This week, for the first time in a while, I found myself above 14th Street. Before you think I’m one of those douchey New Yorkers who declares places like the Upper West Side the ‘burbs,” trust me when I say that I’m not too cool for school. I happen to live in Brooklyn, work in Soho and therefore, tend to spend the majority of my time in various places between the two. That sentence in no way helped my cause, but what can I say? Life in a large city can be oddly really, really small at times.
I guess I had forgotten a few things about Union Square in the few months or so since my last visit. 1. I have zero self-control when it comes to the farmers’ market cheese or apple cider donut stands. 2. It is one of the few, if not only, places where Hare Krishnas, Forever 21, Barnes & Noble and T.G.I. Friday’s coexist. 3. The ever-present packs of skateboarders straight up terrify me.
I have turned a corner. For the majority of my life, I took quite the shine to most boys on skateboards. From 1995-1998, I pretty much exclusively had crushes on guys obsessed with the movie Thrasher and their ollie height. I even bought a pair of Vans and learned how to ollie myself. But now, when I walk through Union Square, all I feel is fear. Packs of teenagers, or ‘Youths!!’ as Tina Fey might say, gather to use the park’s steps as their own personal skatepark and stage to showcase their latest tricks. I do not have a problem with this in theory. We’re in city; it’s not like they can practice in someone’s driveway. I get it. However, in actuality, I’m convinced that I’m going to be the one who winds up with a broken bone. As they kick and spin their boards around in such a crowded space, it’s only a matter of time before one winds up crammed in my ankle. Reckless youth my friends. This is who I’ve become. I’ve transitioned from a girl who would be charmed by a flip trick to a woman who may have used the word hoodlum quasi-unironically. How did I get here? Let’s track the evolution through my favorite skateboarding pop culture moments.
1995: Travis Birkenstock, Clueless
The first time I ever watched Clueless was trapped at my friend Renee’s house during a blizzard. We spent four days alternating between playing the Saved by the Bell board game and watching Cher, Tai and company. With each viewing, I developed more and more of a crush on Travis Birkenstock. My present-day self can’t quite fathom that I would have formed a crush on anyone other than Paul Rudd in this movie, but I guess Breckin Meyer did it for me back in those days.
Travis was the stereotypical skater. He smoked enough weed to require a Twelve-Step Program, won the tardiness award and sported a wardrobe likely sponsored by JNCO. But he was also the hands down nicest character in the entire movie. Even Josh, for all his tree club morals, could kind of be a jerk at times. Travis was the first one to welcome Tai, like her pre-makeover, and rush to ice her head at the Val party. His awesome skateboard skills and support for the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief only made me love him more. He might not have been ‘kind of a Baldwin,’ but by my eighth viewing that snowy weekend, I was longing for a boy in my sixth grade class with those half-pipe skills. *Note: The fact that Breckin Meyer currently stars in a television show with Mark-Paul Gosselaar is like the bizarre realization of a dream I might have had in the early to mid ‘90s. Throw Rider Strong in there, and my head/heart might explode.
2002: ‘Sk8er Boi’ by Avril Lavigne
My 17-year-old self couldn’t get passed the spelling of this song (nor can my 28-year-old self for that matter). I ended up feeling embarrassed to have anything remotely in common with Avril Lavigne. My affinity for skaters briefly dwindled until…
2004: Seth Cohen, The OC
Seth Cohen. Oh, Seth Cohen. Seth made my heart race once again for teenage boys on skateboards, even though I was in college at the time. It wasn’t just that I thought he looked adorable by comparison as he skated into school alongside Ryan and Ryan’s leather cuff. It was really the whole nerdy package. The cardigans. The self-deprecating humor. The banter with Sandy. The indie music obsessiveness. Seth absolutely would have made you a mixtape and spent hours selecting the perfect songs. I would still swoon for any guy that would do that.
I found Seth Cohen, or Adam Brody really, cute enough that I rented his movie Grind, which coincidentally is about skateboarding (I’m assuming at that point in his career “skateboarding skills” was a part of his resume Adam really celebrated.). In addition to Adam, the movie featured Randy Quaid, Bam Margera, Tom Green and one of the London twins. Skateboarding fans or not, clearly that cast is going to make you immediately add this film to your Netflix queue. Adam still looked good as Dustin, a small time skater with dreams of going pro, but Dustin was no match for Seth.
2005: Lords of Dogtown
This was the first movie I ever saw alone in a theater. Apparently, I wanted to see the story of ‘The Z-Boys’ so desperately that I couldn’t wait for anyone to go with me. It’s actually a fairly decent historical movie about the impact this group of teenage guys had on skateboarding. It was a good educational reference that probably would have come in handy during those years of my middle school crushes. It didn’t necessarily ignite any additional skater crushes, but it did lead to a lot of ‘70s inspired fashion choices in the year that followed. Any stores with floral appliques in the greater Pennsylvania area now know how to account for the spike in sales.
I hear the slap of skateboard wheels on the sidewalk, and assume it’s only a matter of time before I’m headed to the ER. Maybe if I play these groups of skaters Avril Lavigne, or at least show them the spelling of the title, they will be turned off by any association with the sport altogether. Then and only then will I be able to walk across Union Square to TGI Friday’s, Forever 21 and Barnes & Noble in peace.