Making the Connection

Photo: Dave Baldwin

From Issue 146, February 2001

People are hypocrites. We pride ourselves on how progressive and open-minded we are, while at the same time we are still threatened by what we do not understand. Teenagers and young adults are practically expected to be rowdy and out of control. Kids will be kids, right?— But give them a skateboard, the ultimate outlet for nervous energy, and they instantly become a nuisance and a threat. This is the number one problem with being a skateboarder in America (and worse yet in Utah): you are stigmatized. By choosing to ride a skateboard instead of a bicycle, rollerblades or one of those god-damn scooters, you become an outlaw and inadvertently lower your position on the totem pole. This dosn’t happen because skateboarders are any more cretinous than the average sample of young people. It happens because, in the age of diversity and political correctness, people are still prejudiced.

Much like in the mid-to-late 80s, skateboarding is experiencing a surge of popularity. Wow! Has the status quo actually realized the skill and dedication it takes to be good at skateboarding? Nope. America has simply noticed that hooligans spend money too. Little kids see an extreme Mountain Dew commercial on TV and want a skateboard for Christmas. Not only do thousands of cases of soda get sold, the local skate shop can afford to pay its lease and taxes. Hooray for economics. Even though this  quasi-acceptance of skateboarding was brought about for all the wrong reasons, there is one benefit that all skateboarders can appreciate. A boom in the skateboarding population has inspired the construction of hundreds of public skate parks across the country. In fact, just about every piece-of-shit town with a parent of a skateboarder on the city council has built a free cement park for the kids. The only problem with this is that most people, skateboarders included, don’t know shit about building skate parks. In most cases in Utah, a Parks and Recreation committee has a group of junior high school kids design the park. The result is a fun-proof, and virtually skate-proof, waste of time and money. A month after the grand opening, the pre-pubescent engineers realize that they can’t skate their Playstation-inspired monstrosity, and the park becomes a home for tumbleweeds and crappy graffiti. Thanks, but no thanks.

I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that there is a conspiracy at hand against skateboarders in Salt Lake City. There is a free public skate park in almost every ass-backward, shallow-gene-pool town surrounding the city. Every single one of these parks is an embarrassment to the skate scene. Farmington, Tooele, Grantsville, Stansbury, Provo, Park City and Brigham City all seem to be designed and constructed for the sole purpose of making everyone who goes to these skate parks want to quit skateboarding out of pure frustration and shame. The Taylorsville and Ogden parks have some redeeming qualities, but they don’t stray far from the realm of disappointment.

My conspiracy theory goes like this: The city attempts to crack down on skateboarding by establishing, and constantly widening, business districts and raising fines for skating in prohibited areas. More and more “public” places, such as schools and parks, are putting up no skateboarding signs or installing brackets and knobs on their curbs, ledges and handrails. This coerces skateboarders to go to one of the many public skate parks that the city councils have sprinkled everywhere except Salt Lake. A twenty minute drive, or an hour and a half long bus ride, takes you to the Taylorsville park; the newest, closest, and, come to think of it, the only public facility in the valley. Welcome to hell. Booters, Paperboys, Razor scooters and dozens of Gen-X clad spectators are already there, ready to salt your game. You try to tough it out and end up having a nervous break down, throwing your shoes at a kid wearing a Utah Jazz 1998 Champions t-shirt. Sorry, little buddy. After this happens over and over (and it will), you realize that it’s just not worth it. You get a ticket every time you go street skating and all the cops are Dick Butkis. Your will is broken and you quit skateboarding, Operation Nephi Delta is a success.

True—I am delusional, and my conspiracy theory is a bit far-fetched, but I know too many people whose skateboarding is slowing down and stagnating because there is nowhere to go. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most skateboarders would rather move away or quit than try to do something about the frustrating situation in Salt Lake. Fortunately, a grain of motivation managed to ooze from the wasteland that is Zion: the 48 Crew. From a miniature training facility in West Valley to B.Y.O.O (Bring Your Own Obstacle) Fort Douglas Park, 48 has been keeping it alive. (Note: not to say that no one else has been creating skate spots when there is a lack thereof—your efforts just aren’t that impressive.) Finally, in 1999, with infinite support and generosity of Paula Murdock, the 48 crew constructed The Connection Skate Park.

Paula Murdock is quite possibly the best mom in the world. Several years before The Connection opened, Paula got frustrated with her son and his friends getting harassed and kicked out of everywhere they went. Instead of trying to convince her son to quit skating, like most parents have done, Paula decided to make something happen. Her vision was to build, with the help of the city, a well-constructed and well-maintained public facility where skateboarders could safely do their thing free of harassment. For several years, Paula tried to get the city to budge. Not surprisingly, the South Salt Lake City council heard Paula’s plea like a room full of autistic deaf-mutes. “They didn’t help one way or the other,” she recalls.

In 1996, Paula decided to take matters into her own hands and began to search for a place to open a private skate park. Easy as it may sound, it’s hard to find an affordable, decent-sized warehouse whose owner will allow the operation of a skateboard park. A full-time job and a family to feed only make the process slower. In 1998, after years of unanswered pleading and unrewarded searching, Paula and her son, Mike, found what they were looking for. On State Street and right off of 3900 South, they found a 14,900 square foot warehouse that was up for lease. Back in the day, the warehouse was a roller hockey rink, so the owner found no problem with a skate park. The bureaucrats of South Salt Lake City Hall, on the other hand, did see a problem. They felt that a skate park, which, of course, would attract skateboarders, would be a bad influence on the neighborhood. A bad influence on State Street?!

We wouldn’t want to strip any vagrants or hookers of their safety and dignity, now would we? Does the city council provide its members with luxury rocks to live beneath? Are these people so blinded by their own self-righteous moronity that they can’t see that every fast food establishment on the block will make a killing off the kids at Connection? Needless to say, getting a business license and the proper permits was a painstaking endeavor. It took almost a year for Paula to negotiate a conditional permit. The terms of the city’s agreement were stifling to say the least. The park is required to close by 10 p.m. every night. Limited hours prevent the patronage of night owls and late-working types, making it harder for Connection to pay the bills. The park, which also hosts various hip hop and rock shows, is not allowed to admit anyone under the age of eighteen to a concert, a 75-year-old city ordinance that has yet to be contested. If the show lets out before curfew, what’s the problem with a fourteen-year-old checking out some local music? This out-dated ordinance further hinders Connection’s longevity. When I asked Paula how she felt about jumping through hoops for the city council, she humbly replied, “Keeping the doors open is what’s hard now, since the savings are gone.” Enough said. There is a peculiar phenomenon that occurs in the world of stereotyping. Often, people who are typecast, be it because of the color of their skin, their nationality or their inclination to ride a skateboard, find a sense of identity in the stereotype that is given. In other words, some people want a stereotype because it tells them who they are. I’m a skateboarder, therefore, I wear baggy clothes, I’m obnoxious, I’m arrogant, I’m a vandal, I say fuck and dude a lot, I’m a thief, and I wear my hat sideways. Congratulations. The stereotype told you who you are. Now you have a purpose. It’s like injecting an organism with a small dose of a virus to build up an immunity that vanquishes the virus permanently. Society creates these stereotypes for impressionable counter-culture. By selling the belief that skaters are hooligans to skaters, mainstream culture injects a virus into our community that makes us behave in ways that force the status quo to want to eradicate us. My point is: don’t be stupid. If you behave like an animal, you’ll get treated like one. If you show respect, even if you have none, you’ll receive respect in return. In Philadelphia, you can’t even carry a skateboard within city limits. Why?—Because the only things that citizens know about us are the stereotypes that we, ourselves, sustain. Don’t be a mass-produced robotic entity. Don’t be a citizen, and don’t be a virus. Break the mold, and come to your own conclusions.

The Connection Skate Park is family owned and operated. When the park hurts, the Murdock family hurts. Years ago, Paula Murdock could have easily told her son to quit skateboarding and would have never had to worry about keeping Connection open. Instead, she came to her own conclusion. The kids need a place to skate. In the face of bureaucratic indifference and stereotyping, Paula made it happen. When you come down to Connection, you need to show your respect because, if it weren’t for Paula’s admiration and respect for skateboarding, and for you, you’d be assed out.

Photo: Dave Baldwin Photo: Dave Baldwin Photo: Dave Baldwin