Fly Boys

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

The Eisenbergs' idea was to take this very urban sport and transport it to the demographic heart of the middle-class suburbs, where there are likely to be many people with enough disposable income to afford this not-inexpensive sport.

The Eisenbergs are not dumb about marketing. Vicki Eisenberg has spent much of her career promoting movies, books, and other entertainments. Her ex-husband, Arthur Eisenberg, who is a co-owner of the skate park, is proprietor of one of the region's oldest and most respected advertising creative shops. Vicki's current husband, Essie Babaahmadi, the on-site manager of the skate park, has a long career under his belt in the ownership and operation of retail businesses.

But the heart of the deal is Arlo Eisenberg, Arthur and Vicki's 24-year-old son, who happens to be the biggest international star in the sport of aggressive skating. Arlo--called "The Arlo" by skaters worldwide--is almost never here, because he is almost always on tour, in Thailand, in New Zealand, in England, in Germany. Arlo is a founder of "aggro (for aggressive, not agricultural) skating." He was the in-line champion of the first X Games (for Extreme) broadcast on ESPN in 1995, but even by then there were already posters of his butt flying through the air on walls all over Europe and America.

The Arlo is huge. Global. The Arlo is also smart. At 24 he owns one of the world's hottest skate-accessory companies, Senate (named for something "powerful yet corrupt," as he explains).

Senate markets a line of backpacks, clothing, wheels, and other skate stuff. The company, like The Arlo himself, walks a fine and clever line between the realms of chic and anarchy. Two years ago Senate set off a minor public-relations bonfire when it shipped T-shirts with little laundry instruction labels inside that said, "Destroy All Girls," "Wife Beater," and "Kill."

A few major retail chains returned the merchandise, and there was a flurry of media speculation about whether the labels would actually cause adolescent boys to destroy girls, beat wives, and commit murder.

The company continues to reach for the outrageous. Its current full-page ad in an industry trade publication includes all kinds of titillatingly cryptic, neo-Masonic symbology and a big cartoon balloon over The Arlo's picture saying, "WE'RE BIGGER THAN GOD." A line in tiny print at the bottom of the page says, "Whahh ho. In your face."

Kids love it.
Standing in the middle of his ad agency recently, Arthur Eisenberg smiled the smile of a father lucky enough to admire his son without understanding him.

"Arlo scares me a little," he says. "When I talk to him, I wonder what he thinks of what I'm saying."

But the point is, Arthur says, that The Arlo knows what he's doing. On the golden harp of media manipulation, he has plucked exactly the right chord, allowing him to sneak past Nike and Bauer and all the other big-name giants and take command of the all-important edge. And the edge all leads back to Plano.

"When Arlo is in Asia," Arthur says, "these kids come up to him and say, 'Oh, Arlo, we can't wait to go to Plano and skate at your park. We're saving up our money.'"

One day recently at the skate park, Josie Eisenberg, Vicki's daughter, nods toward a group of boys, ages 13 to 18, standing around the clothing shop at the front. "Ask them where they're from."

Dustin Milham, 13, says, "We're from Wichita."
"Wichita Falls?"
Puzzled silence.

His buddy Will Carlton, also 13, comes to the rescue. "Wichita is in Kansas, sir," he offers.

They explain nicely that their schools are out for teacher in-service. A skatepark in Wichita, called BOARDorLINE, arranged to bring them here in a van, with chaperones. They are staying at the nearby La Quinta.

Eddie Parish, an owner of BOARDorLINE, says he thinks there is a dark side and risk in any business endeavor that caters to kids.

"It doesn't matter if you're a skate park or a mall, wherever there's an attraction for kids, there's gonna be drugs," Parish says.

Before he took responsibility for bringing a carload of other people's kids to Eisenbergs, Parish and a friend came down by themselves to check the place out. He says he gave it a careful going-over and finally decided the Eisenbergs knew what they were doing.

Neither Vicki Eisenberg nor her husband, Essie, is likely to be fooled by much. They know that dope could ruin their business. They keep a sharp eye on their employees and an ear to the ground. They maintain a close relationship with the Plano cops.

"We're rumor central," she says. "Everybody tells us everything. We almost hired a guy once who was a heroin dealer, and the kids tipped us off."

The skaters are into adrenaline.
The most serious adrenaline in the place is at the far back. Called "the vert" by everyone, it's a place where two very steep ramps face each other across a flat space of about 20 feet in width. The boys standing at the very tops of the ramps waiting to "drop in" are almost two stories above the floor. The top five feet of each ramp is an almost sheer vertical drop.

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