There’s a three stair outside the local pool we used to hit up. It was made of bricks, so your board would rumble when the wheels passed between the smooth red surfaces. Landing a trick off the three stair was harder and scarier than it should have been. Part of it was the speed needed to clear it, part of it was the drop. I think I landed a varial flip one time, but that could be wishful thinking. I do know people in the neighborhood were never super psyched we skated there. They acted like we were a nuisance. Adults gave us the sideways eye, the head shake—like, how dare we skate outside the local pool.
These were their bricks.
An old guy watched us for a long time, arms folded tightly, waiting for one of us to pull a switch blade or a blunt so he could call the cops.
We never knew where to get blunts or knives.
We weren’t cool or dangerous, we just liked skating. One time, when we were skating at the church parking lot across the street from my house, my neighbor came out and asked if we ever landed our tricks because all he saw was our boards skittering across the ground and our bodies slamming down. He was annoyed by the sound of the plywood decks smacking the asphalt. He didn’t like the sound of plastic wheels and bearings ripping outside his window. I told him dogs hate that sound because they always try and bite my wheels when I ride by. He didn’t know how to take that. I think back on what a lost opportunity it was, to show him the beauty, the camaraderie, the pure bliss of exercise and danger. Even if all he saw were boards spinning into oblivion and kids in entropic motion, wasn’t that beautiful enough?
There is a five stair in the neighborhood too, couple blocks from a spot we always got kicked out of called the SMILE gap—a grass patch buttressed by two white strips of perfectly smooth cement with a lip formed by some bored construction worker who probably skated. The five stair is difficult, in the sense that I was never that good at skating, but also because it has a very small ride in. It involves a couple of running steps before you throw the board down and either ollie or ditch. The stairs splay out like a rainbow or a flower making the drop look pretty dramatic. Once you land, it’s about four feet until you’re in a busy street. We skated there because no one bothered us, and because it was the only five stair we knew about.
There’s a one stair at the elementary school in the back. Not sure a one stair even counts. It was just a curb that we waxed up with Sex Wax, which was neon colored and smelled like magic markers, except it went on black and shiny and never seemed to make too much of a difference in our 50-50’s. We were skating back there one time, freshly fueled off donuts and slurpees—the eleven-year-old me’s breakfast of champions—when another kid took a lighter to the wax. He melted it and said we’d been doing it all wrong. After that, one of my friends started playing with lighters. He figured out there’s some switch inside the lighter’s mechanics (I didn’t ever have a lighter so I don’t really know) that you could detach, and the flame would shoot up about six inches. Most of the time after that, when we were sitting around on our boards, sweat covering our bodies, thinking about nothing and worrying about nothing, my friend would pull out his lighter and we’d watch the flame leap out then disappear like the summer sun.
The biggest set is a twelve stair at our high school. I used to slide down the railing on my butt coming back from gym class but never thought it was possible on a skateboard. It was something you’d see in Thrasher and maybe visualize with your friends as you walked by—the take off, the speed, the danger and exhilaration. All the other kids just saw a staircase. The rest of us saw adventure.
A kid named K, long hair, surfer attitude and a real good skater to be sure, planned to try and ollie it. The speed alone to clear a set like that was intense and the ride in was curved and short, with the type of cement made of small pebbles rather than smooth sand. I didn’t see him clear it the first time, but he became a local legend when he did. We’d walk by the set on the way to track practice and ask everyone if they’d heard that K had cleared it. When he did it again, I was there. It was like he was falling in slow motion—his hair weightless, face determined, skateboard still somehow beneath his feet. We thought we were witnessing the rise of greatness, especially when he ollied another impossible gap later dubbed the ‘Bench Gap’ sought out by some pros in the years to come. But K got into drugs or cults or both, I’ve never been really sure. Memories fade but the staircase still stands—and legends never die.
S. R. Schulz is a writer, doctor, father and sometimes tweeter. He’s been published in McSweeney’s, Entropy, Bull, Pidgeonholes, and others. You can find his work at srschulzwriting.com and catch his really cool tweets at @SRschulzwriting.
Photography: Hughes de Buyer-Mimeure