Dudes, Jocks And Skaters, Oh My! Dorothy In City Park: ‘Toto, We Aren’t In Kansas Anymore’
Beneath tattered nets in City Park, cleanshaven, short-haired men in their mid-20s hoof it down a concrete court in hightop sneakers.
On a 15-foot diameter pad due south, pony-tailed-and-tattooed men and women smack a braided cloth bag - a hacky sack - back and forth between sandaled feet. Most are under age 21.
A few hundred feet east, a dozen tie-dye-clad teenage girls and burr-headed boys - all wearing oversized clothes - huddle on skateboards under a tree near a parking lot.
These three islands of people - separated by age, yards of grass and dozens of pedestrians - gather on their turf each summer weekend and form a social Bermuda Triangle of sorts.
It’s a place where cultural similarities mysteriously disappear in a trio of insider vocabularies, uniforms and attitudes.
These curious subcultures are not lost on professional people watchers.
“It’s always been like that down here,” says J. Hoffman, a police officer who patrols City Beach. “It’s just another weekend at the park.”
At noon, college-age men and women stumble with cigarettes in hand to a concrete circle near Independence Point. Somebody brings the “Seapa,” a name-brand hacky-sack they kick around like a miniature soccer ball.
With their beaded necklaces, ankle bracelets and slow, easy laughter, they are reminiscent of sidewalk slackers along San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. They talk of beer-drinking, vegetarianism and classes, always keeping the Seapa bouncing between them.
“Man, I tried to be vegan when I worked at the sorority house, but I lost it,” says one smiling hacker. “One day, I ate three chicken sandwiches. The guys in the kitchen kept saying ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ but I couldn’t help it.”
Nearby, two-dozen skateboarders flock to the short-term parking exit below the point. Back and forth they ride, along a 25-foot strip of blacktop that joins Sherman Avenue.
Their grooming is something between Cub Scout and punk music legend Johnny Rotten - short unkempt hair and still-fuzzy sideburns. The dress resembles rap singers in baggy-pants or motorcycle riders who link wallets to jeans with chains.
Most can’t say why they’ve chosen this spot.
“We don’t really have any place else,” says 14-year-old Brent Beidler with a shrug. He’s dressed in a Chevron T-shirt and cut-off jeans that stop mid-shin.
They long for completion of a skateboard park off Northwest Boulevard that’s under construction. For now, they’re happy to pop wheelies, jump obstacles and swerve between slow-moving cars.
They’re serious about their sport; some even wax the curbs so they can slide along them performing tricks with names like “ollies” and “manuals.” A good performance is still called “rad.”
Despite going through a $58 board once every three weeks, 15-year-old hot-dogger Ian Hunter loves the sport.
“I used to play basketball and football and stuff, but I got bored,” he says “All that competition … who needs it.”
Try Hugh Stevens. The Washington University senior is a leader on the testosterone-charged court, where a pick-up game is played almost every hour.
“He’s here a lot,” says his 13-year-old cousin, Mike Stevens. “Most of these guys know each other.”
Sometimes, of course, competition leads to “talking smack,” which in turn leads to short-lived fist-fights.
Saturday, a washboard-tummied player chased a teammate off the court with curled fists. Minutes later the game resumed, with both men on the court.
It’s all great entertainment for Richard Klamerus, a hot dog vendor who draws customers from all three cliques.
“There are some good ball players out here,” he says. “But the skateboarders, when they jump on the ledges … that’s pretty neat, too.
“And I don’t suppose you want to talk about the guy who wears that string bikini bathing suit thing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo