When my 17-year-old nephew came to visit this summer, I planned to take him to all the historical sites of Philadelphia. You know the ones, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, etc. Evidently though, he had done his research, and he had a slightly different agenda for his 4 days in our city of brotherly love.
I knew it wasn't going to be one of the typical tourist visits, when he got off the airplane with his skateboard on his backpack. "Mom sent you my insurance card, in case I get messed up at the skate park."
"Oh, great," I stammered. "Um, it's good to be prepared..."
The next day we were off to FDR, a skateboarding park. I had looked up directions for us on the Internet, but I had no idea what to expect. I imagined something like Disneyland, with ticket takers, vendors selling $5 cokes, and some kind of form to sign releasing them of liability. What we found was infinitely cooler and way more organic. We got off at the Phillies stadium exit and made our way to the FDR park, following the drive around to the right (one way) to an area underneath I-95 freeway. And there we found it, the famous FDR skate park. This is a skateboard park built by skateboarders. Free to the public the park was filled with 15-25 year olds waiting in line for their turn... At 33, my husband and I were by far the oldest people around.
We stayed all of 5 minutes during our first visit to FDR. Evidently the competition was stiff, and my nephew was not too keen on breaking through the crowds for his turn. I promised him we'd come back in the morning when presumably most of the frequent users might be sleeping in (after a night on the town in Philadelphia.) "Cool," he said. We headed for Philadelphia art museum for the rest of the afternoon, swinging by Love Park a famous site where skateboarders and local city officials duked it out over whether skateboarding would be allowed. Officially it's still banned, though rumor has it among skateboarding fanatics that nighttime is a great time to try out Love Park...
Anyway, the next morning my nephew and I made our way back to FDR. Happily, we were right and the park was mostly empty. My nephew made his way to the edge of the skating area with a handful of other boarders and some bikers. I hung out for a while taking pictures, then retreated to the car to give him some space. Who needs a 30 year old around when you're trying to skate FDR?
Forty-five minutes later, a sweaty but very happy 17-year-old joined me in the car. "I carved my first bowl," I heard him crowing to his friend back in Minnesota on the cell phone as we drove downtown to see the Liberty Bell. "It was totally awesome."
The rest of the trip was filled with more traditional Philadelphia sights, Independence Hall, The Mummer's museum, and South Street with Lorenzo's pizza. But, I'm grateful to my nephew for introducing me and letting me observe a vibrant subculture here in Philly. This is a great city, and there is more to do here than even we natives know!