Friday, March 11, 2005

Picasso in the Parking Lot

Today it was warm enough that I could go out in a wool sweater and touque. There was some snow, of the light fluffy variety, and the roads were damp all day. I had a pretty good time last summer, skating in different cities and meeting people. Skateboarding is a kind of universal, non-verbal language. You can tell alot about a person just by watching how they skate, which moves they do and their whole attitude toward the activity. I've certainly mellowed since my teenage days, and it has made me a better skater. I don't have the same durability that I once had, but I've got more finesse and patience. It has also become a more solitary activity. This is largely because of my age. Most of my skater friends from youth have moved on, and I'm no longer in contact with them. Also, I like being alone.

Skaters are generally individualistic souls, but there is also a kind of pack mentality that develops in places where practitioners congregate, like skateparks or hotspots. Sometimes it can be a good kind of energy that is generated; people just start showing up and falling into a groove that is inspiring and energizing for everyone involved. Other times, the spot gets too croweded or "skated out" like a fishing hole that is overused. It's good to be able to move around and skate different spots.

My neighbourhood is full of kids who all know me as the local skater. Often I have to sneak down the block with my board tucked under my arm to avoid attracting their attention. Sometimes it's nice to have a posse of kids gather. They ask questions and request tricks. Sometimes they ask if I'm a pro, which is flattering. But usually when I skate I want to be left alone. This means finding new skatespots.

I'm always on the look-out for parking lots. These places are the true wastelands of our modern cities, but afterhours when the cars are gone and one is left with an expanse of open space through which to glide they become transformed into a flatlander's paradise. These areas were obviously not designed with aesthetic enjoyment in mind, but the act of skatboarding in such a location changes it, teasing music out of the barreness.

When I lived in Montreal it was hard to find skatespots. The downtown core is beautiful, but also very compact, and there are few large parking lots or paved open areas. The sidewalks and streets tend to be crowded and in disrepair. Peace Park is a famous spot, but the skateable area is actually very small and you always have to deal with the bums and cops. There was a large grocery store about twenty minutes away from my appartment that had a big, recently paved parking lot that I liked to frequent. I would go there at night, following the intricate cracks of the sidewalk down Cote des Neiges. Often there would be a band rehearsing in one of the appartments across the street, and I could hear live drums and guitar while I was skating. Aside from a couple curbs and some concrete dividers, there were no obstacles to skate; just lots of flat, relativly smooth pavement. The first time I found the spot, I skated for about half-an-hour in the humid summer heat, sweating profusely. In need of refreshment, I crossed the street to Harvey's where I bought one of those orange drinks that can't really be called a soda. I was so thirsty from exerting myself, and so elated at finding the parking lot that the drink was one of the best tastes I had experienced in a long time. I returned often to that spot, and had more orange drinks from Harvey's but none of them were as memorable as that first one.

This was in the year that the Musee des Beaux Arts was housing an exhibition of Picasso's erotic art, and hanging from the streetlights that flanked my parking lot were some vinyl flags with Picasso's face printed on them. Despite the recent decline in Picasso's popularity, he is still one of my favourite 20th century visual artists, and as I was skating around I felt like his spirit was somehow present watching me. On my second or third visit to the spot, a young kid came up riding some variety of Wal-Mart board. He lived in one of the surrouding appartments and looked to be from an immigrant family, though he spoke good English. I taught him a few basic manouvers; kick-turns and slides and such. The windows of his appartment must have faced the parking lot, because he started showing up often, sometimes with a friend in tow; a plump Quebecois boy on rollerblades. It was fine with me, since there was plenty of room for the three of us at that spot, and they usually wouldn't stay that long. One time, we set up some cardboard boxes and I gave them a show to see how high I could ollie.

Despite the visits of the kids, the spirit of Picasso looking on, and the night trains that would pass across the trestle in the light of the flanking billboards, it was a lonely spot, and looking back at myself gives me a slight tinge of agorophobic anxiety. I don't recal feeling anything of the sort at the time. Perhaps the feeling of being watched I experienced was really just the eyes of my future self, sitting here now and recreating the scene in the camera of my mind, a world within a world.


kill-joy said...

'AGOROPHOBIA' fear of open spaces

'AGROPHOBIA' fear of being agro/aggressive - perhaps that is what you meant anyway

flatlander said...

Thanks for the tip K-J! I meant the fear of open spaces.