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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia City Paper
Date: October 31-November 6, 2002
Byline: Howard Altman


LOVE Burns Bacon

"Don’t drop him," I think to myself as I hold up the old man who is in the process of becoming the world’s most ancient skate rat. "Just don’t drop him. The last thing I want is The Bacon Brothers after me."

It is a brisk Monday morning in late October. A smattering of skateboarders, a world-famous architect, a couple of television crews, the merely curious, a cop and the homeless have gathered around the LOVE sculpture in LOVE Park. They are here to see Edmund Bacon, the former city planner who envisioned this space, stage a four-wheeled rage against the machine.

"Cutting this park off from skateboarders is a serious mistake on the part of Mayor John Street," says Bacon as he steps gingerly onto a borrowed board. "And by this act of civil disobedience, I am showing my displeasure with the mayor's actions."

Earlier this month, Bacon is sitting across from me in my office, laying out the most marvelous, harebrained scheme.

"I want to ride a skateboard across LOVE Park and get arrested," says Bacon, who, though he is 92 and has only one eye, exudes the rakish aura of a Little Rascal. "I want to protest what the mayor has done to LOVE Park. And I want you to cover it."

This is a fascinating offer, too good to pass up. I imagine the news ticker: "92-year-old father of Kevin Bacon arrested in Philly for skateboarding."

I have always been a big fan of Ed Bacon, a brilliant man with the unique talent of having a vision and being able to make it real.

Take LOVE Park. He came up with the concept for a plaza that would give people a place to congregate and reflect on the stunning architecture that lies between City Hall, to the southeast, and the Art Museum, to the northwest.

And for about $1 million, Mayor John Street trashed that vision, closing up the airiness of the open plaza with patches of grass and bulky fixtures.

So I can't agree more with Ed Bacon's criticism of Street, who dropped big coin to make LOVE Park safe from skaters, including posting police who spend a good deal of time shooing them away. In pure John Street style, the mayor made the decision to revamp LOVE Park even though the X-Games pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. It was another bad move in a long string of economic snubs, like the time he blew off the Corporate Council on Africa's trade conference last year, angering people who are trying to put together what might be worth $1 billion of new business for the local economy.

So the question of helping out Ed Bacon is, to me anyway, a no-brainer.

"I would be honored to assist you, Mr. Bacon," I say, shaking his hand. Pulling out a small trick board I got in the mail, I ask Bacon if he wants to try out his plan. He agrees and in minutes I am wheeling him around my office.

"I feel so alive again," he bellows after stepping off the board.

In the greatest meeting of my heroes since Burt Ward waddled over to Adam West in the cavernous expanse of the Atlantic City Convention Center, architect Vincent Kling, who turned Bacon's plan into a park, strolls up and shakes hands with Bacon.

Kling, a short man with dark hair and bushy eyebrows, a sprightly 86 to Bacon's 92, taps the metal tip of his walking stick against one of LOVE's great marble slabs.

"I built this place so that people could enjoy it," he says, rapping the ground with his stick again, for emphasis.

"And that includes skateboarders," he says, with another tap.

Bacon and Kling hold forth on the park, past and present, and the cameras and the mics and the notebooks are out.

A police officer comes by, and the cameras focus in on her. But she does not want to talk to the press, asking camera operators to stop taking her picture.

"But this is a public place," says one shooter.

The officer, who won't give her name, is not amused.

By now, all are assembled -- the media, the man and, for lack of a better term, skateboard community leaders, like Josh Nims and Brian Nugent. The former is a budding attorney arrested for helping to build a skate park, the latter the owner of a burgeoning Old City skateboard lifestyle shop.

It is after 10 a.m. and time to get this thing done.

Scanning the plaza for police, I put my right shoulder under Bacon's left arm and, with the assistance of City Paper editorial design director Brian Hogan, steady Bacon on the board.

I really hope I don't let the old man fall as a shaky Bacon rolls for about 25 feet and decides he has had enough. He gets off the board and howls in delight, once again blasting the mayor.

"I think it is very ungenerous of the city that it couldn't spare one of its 2,864 blocks for the skateboarders of the world," says the world's now-senior skater.

(Mayoral spokesman Frank Keel will later say that Bacon is entitled to his opinion. "We have not heard any continuing complaints about the loss of LOVE Park to skateboarders, but we have heard repeatedly how much nicer the park is now.")

As a triumphant Bacon begins to walk away, a phalanx of Philadelphia's finest swoops in. A sergeant in charge, named J. Phillips, says they didn't arrest Bacon "because we use our discretion." What that means, he explains after a little badgering, is that "we didn't want to cause more trouble than it was worth."

In other words, slapping the cuffs on a nonagenarian father of famous children is not a very good idea.

But as soon as the cameras leave, police descend on the skaters, forcing them out of the park.

Another LOVE story from the city that smacks you back.

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