Fly Boys

Like a gang of punk Peter Pans, suburbia's not-so-lost boys flock to Eisenbergs Skate Park to test their wings

If boys could fly, the world would look like Eisenbergs. Scores of boys on in-line skates, skateboards, and BMX bikes are perched atop enormous plywood ramps like crows on a cliff. The place reeks of young men, slick with sweat, ostentatiously stoical in their Teutonic skate helmets and gladiator pads.

They are wordless, motionless. Then suddenly, moved by an invisible tremor in the earth, they lift up one after another and roar through the air, flipping and spinning, landing in thunderous waves on a distant cliff.

A sound system blasts the bone-buzzing cadences of the Suicide Machines, Pete Droge, and Ska Wars. The skaters move in clouds from place to place, skating and never speaking, flying up off the lips of ramps like bats emerging from the bowels of the planet.

When they come down off the ramps and walk around on their skates, they're ridiculous, like ducks on dry land, waddly in their huge, flappy, fat-legged, skunk-striped Jnco Jeans hanging down off their butts and their huge cape-like T-shirts and little round bullet-headed helmets. But when they skate they are marvelous. The pants and the shirts become wings, and all of these young warriors fly through the air like winged Mercury.

Well, a lot of them do. Some of them fall on their faces, forearms, buttocks, shoulders, wrists, bouncing and thumping a few times before they come to rest in a hump on the floor.

Eisenbergs Skate Park is housed in a rambling old warehouse just down Main Street from Plano City Hall. The only identification on the front is a sign with the Eisenbergs logo--a flying letter E.

Just inside the glass doors, Eisenbergs looks as if it could be a clothing store, with racks of clothing and skate accessories, but beyond the merchandise is a 30,000-square-foot mountain range of plywood ramps, some of them steep and towering, some of them smooth and low. Eisenbergs is the first skate park in Plano, only the second in the Dallas area, and one of five of its size in the United States.

When it opened right in the middle of downtown Plano barely a year ago, the park was greeted at first with fear and loathing by the surrounding culture, but now local officials openly embrace it as a wonderful and welcome thing, as if it were a scientific breakthrough.

Plano is, after all, at the demographic epicenter of the suburban teen heroin problem. It has received national news coverage over a 20-year span for its chronic teen suicide problem. Plano is just across the line from Richardson, where a white middle-class gang fight recently resulted in one kid getting his eyes gouged out.

It is a place where people have a right to be antsy about teenagers, and when Eisenbergs opened its doors a year ago, it looked to the neighbors like a haven for everything they feared most.

"Anytime you have young people coming into an area, you have a certain cause for concern at first," says Martin Williams, who owns a barbershop in the shopping center next to Eisenbergs.

Plano Police Chief Bruce D. Glasscock says the initial crush of skaters who came to Plano to skate at the park was causing a visible amount of wear and tear on the city's carefully coiffed downtown area.

"They were using their skateboards on ornamental stuff in the arts center, things like that."

But Vicki Eisenberg says the main problem was that people in Plano, especially the downtown merchants, just hated the look and feel of the place and called right away to let her know.

"The second day we were open," she says, "I closed the place down for two hours and took all our employees outside and told them we were getting complaints from the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, all of the businesses up and down the street. The phone lines were jammed with people complaining.

"Now the police come in all the time and thank us all for being here. They tell us this is the best thing to happen to Plano."

Eisenberg thinks the greatest value of the place is that it provides a kind of slip-zone for kids who can't find their own niche in the rigid social map of suburban high school life.

"If the kids don't fit into a clique in the schools here, they are nobodies," she says. "They're nowhere. The skate park gives them a home."

Donella Green, principal of Armstrong Middle School in Plano, has even set up a skate team at her school to take advantage of Eisenbergs' powerful adolescent force field.

"These are the kids who weren't participating in anything else in the building," Green says. "I told them it would be like any other sport, and they would have to have all passing grades before they could participate. They far exceeded our expectations. All of their grades came up."

Aggressive skating, which tends to include both skateboarding and in-line skating, with a certain amount of bleed-over (sometimes literally) into BMX bikes--was born as an extreme expression of urban grunge. The first indoor park with ramps in the Dallas area was in an industrial warehouse district and attracted a crowd of energetic young parolees on wheels with bad tempers. It's out of business.

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