Sunday, July 7, 2013

12th St Seaport

On April 7, 2013
a softball game forced Mooney and me away from the TF wallie box south to Whole Foods. We ate 4$ Bowery Burgers with 2$ sweet potato fries on the Houston Steps. After the meal we still had some daylight so started walking up to 12th and A. I wanted to do halfcab back 5050s. Elisa texted that she was walking downtown from the 14th Street Trader Joe's so Mooney and I met her on 7th St and First Avenue. She set down her bags as we talked. When I informed her that Mooney and I would be continuing to 12th and A, Elisa picked up her bags and departed. I sensed that I was missing an opportunity to carry her groceries for her, but I had already stated my desire for skating so Mooney and I pushed up 1st Ave then entered 12th and A through the 11th Street gate.

For our efforts Mooney and I received 45 minutes of good skating with a low crowd, mostly back and forth lines on the ledges along the wall. The chipped north end of the long ledge gave me further incentive to pop out of boardslides. I wallrode backside on the north wall once I realized that placing my front foot on the front bolts helps me stay overboard on the way down. One kid was consistently sliding back lips on the bowed polycarbonite bench but rarely landing one, while Mooney landed back lips on the shorter wall ledge most tries. I filmed one at his request then stowed the camera because I wanted to skate more than film. I let someone use my Chickenbone wax and someone else use my T tool. I landed a few back tails, but by the time I remembered about halfcab back 5050s the day was getting dark. Mooney landed a back lip 270 before the shadows sent us to the bleachers. Backlip 270 would have been a good trick to film, but I didn't.

As Mooney and I sat on the top bleacher with our backs against the bunker, a boy wearing a painter's cap and a Ghetto Child patch on his jeans continued skating the last brightest spot, which was the no-legged picnic table with waxy top edges gleaming from the streetlight. This goofy footer looked like a San Francisco skater Mooney couldn't name and did switch noseslide and switch crook first and second try. He had tried a few switch backside180 to backside nosegrinds on a ledge earlier, but I hadn't seen him really land anything before these two tricks. Much as I wished I had filmed Mooney's back lip 270, I wished I had filmed the switch noseslide and switch crooks. But if the boys could do these tricks at the end of this evening, I figured they could redo them some next day soon.

Instagram showed that Danny Weiss was at Le Basket so we headed there to drink beer and talk for an hour. After Le Basket I went to Elisa's, where she had been sweet enough to leave me dinner but had no interest in hearing about the 12th and A session until I acknowledged that I had missed an opportunity to help her carry the same groceries I was now eating. I kissed up and down her straight arms as she said I wasn't sorry.

On April 10,
Elisa went to class and I stayed in her apartment on her laptop. Slicky Boy posted "RIP 12th and A" to facebook. An hour later Quartersnacks updated with photos of the broken ledges. That afternoon, when Elisa came home from school, I told her the news of the spot's demise. "There goes the one excuse I gave you to leave me with groceries."

Mooney and I went by 12th and A that afternoon. A city worker stood with his hand closing the south gate so we looked through the fence to see the coped concrete top of the flatgap box hauled into the walkway. City workers and a backhoe had done the work. The two ledges that had been along the wall were already piles of debris.

Mooney and I headed to Tompkins next. 12th and A has always been been an outpost from TF culture and now even the last polycarbonite bench - one that had been the initial draw to 12th and A - was residing at Tompkins. "They didn't even leave us the granite," Slicky said of the broken ledges, but he was already was already brushing off the loss and anticipating an especially good summer at Tompkins. Still, the East Village's most dependable ledge spot was no longer, destroyed without advance notice.

The piles of broken ledge material were removed the next day. Now both 12th and A and TF lack consistent ledges. While unfortunate, this is not a new state of affairs. Though the granite ledges were beloved, they also marked 12th and A's time from 2008-2013 as a curated skatepark with a rotating cast of obstacles. During this time the Krooked eyes, student art and advertisements came to covered the once whitewalled spot with portable benches that had first garnered attention through Lurkers 2 Ted Barrow ( and Aaron Szott ( footage.

To know if a gate was open at 12th and A was valuable currency to convince people to leave Tompkins. 12th and A could be a wind tunnel, but possessed a real appeal as a Tompkins alternative for a number of factors. In 2004, a few polycarbonite benches and lengthy flatground made 12th and A's case as a TF alternative, perhaps slightly less crowded with more potential for lines than the Tompkins marquee-style box. The moveable but sturdy benches at Open Road Park were slightly lower than typical TF fare and, though lacking angle iron, did slide exceptionally well. Danny and Miles commuted from Uptown, thus skating the spot on their way to and from Tompkins led to their early displays of mastery ( Dirty Daddy did kickflip back tails while I skated back and forth practicing back tails and switch back tails. In the days before Yaje did a switch back tail on Black Hubba he asked me me how I slid them so consistently. I said that on 12th and A benches the sliding was the easy part while the dismount is the important thing to make consistent.

Most people I know stopped jumping the fence eventually, especially after Switch Mike broke both wrists when his shoelace snagged and he fell from height. The spiked gates, hours and spot location as school appendage have dictated much of 12th and A's potential. The history of closings and re-openings further added to its inconsistent scene. Yet to have 12th and A open sparked optimism for that grand task of polishing ledge tricks in a hassle free setting. QuarterSnacks captured the buzz at TF that surrounded a re-opening of 12th and A thus:

That’s all that Tompkins screaming, is ’12th & A back’
All eyes on 12th Street, better picture me skating
Grinding brand new rails, but them bitches is slippery
Stranded on Avenue A, Brenda having my baby
But I’m stacking my stickers, need a brand new pair of Indys
12th & A back, 12th & A back
That’s all that Tompkins screaming, is ’12th & A back’

This re-imagined Rick Ross verse, simultaneously impoverished and grandiose, shows the aspiration that 12th and A bred. Though the average age user at 12th and A was probably younger than at Tompkins, the ledges provided a sort of entrance challenge, as one’s ability to do ledge tricks made the spot worthwhile. The blueprint simplicity of benches and granite ledges were sufficient to occupy any skater forever. Though the Dunions have strong 12th and A affiliation, there was a generation of skaters such as Andre Beverly and Stephan Martinez who owe a significant amount of their repertoire to 12th and A. Thando had Blackberry footage of Stephan doing a kickflip backside noseblunt and of course there was the day Stephan beat blood out of the drunken Philosopher after Philosopher picked a fight with Little Steven. Skateboarders' self policing, usually implicit, here became violent, since 12th and A was a place where skaters had earned freedom from outside confrontation and Stephan sought to perpetuate this internal code. The spot's notoriety as a smoking spot has as much to do with the shade tree and swings as the skateboard obstacles, and discrete smoking was more tolerated than Philosopher's indiscrete drunkenness.

For those interested in skateboarding, 12th and A on a good day could be more of a training facility than TF. The ski slope box had a good run and helped everyone's nosegrinds and wallies. There was the third standalone granite ledge for a couple years. The box "Big Blue" existed then moved to Tompkins where it was painted green. Chris Herity was the 12th Street Assassin and manualing in the background of Transworld's Alex Olson wallride coverage. The flat gap was an original attraction then the concrete ledge came to cross it. Before the end, the long flatbar lost one leg and featured cobblestone supports. Then it lost its other leg and stood on its center pole, which eventually came off too and now the flatbar sits on the ground level. There was a small wallie box where I learned wallie body varial one day when was there. There was the wooden mini ramp in the garden for some time. The tall Supreme box was a test to see what tricks you really could do. The funboxes brought for contests lasted for various durations. When 12th and A was at its most official, Billy's Bunker served refreshments and product then Billy would close up for the evening with his megaphone. Charles Lamb lived on 12th Street for a time and would watch Mooney skate from his apartment window.

In summer 2012 we met Amelia Pool there on the swing set when she came with that dude Patrick. She would sit on the swing in her ipaths and one time Patrick sat on top of her the opposite way and farted on her.

Before Billy did all his work, there was the man with the goatee who was in charge of the after-school programs. The spot could open when he unlocked the gate or he might kick out skaters when he brought in groups of children to play. In winter of 2004-5, 12th and A was covered in snow but the TF was dry. I wanted to skate a ledge and decided that the best thing to do would be to bring a 12th and A bench to Tompkins. There was one other skater at Tompkins, a young boy with spiked hair. He agreed to help me with the mission and we carried the bench from 12th and A to TF. The boy wasn't good enough to skate the bench, but I enjoyed the session until the goateed gatekeeper arrived. He said the bench wasn't ours to take and carried the box back to 12th and A on his own. Years passed and I didn't see my collaborator. Then on April 10, while everyone was skating the polycarbonite ledge at TF, I saw the boy again, still with spiked hair. I pointed to the polycarbonite bench and asked him if he remembered helping me move it. "Yeah man."

Though 12th and A's granite ledges signified permanence, the city proved just as capable of destroying ledges as hauling away another Tompkins box. Yet even without boxes, 12th and A remains solvent, as the park is currently open for general use, with the flat, flat gap, wall rides, a metal garbage can and stacked cobblestones to skate. The reason for the ledge destruction remains unclear, but one can infer any number of typical complaints. 12th and A reached heights of international exposure thanks to the efforts of Billy Rohan and many others. Now 12th and A is at its most minimalist. The destruction of established growth has made the spots demise more poignant, but 12th and A continues to offer a flatground option that is always a precious commodity in spatially dense Manhattan.