Favorite Spot: Paine’s Skatepark
Neighborhood: Art Museum
I Am: A Philadelphian living with my wife and skateboard.
Years in Philly: 1 (Plus 2 in Camden, NJ)
Current Home: Point Breeze
My Love Note
During the spring this past year, I was looking for a topic for collages and decided to revisit something I used to do as a teenager: skateboarding. I went to the bookstore and bought that month’s copy of Thrasher magazine and proceeded to slice away, placing board sliding skateboarders on the shoulders of Martin Luther and 50-50 grinding down Bierstadt’s mountains.
Around the same time, the Paine’s Skatepark opened on the banks of the Schuykill, just under the art museum and my wife and I biked over on opening day to watch the festivities. I was captivated by the hundreds of people of all ages testing the transitions, benches, and steps. I was walking back from the north side of the park, near the big set of stairs, a man in his early 20s passed me with a huge grin on his face: “It’s so smooooth,” he said.
The city’s battles with skaters at LOVE Park are well-documented. In a sense, Paine’s is something like co-option, a kind of state-sponsored Pied Piper-ism to take the kids off LOVE and bring them someplace sanctioned that doesn’t mess with people’s lunch hours. But I try to quell cynical thoughts such as these when thinking about Paine’s. I mean, the city is still big and vast and thoroughly skateable for anyone who wants contend with traffic and police. To me, Paine’s opening represents an acceptance of a sport that, for a long time, was considered more criminal than athletic. Twenty years ago, a place like this would have been unthinkable, and I like to think that it’s progress.
It was around the time the park opened, that an old high school friend started a skateboard company back in Dayton, OH. Replanting frozen images of skaters onto reprints of priceless artworks, watching kids grind and flip all over Paine’s, and thinking about skating in a somewhat academic sense were not enough anymore. I was slated to visit Ohio in late May and I was fixed on getting one of these decks while I was there. I bought one at a skate shop in Newport, KY, and with a childish giddiness, watched the relatively unimpressed shop owner tape the deck and install the wheels and trucks. Within the first five minutes, I managed to jam my wrist pretty bad when it slipped out from under me. Undeterred, I got back on and spent the better part of the day cruising around Cincinnati, just like my friends and I did in high school. The very first place I went to on my first morning back in Philly was Paine’s Park. I couldn’t get there fast enough. Those smooth surfaces, forgiving banks, curbs, and steps called to me as I rode up the river on my bike.
Of course, I am no better skater now than when I was twenty years ago when I stopped skateboarding (after trying to jump some stairs and ending up having gravel removed my hand by a nurse). In fact, I am probably worse: my knees ache, my back oscillates along a stiffness spectrum, I am a little heavier, and I still don’t know how to kick flip. But at Paine’s, it doesn’t make a difference. Everyone is so mellow and supportive and friendly. It’s a chill spot with chill folks. Besides, I like to go in the morning, when the youngins are still in bed or in school and it’s a bunch of old dudes like me with their toddlers who ride those three-wheeled plastic decks with handles. Adult swim, I call it.
I must confess, I don’t love many places in Philly. I like living here a lot, but I have loved so many cities that I’ve lived in that I know it never lasts. Philly and I are cool, but we aren’t making any promises or commitments just yet. I stay out of the bars and the cafés. I steer clear of the food truck festivals on South Street. I stay away from the riverfront. Mostly, I stay home and cut up magazines. The one place I do love however, is the Franklin Paine’s Skatepark. Especially from about 9 to 11 on weekday mornings.
*Check out Michael’s friends skateboard company, Absorb Skateboard