(This first appeared in Dig issue 42.)
I don’t know how or why it happened, but somehow, both my brother and myself came to be quite gifted in the art of bullshitting, straight face and all. Throughout school, it proved useful in regards to excessive prank phone calling. We were always contriving elaborate tales of how a rock ended up in our baked potato at a restaurant we had just eaten at, or getting onto radio call-in shows midday. It was a pretty useless talent otherwise, but it’s proven to be quite an asset in regards to riding a bike and the fine art of illegal trespassing.
We all know that sometimes, riding a bike can occasionally lead to trespassing, which in turn leads to confrontations with either law enforcement officials or irate property owners. And this is where my gift of bullshitting has proven useful as of late. I’m always “looking for a cat that ran away from my house” if questioned by property owners while searching for new spots to ride on private property. I’ve also taken to “shooting a student film” when filming any riding on private property, and have even stooped as low as “looking for interesting business signs to shoot photos of for an art book I’m working on.” Most of the time, the bullshitting gets me off with a “get lost” and a warning, which is better than a trespassing fine and/or jail. But nowhere has my gift of bullshit proven more useful than on the morning of the An!mal Brooklyn Banks Jam.
Nate Wessel had volunteered his truck along with a flat bed trailer full of ramps courtesy of Red Bull to cart across the water from New Jersey to downtown New York City. Driving an economy car in downtown NYC is hard enough, but navigating Nate’s truck and trailer was near impossible. Somehow, he had accomplished it, arriving on Pearl St., next to Pace University and the Brooklyn Banks, unscathed. With nowhere in sight to park, Nate simply pulled up onto an empty sidewalk, which happened to be the entrance to the NYC Parks Department. Now, many of us imagined that this wouldn’t be a problem, as it was 10AM on a Sunday morning and no public service employees usually get the chance to work decent overtime in any part of New York. But the three employees that did, well, they arrived at Nate’s truck about 8 minutes after Nate had parked there, after scores of riders had already begun unloading the Red Bull ramps from the rear of the trailer (carrying ramps through traffic in the middle of the street, over a jersey barrier and into the cordoned off area of the Brooklyn Banks).
The first words from the Parks Department employees was the oh so Die-Hard-ish, “Alright, who’s in charge here?,” muttered by many a FBI agent during John McClain’s regional tirades of LA, a Chicago airport and New York City. No one was stepping forward, and since I had somewhat helped Ralph and An!mal organize the unorganized, un-permitted public gathering, I stepped forward.
“I am,” I said.
The first of the three Parks Dept. employees asked, “What are you guys doing here, and where is all this stuff going?”
I don’t know where my answer came from, but I thank the god of bullshit for bestowing me with quick wit. “We’re from the Brooklyn Banks BMX Foundation, and we’re here to clean up the banks. We do it once a year, and after we clean up, we set up these ramps for the afternoon and then ride them til dark,” I said. (I honestly don’t know where that load of horseshit came from…)
“So you’re getting the ramps out of there after the day then?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“I don’t have enough hair on my head to worry about this,” quipped the other slightly-bald Parks Dept. employee. “As long as this truck gets out of the way of my driveway, you can do what you want,” he added.
Without even stalling to think “Is this really happening?,” we unloaded the remainder of the ramps as quickly as possible and got them into the Banks, out of sight of the police, the Parks Dept. and the rest of New York City. Nate got his truck out of the way and we went about arranging the awkward collection of ramps, which would continue to be altered throughout the course of the day.
The Parks Dept. employees asked for my permit, which I stated was in the truck with Ralph, parked at the bottom of downtown. They told me to get it and make sure to hold onto it during the day if any police hassled us about what was happening.
By this time, riders from all over the tri-state area and beyond had arrived at the Banks, and an impromptu jam was already happening; unorganized and un-permitted, directly next to 1 Police Plaza, in the most heavily guarded city in the Western world.
At around the same time, Nate Wessel had arrived at the Banks with a concrete drill, and was attempting to drill a flat rail into the top of the tall banks. The rail was bolted down, but the drill had lost power halfway through the process, so it was only partly grounded and very unsteady, which left it virtually untouched atop the bank. It’s probably still there actually…
The jam really didn’t even need anymore obstacles though, as it was too crowded to even ride the ramps that had arrived and were rideable. Still, more than a fair share of riding commenced. Some good, some great, all of it fun, including a rail comp, a 180 long jump comp and a best trick comp (for a Hoffman Bikes frame).
Throughout the day, more ramps courtesy of An!mal continued to be added to the jam, and then something unbelievable happened. Zack ‘www.catfishcatfishcatfish.com’ Yankush and his merry band of DK pranksters arrived in the DK Van, followed by a box jump trailer. I remember hearing “Does anyone want to ride a box jump?” being screamed, and then, the unthinkable happened. The Banks are cordoned off by three very large jersey barriers at each end, to impede vehicular traffic from entering. Zack somehow convinced about 20 riders to push and shove one of the barriers to the side. Please bear in mind that these barriers weigh upwards of a few tons each, and they were actually being moved out of the way by people, minus the aid of any vehicle or machine. Space was made for the van and trailer to back into the Banks area, off of a busy street, over a sidewalk and into the Banks, directly in plain view of the police department, who witnessed the entire spectacle and said nothing….
The trailer was assembled and another sector of the jam erupted, a box jump jam on a DK trailer in the middle of downtown New York City. I honestly kept thinking to myself, “Alright, when are the police going to shut this down?” along with “I can’t believe no one of any type of authority has said anything yet!” And sure enough, the jam never was shut down and no one said anything.
By nightfall, DK had loaded up their trailer, drove back over the sidewalk and back into busy traffic. An!mal loaded up the few ramps they had unloaded from the truck, while the Red Bull ramps were left behind as an offering to the steep brick banks and adjacent area that had given so much to BMX over the past 20 years.
The crowds were dispersing from the Banks, and all that was left were a small group of us, still wondering how the hell the day had transpired without any interference at all. We drove back through the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey and unloaded the ramps from the truck into the An!mal warehouse. It was 2am by the time I got home that night and fell fast asleep.
Ironically, the city that never sleeps, slept on BMX for one day, and we were all the more grateful for it….