders: they seem so fearless! The guy in this shot is — what? — like four feet in the air and he didn’t exactly land gracefully. But he seemed oblivious to the pain; this is how we used to be, too, at least until we realized that turning off the physical side of pain doesn’t necessarily do the same with regard to the (inevitably worse) psychological side of it.

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Here’s the little guy in the red shirt taking the jump; he didn’t make this one, but he just picked himself up and skated back. Admittedly, this made us a bit nostalgic; it’s only when we’re older that we realize that second and third chances are not always so forthcoming.

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But some people don’t need second chances. This skater — clearly the best of the bunch — made it look easy. He was flawless and smooth, and we could tell that everyone was like “fuck, he’s good,” (or whatever the equivalent of that would be) even though they didn’t clap or yell or anything. Or maybe we were just projecting our own impressions. In any event he sailed through.

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This guy also made it, and went by in a complete blur. Notice the little kid and how forlorn he seems: when you’re eight, things the big kids do can seem so crushingly unattainable.

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At some point, after they had all taken a turn at the jump, they turned and sprinted back to the top, as if heeding some collective signal that a part of us longed to hear but which we knew — and really, after an instant of regret, to our larger relief — had long since been lost to us.


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