The noxious exhaust fumes and the clatter of self-absorbed business ants rushing around on the sidewalks below have vanished by the time I arrive. On the top floor of the parking garage in the middle of the night, I inhale a breath of cool air as I peer upwards at the shining metallic spires surrounding me that reach into the inky sky. The urban mountainscape is accented with green, blue and pink fluorescent reflections from the other buildings encroaching upward. It all looks much the same as it did 30 years ago when I first arrived in the Dallas/Fort Worth “Metroplex.”
However, on the top floor of the parking garage, now a giant sculpture of a chrome bird on a skateboard looks down at us – giving us some sense of entitlement to be here, even though we all know we are not really welcomed. Parking garages come and go, yet always remain. Gone are the old haunts with names like the Braniff, the Blue Rail and the Texas Club. Though they still physically exist, they have become clogged with suffocating residential parking as more people move into downtown proper; or they are inaccessible due to higher security in these unpredictable times. But they have been replaced by other goliaths with monikers like Star, Mozart and Bat Cave. Other, lesser-known garages provide a guaranteed chase from security guards half my age – or even all-night hasslefree sessions, provided I don’t mind climbing stairs.
When I was young, the DFW parking garages were more the icing on the cake after a full day at the Clown Ramp or sweating it out in an empty swimming pool under the merciless Texas sun. They beckoned to us with their simplicity, the thrill of speed, the serious chance of injury and the promise of fun. We would make the pilgrimage once or twice a month, regular skateboards in hand. There was always the chance of running into local skateboard legends like Dan Wilkes or Craig Johnson on the elevator, themselves looking for the same kicks we were in search of. Dallas’ original longboarder, Tmo (RIP) or Dave Dude were just as likely to be flying around a turn in the middle of the night upon our arrival, maybe doving a handstand for a full floor or catamarans to the bottom just for fun. The thrills were found in doing pack runs down the layers of floors and making the turns without a wholesale pile-up. It wasn’t really racing, as being at the front of the pack would have taken you out of the center of the storm, where the real fun was found. However much alike, a lot has changed since then …
Fueled in large part by the downhill zealots at Bombsquad Longboards, a burgeoning garage scene grew and manifested into a movement unto itself both locally and nationally. No longer do skaters hit a parking garage on a whim. Today it is a full-blown lifestyle practiced on a daily basis by the kind of speed freaks who don’t require a lab to get high. Shortboards with grounddown trucks have been replaced by longer wheelbases, precision trucks and grippy downhill wheels. Speed is king, and outlaw races are thrown regularly in DFW, other parts of Texas and across the country. Sometimes they’re thrown together with less than a day’s notice, sometimes with months of conspiring. The first garage race in Dallas that I recall was the product of an alcohol-fueled debate between two guys over which of them was faster at a specific downtown parking garage. Bravado and pride cemented a mano a mano duel for the following weekend, with witnesses at the start and finish to keep things legit. One trophy was made from an Independent truck, a Tracker truck and a block of old fencepost. That original race was given the unoriginal title “King of the Hill,” and for years after that, the original two competitors organized other downhill races that drew in racers from all over Texas.
Since that early challenge, things have taken off, perhaps inspired by the race, or just as likely completely unaware of it. Full-face racing helmets are now a common sight. The competition is heated in this city, and the local racers take pride in their consistent wins at garage races that have taken place all over the country. There is fierce sh*ttalking amongst the fastest that usually revolves around who has stood at the top of the podium the most – even if the podium consists only of an empty ice chest at times. It’s serious business to be fast around here, and a badge of honor that is earned through constant honing of racing skills. Area racers learn quickly that forking out $100 on a set of ceramic bearings is not a sure way to get to climb on top of that ice cooler for a victory picture. The racing is often full-contact, and some unusual starts are gaining popularity. Often racers have a full-speed footrace to find their waiting skateboard, grab it and then start pushing down the garage. On any given day you’ll find fresh young faces of fearless teenagers jockeying for position beside old silverbeards and 90-lb. girls as they slice around each corner. The asses of many of their jeans will be in shreds, and, if you were to look close enough, you would see scars from old wipeouts and scabs from more recent ones. There is bumping in racing, and even the least significant challenges have left skaters on their backs waiting for a lift to the emergency room. But as a renowned racer from another sport once said, “If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.
”The truth is that it all boils down to the cheap thrills of racing down a hill on skateboard wheels. The fun factor has survived in full. Around here, we don’t let an icy garage or rain-drenched concrete floors ruin a good time. Gale-force side winds blowing through the upper floors of the more open garages make it all the more interesting and challenging. Some days somebody may show up with a stack of orange slalom cones in the trunk of their car to be spread out for anybody interested in wiggling through them, or a four-wheeled cart may be dragged out of the bed of a pickup truck and a camera attached to it to record runs from a whole different perspective. Buttboard fun-runs happen all the time, and street luges (aka “shred sleds”) have rocketed down many floors unbeknownst to the public eye. The racers around here do take winning seriously, but it’s really all about the kicks that can be found in a parking structure that is little more than an eyesore or a simple convenience to the average person.
A special thanks to Michael Brooke at Concrete Wave Magazine
Bombsquad riders gathered in South Texas to skate some favorites and stuff.