It could hardly be a more American story.
Three citizens--a printer, a store manager, a glass blower--who, with the aid of a small but devoted army, are utterly dedicated to making their vision a reality.
The three are Damon Alire; his wife, Laura; and Daniel Scott Shircliff. The fighting force is a band named Jodie Foster's Army, and the trio's vision is a skateboard park. Right here in Phoenix, open to the public, free of charge.
It all began about two years ago, in the living room of the Alires' home. "We were sitting around complaining," Damon, 26, and a rider for 11 years, says. "We had just been kicked out from some place [for skateboarding], harassed by a security guard, and my wife said, 'I'm sick of hearing you guys complaining. Let's get a skate park.'"
Why a skate park? Can't these kids just ride down the street? In case you haven't been keeping up, the era of innocuous, Jan & Dean-style sidewalk surfin' is long gone. According to Shircliff and Damon Alire, to practice the art of skateboarding in this day and age is to be treated as an evildoer, a public enemy, a third-class citizen.
"The main reason we're doing this is we have nowhere to skate," says Shircliff, 23, who's been riding since he was 14. "Everywhere we went, it was either, 'Get out of here!' or we saw 'No Skateboarding' signs.
"I can go to the mall to buy me a new pair of shoes, using a skateboard as my transportation, and be told, 'You can't come in here with that thing. You can't buy those shoes.' They think we're going to destroy property, cause problems." His face reddens as he speaks, offsetting the dirty-blond soul patch hanging beneath his lower lip. "They think we'll run into some old lady's ankle.
"It seems small to people, but to the kids, it's a big thing. How is it supposed to make a 14-year-old kid feel when the sport of his choice is--instead of football--skateboarding, and he can't even go anywhere and do it?"
But you don't just get a skate park; there are laws and restrictions, codes, committees and reams of paperwork that must be dealt with before anything gets built at a public park, all of which the three discovered after taking their cause to City Hall. But the main ingredient, of course, is money--in this case, an estimated $50,000 to build the park.
Another thing they discovered was that the Park Foundation of Phoenix would come up with half the financing if they could raise the other half.
Mark Lamm, a recreation supervisor for the City of Phoenix (and a man Damon describes as "totally cool"), has been working with the group for more than a year. "They've done a very, very good job with this," Lamm says. But will it actually happen? "They've got about $10,000 now, so they need $15,000 more and it should become a reality." That reality is slated to occur about Christmas at Desert West Park, 67th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard.
This brings us to the second chapter of our story, in which the Alires and Shircliff are transformed from simple skateboard lovers into nonprofit fund raisers, architectural advisers and concert promoters. As anyone who's aware of the big bucks raised by events such as Farm Aid and Live Aid can tell you, rock begets revenue.
"We knew the owner of a club called the Silver Dollar. We explained what we wanted to do, and he said he'd give us the club for the night," Damon says of the first fund raiser. "We knew a bunch of bands. We asked this chick from Burning Bush, this local band, and she said if we had a concert, they'd play it."
The success of that initial show led to another, that one "the second biggest underground show of 1993," Shircliff claims. "I still don't know how we did it." The gig featured Jodie Foster's Army, one of Phoenix's seminal, early-Eighties punk groups that went on to national success. And Jodie Foster's Army will be the headliner at another, upcoming fund raiser (also donating time are Wise Monkey Orchestra, Cruel Daddy Doom and the Hemlocks, Loonacy, H8 Inc. and New Mexico's Logical Nonsense).
There is nothing phony about Jodie Foster's Army's involvement in the skate-park cause, as founding guitarist Don Pendleton reveals. "I'm a surfer, and I couldn't surf in Arizona, so I would always skateboard with these guys [future JFA band members]--we were all students at ASU," he explains from his home in California. "We all liked the same kind of music, so we just started a band. It was real skateboard-oriented, real fast, aggressive music." The group became one of the first skate bands in the country, and is still together four albums and almost 13 years later.
"We sing about skateboarding, mostly because they've made it illegal, especially where I live now in Huntington Beach. It's kind of stupid; when I have kids, I hope they skateboard instead of hanging out in parks and doing drugs."
Pendleton, 34, has seen the sport rise, fall and rise in popularity, and echoes Shircliff's and the Alires' feelings of victimization.
"In the Seventies, when I was a kid, they had skate parks, but those all closed down," he remembers. "Kids built ramps and stuff in their backyards, but then permit laws and restrictions squashed that; now kids are into riding curbs and park benches. They've evolved so they can pretty much ride any kind of terrain, but they're outlawing that, too. You can get a $50 ticket for skating down a sidewalk where people rollerblade."
But the long arm of the law is not completely grasping at straws, he admits. "The city has its point, too. Someone with rollerblades isn't going to jump off the ground, slide across a park bench and take half the paint off. It's just that everyplace is illegal now; that's why we're really behind this skate-park thing."
Shircliff puts it succinctly: "The bands at our shows are skate bands, and JFA is the biggest skate band to come out of Arizona. These are people who actually give a shit about what we're doing."
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It should be noted that there are currently two skate parks operating in the Valley, Mesa Skate Park and Thrasherland in Glendale, but at those locations, "you have to pay or become a member, and at Thrasherland, you've got to wear pads," Damon says. "There's no freedom involved, and that's what skateboarding's all about. At our park, we're talking free. Just like a public basketball court, you just walk up and start shooting hoops."
The main concern about such a venture is liability; parents have a funny way of suing when their child cracks his or her head open in a public park, and skateboarding is viewed as a midwife to injury by many officials. The Alires and Shircliff quelled that fear. Using facts and figures culled from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Skateboard Association and emergency-room reports, the trio showed that basketball and soccer, even lawn darts, are potentially more dangerous than skateboarding.
A city study on the feasibility of a skate park notes that skateboarding is the sixth-largest participatory sport in the world, that the mean age of skaters is 14, and that "the vast majority of riders are ordinary, energetic youth who engage in wholesome activities and are good students."
As it stands now, a few more fund-raising concerts, a few thousand more dollars, a few tons of concrete and Phoenix will have a state-of-the-art place for skateboarders to skate without fear of breaking either laws or the ankles of old ladies. And what reward will the Alires and Shircliff get for their efforts? Can these people really be this noble? Damon Alire strikes a pose of integrity that would make a founding father proud. "A place to skate.