Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ramp Riders. Part 1 of at least 60.

I'm a pacifist.

That's something my mom taught me to say when I was a kid. I still say it. It was part of her lesson on Ghandi, and Jesus, and The Way Of the Peaceful Warrior, and counting coup. I believed her. It was tougher to take a punch and not give one back.

Then I got older and I wanted to learn to fight. I wrestled anyone who would wrestle back, Cole, Dad, Karl, whoever. Jeff Gaskin beat me everytime. I love wrestling, but it's friendly. Wrestling is play fighting.

I learned to fight at Ramp Riders Skatepark. 3001-3 Locust street in mid-town St. Louis. On the Northwest corner of Locust and Garrison. Just behind the Harbor Light.


Ramp Riders sometime between 2000 and 2003

The first thing Ramp Riders taught me was the importance of having a clubhouse. A clubhouse is a place to go that your mom has no idea about. A Tattoo shop would make a good clubhouse. Garages are the best kind of clubhouse.

When Ramp Riders was our clubhouse, we called it The Park. It was in a hot zone of perfect clubhouses. The Harbor Light, the building immediately to the North was the ultimate club house for people who spent their entire lives boozing and driving everyone else away. The only people left to abuse were a group of people so devoted to the idea that everyone is worth saving that they formed an army.



For the Salvation Army no one is beyond saving. Anyone can stay at the Harbor Light so long as they can scrounge up $2 per night. Two dollars was easy to find in the ashtrays and cup holders of the cars outside Ramp Riders, and the winos figured out surprisingly quick how big a rock has to be in order to go through a car's window on the first try.


Blood And Fire

Our clubhouse was an old, two and a half story brick building. It was built to be a coach builders building. Factory and showroom in one. My bike brought me to The Park. The one that Tom and Wayne, Squints, Andy and JJ were building with wood, sweat and drywall screws in between legendary games of gay chicken.*


We should start making plaques


Tom and the guys were building the park as fast as they could get wood. Save some money, buy some wood. See if you can get your buddy at the lumber yard to cut us a deal, or at least forget to scan something.

Then when the wood showed up they brought it in and attached it to the first thing they built, the box jump with the grind-ledge down the middle. Actually, the first thing they built was the mini ramp. But they built that in Tom's backyard when he was spending a lot of time at home in South County.

That all happened before I was there. Before The Park opened. Cole found Ramp Riders first. He heard the streets whispering that someone was opening a skatepark in St. Louis. So he rode down there and looked in the mail-slot. It looked dark and dirty.

Then he went back to look in again and Tom was there. Tom was stoked that a 15 year old kid would ride his BMX bike from Ladue to Mid-Town to look in the mail slot of his unopened skatepark... for a second time. He told Cole to come back on Opening Day and bring some friends. When Tom extended that invitation, the clubhouse opened for me.







These photos are definitely not from opening day. They are meant to set the scene.

Cole and I were there on opening day. Our parents helped us buy Emperor's passes numbered 1 and 2. Unlimited access to the park for one year. Cole was number one.

Cole and I weren't new to bike riding when we found Ramp Riders, we had both been riding bikes everyday since we were 3 years old. But Ramp Riders taught us the language, culture, and history of Freestyle BMX.

And just like that we weren't two brothers riding alone in Mid-County.

At The Park we met the dudes that were doing the same things at the same time in Bridgeton, South County and Belleville. Now we were part of a tribe. A group people that got off on fighting with gravity and using our bikes to show the world what we thought of it.

I learned to fight with the Ding-A-Lings and the Sprockets and The Mud Butts. And with Tom and The Waterlilies and the skateboarders. We were all fighting together against fear, and gravity, and expectations.

Those days were a frenzy of physical pain and ecstatic joy. The pain came from finding out for yourself that gravity is never going to concede. The joy came from successfully cheating a physical force. The uninitiated think that gravity is a law. I know plenty of people that can bend that law unrecognizable with a BMX bike.

This is only Part 1 on Ramp Riders.

I have to wait for the internet to get bigger before I can tell you about everything the clubhouse that Tom built meant to me. All the friends I made there. How I learned to be myself. Learning to understand fear.

Ramp Riders became my second home. My second family. My home where it was OK to hang my old shoes from the power lines out front. My home caddy-corner from the car wash that the Ghost Dogg Riders Motorcycle Club used as their clubhouse (The third awesome Clubhouse in the hot zone). My home where I got to have raw hamburger fights, and blow the lids off of old washing machines with quarter sticks of dynamite, and prove that a bucket brigade can put out a fire in an overgrown vacant lot. It was also where I learned to be a teacher, and where I learned for myself the importance of letting yourself be a student.



Ghost Doggs


When this lot was overgrown, litter-strewn and on fire. We put it out with buckets.

Ramp Riders was also my second job. Where I got interviewed by a newspaper reporter on my very first day.* Where I sold giant pickles to kids so filthy that their sweat left visible tracks down their cheeks. They would hand me a sweaty and crumpled dollar bill and I would put a fat pickle in their dirt black hand.

It's where I taught myself how to program a cash register. The top of every receipt read "Ramp Riders: You Are Not Special."

Where I had to explain to parents on Beginner Night that the Ghost Doggs always held drag races on Monday nights and it was nothing to be alarmed about. Where I learned the importance of giving your all to something you love.

Ramp Riders is where I learned that I didn't have to learn to fight another person. There are bigger things to fight against, things that you will probably never beat. But you will learn a lot if you try.

To this day I've never punched somebody as hard as I can.

Maybe I should start with whoever turned our clubhouse into a high end women's boutique that sells organic beauty products instead of leaving it as a filthy, sweat-drenched museum.



3001-3 Locust now. Stealing change from car ashtrays has never been more satisfying.



*Gay Chicken is a game straight dudes play. The idea is to do something so gay that your opponent can't let himself top it. The best game I ever witnessed ended with JJ's hand down Wayne's pants. JJ was squeezing Wayne's naked dick and Wayne EVENTUALLY had to quit when he started getting hard!

*




26 comments:

Ben said...

I feel lucky to have experienced Ramp Riders in its current form, and I look forward to embracing more fear within the walls of Ramp Riders.

I'm convinced that pushing myself to the point of fear, and then overcoming that fear, has helped me grow more in the past week than I've grown the past year.

Thanks for inviting me to Ramp Riders, and thanks for guiding me as I better myself.

Anonymous said...

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Pancake Master said...

I have never even heard of, let alone experienced, this gem of a (former) place. I love it. Thank you Lee.

Jeff P said...

Nice.

Tim A said...

I really miss that place!

Jeff said...

I am torn about skateparks. In 1977 I just missed the skatepark that used to be on the Rock Road. So we would skate anywhere we could. Convince some kids parents to let us build a ramp in their backyard. Eagerly await that time of the year that apartment buildings would drain and repaint heir pools and sneak in and skate those. The was the ramp in Shawn's yard, Steve's yard, the swamp ramp, the ditch on 170, the old wet willys, the kiddy pool at some catholic girls school, where we would skate till chased away by nuns. The pool literally in the middle of the woods (a whole story in its own). So many cool skate spots made and discovered by my friends and I. I am sure that cool spots are still discovered, but skating is far easier now than it was when I was a kid. While the tricks have gotten far more hard and dangerous, the danger in just the act of skating, because you might get beat up, or arrested doesn't seem to be as big of a threat. Lee we will have to chat about skate stories next time I see you. And then there was the pool in the basement of the abandoned mansion, but that also is a whole other story.

Evannn said...

I'd give about anything to ride that place again...

mr. awesome said...

Jeff,
I know the pool in the woods. I imagine it's the same one you're talking about.

I almost castrated myself there on the gunnel of an Alum-A-Craft canoe. My buddy Andy got his hair cut there by a totally naked adult man. And my uncle Jeff used to pool hop there in the 60's.

You're on to something, it might be worth its own post.
-Lee

colin loughlin said...
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colin loughlin said...
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colin loughlin said...

I still have my 30 day rider pass from summer 2002. I'm rider number 45-666A. I remember being pretty bad at riding ramps there, I wasn't the best rider and often got pretty squarely in the air. As a result of this I got thrown of balance while jumping the ramp-box down into the bottom most section and crashed into the wall. I cut up my knuckles on my right hand pretty bad, and as I was complaining about it moments later, Tony Turner told me to shut up and stop being such a pussy. Safe to say I kept my mouth shut about it for some months after. About three months later during a hot shower while at home in Virginia I noticed puss coming out of the knuckle on my right middle finger so I squeezed on it real hard like it was a big zit and out came three splints of wood. In total they were about the size of the neck of a match stick. I cleaned out the wound pretty good and kept it clean until it healed and scared. I can't begin to say how satisfying it was getting those pieces of that place out of me, but a part of it will always remain in me.

Casey Otto said...

When I read you got emperor's passes 1 and 2 it actually gave me goosebumps. Please tell me you still have those.

Hope said...

About gay chicken, Howard Stern has a contest called cockeoke (cock + karaoke) where a tiny microphone is inserted into the pouch of Sal's uncircumcised penis and the lead singer of a band has to get on his knees and sing into it like he would a regular microphone. They have the option to not participate in the contest, but all five bands opted in this week because they decided they'd sing into Sal's cock for the exposure to millions of people and listening record producers in hopes of getting their big break into the music industry.

As I'm sure you know, this is from Hope

Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but I wanted to ask if anyone has heard of National Clicks?

Can someone help me find it?

Overheard some co-workers talking about it all week but didn't have time to ask so I thought I would post it here to see if someone could help me out.

Seems to be getting alot of buzz right now.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this - it has brought tears to my eyes. Ramp Riders was my second home as well for about three years. Such a magical place. I would give almost anything to blade at the original park again. I still have dreams about it. The park, the people, the feelings. I'm so glad that I could spend a part of my life there, it is really a unique experience that not a lot of people can understand.

Anonymous said...

Lee-
I feel honored to read this and know that we as a group created these memories. You my friend are indeed an amazing writer! ThankYou LEE! WOW!!!!

Anonymous said...

Tony Turner is and always be a fat Vagina!

Anonymous said...

Lee-
It has taken me a little time to finally see this but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed taking a little trip down locust memory lane. The original Ramp Riders is such a great source of joy for me as I met all the main players (including my husband) in my life in that old dilapidated building. It's crazy to think that we've all known each other for around the ten years it's been since RR opened. I'm so happy I met you and everyone else that came into our mesa boogie world. I'm even happy to have met Alfonso and his dirty hot dog/ giant costco muffin stand!

I can still see the relevance of that place still today, from toasting Tom and Toni at my wedding, getting MMMI (3001) tattoos with Zack to the glass brick I stole while they were rehabbing the building to a road bike store (I guess this didn't last long since it's now a clothing store).

This is getting long so I'll wrap it up... Thank you for this, and thank you for being part of one of the biggest and best parts of my life!
love, ashley.

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Bob said...

I stumbled across this post from the TOKY website, which apparently is located in the spot where I: saw Rune Glifberg skate on the Volcom tour, crashed down the old halfpipe, was knocked out for 8 mins and went to the hospital, competed in multiple skate competitions, one of which got me trip to skate at the warped tour... At any rate- it takes me back to read the view of someone else, thanks for the trip.

Antoine said...

I am torn about skateparks. In 1977 I just missed the skatepark that used to be on the Rock Road. So we would skate anywhere we could. Convince some kids parents to let us build a ramp in their backyard. Eagerly await that time of the year that apartment buildings would drain and repaint heir pools and sneak in and skate those. The was the ramp in Shawn's yard, Steve's yard, the swamp ramp, the ditch on 170, the old wet willys, the kiddy pool at some catholic girls school, where we would skate till chased away by nuns. The pool literally in the middle of the woods (a whole story in its own). So many cool skate spots made and discovered by my friends and I. I am sure that cool spots are still discovered, but skating is far easier now than it was when I was a kid. While the tricks have gotten far more hard and dangerous, the danger in just the act of skating, because you might get beat up, or arrested doesn't seem to be as big of a threat. Lee we will have to chat about skate stories next time I see you. And then there was the pool in the basement of the abandoned mansion, but that also is a whole other story.

Anonymous said...

So, you stole from/fucked up your "community's" property, yearn for the days you could do it more and now you're bitter you can't because STL is trying to be less of a shithole. And of course, you think the ultimate confrontation of fear is embodied by gay chicken.

Insulated man-boy punk bullshit at it's best. Sterling example of St. Louis' denizens.

Justin Hoffman said...

THANK YOU SO FUCKING MUCH!!!
this page has just about made me cry! my name is justin hoffman my fathers name is Mike Hoffman he was there helping build the ramps and worked there since they opened and when i was vary little i remember spending every other day down there playing on the loud speaker and sitting in the pro shop drinking fruit punch form the soda machine and sitting in the back office just chillin this page has brought back so many memories that i cant explain thepart i love most is thepictures there are little things that i still own to this day like half the banners hanging on the ceiling of the proshot to one of the Rs that were from the Huge "ramp riders" i loved this place thank you for giving me a blast to the past! if anyone has any more pictures or storys please email me At floggnaw1997@gmail.com