"This is my...our...this is our city. It's not just about, 'It used to be ours and now it's theirs.' It's everyone's." — Alex Magana
In July 2017, Lynn Nottage and her husband Tony Gerber’s Market Road Films will occupy Franklin Street Railroad Station in Downtown Reading with This Is Reading, a dynamic, site-specific multimedia installation blending live performance and visual media, re-animating the long-vacant building. Using as its foundation the challenges, and triumphs of people living in and around Reading, PA., This is Reading will weave their individual stories into one cohesive and celebratory compelling tale of the city.
As part of our ongoing series leading up to the event’s opening on July 14, we are happy to host a series of transcribed interviews from Lynn’s years of research, along with some other special online video dialogues over the next three weeks. This week, Ed Wasserman, Lynn’s associate, interviews JD Turner, another Reading, Pennsylvania native, about skating and safety in Reading.
ED WASSERMAN: Did you know when you went off to college that you wanted to come back to the Reading area?
JD TURNER: At first, no. When I went off to college I just planned on staying in a major city. I got a job out of college…The entire time I was just kind of daydreaming about opening up a skate shop in Reading.
EW: Why that dream?
JD: So when I was younger I used to go to Philadelphia for skateboards. Nocturnal in Philadelphia. I went there for like a career day in high school and I ended up volunteering for the day. Just learning how to run the shop and everything. So that was for our like career day in high school thing that like everyone did a teacher or something like that. I actually went to Philadelphia and did that for my career day.
ED: What kind of community was there in the skate parks in Reading when you were growing up? What were those friendships like?
JD: I mean it was really accepting. That’s, like, the coolest part about skateboarding, in general, is there’s no boundaries. It’s not like a race thing. It’s not like a status thing. Or a gender thing. It’s kind of, like, if you skate, I skate, we’re cool, you know? And that’s how it was like growing up around there. Like if you ran into another skater in the city or the suburbs you’re like, “Wow you guys skate?” Like, “I skate too.” Nowadays, with skateboarding, it’s so in our mainstream culture. Back then, in the early 80s, 90s, early 2000s, it was like if you skate and someone else skated, you guys bonded just on that, you know? Just based on…being friends and seeing another kid with a board. So, yeah, it was really cool growing up and skating with everyone. It was kind of cool to be in a space where you’re meeting so many different people that all live in different parts of the town, but yet you’re all connected by this one thing which is kind of unique.
ED: So you feel like that was a space that helped transcend maybe some of the other boundaries that might otherwise divide the city?
JD: Yeah, cuz I mean…skateboarding is just whatever you make of it. It’s kind of like using your terrain to your advantage, you know? As a skateboarder, you look at things differently. Like architecture. And the way things are built. The way you can move your board on something. So I mean like as a group, skateboarders are drawn to a downtown urban environment. For years, people have been skating the inner city of Reading. Which is one of the biggest things that was cool to me. Because growing up it was kind of taboo to go into the city. No one wanted to go in there. When we were younger like in high school, people used to talk down on the city. But when the weekends came around, my friends were going into the city to film skateboard tricks. And we were going into Lancaster City and into Philadelphia. Like when I was fifteen, sixteen. So it was really cool to get to experience that because a lot of the other kids’ parents were like, “Don’t go in there, it’s unsafe. It’s a bad area. You’re going to see like…negative things.” But…when you’re skating, you’re kind of out for the adventure of just seeing new things.
ED: And you didn’t have that same fear.
JD: Exactly. Cuz like to us we weren’t thinking about like, “Oh there’s crime that happens in downtown Reading, or it’s, like, impoverished or there’s drug problems.” It’s like no we saw a ledge, and we’re like, “That ledge is better than the ledge that we have in our small town in the suburbs.”
ED: So you feel like once you got there your experience was different than the preconception?
JD: Yeah. 100 percent, dude. It’s all just hearsay. A lot of people have that perception from the suburbs…like downtown Reading is worse than like Philadelphia. And I was like—no offense in my language—but it’s bullshit, you know what I mean? I lived in northeast Philadelphia, Temple, and that place is a warzone compared to Reading. I’d rather walk Cotton Street at night than walk where my dorm was five years ago. It’s just how it is. It’s all just your experience and how you make it. I hang out in Reading, filming skateboard tricks. A lot of us do. We go out at night cuz there’s no pedestrians. There’s no people kind of getting in your way. And as skateboarders, we don’t want to get in anyone’s way or hurt anybody. So a lot of skateboarders spend time in cities at nighttime, you know? When there’s less activity and there’s less people. So, I mean, I’ve been in Reading at four o’clock in the morning and I’ve never had any issues or anything like that. But I know some people from, like, I don’t know—let’s say out by… like out by Blue Marsh area. Like the further you get inward to like the country area…They won’t even set foot in the city past sundown.
ED: So do you feel like now you want to take on those perceptions?
JD: Yeah, of course. You can’t just bundle everybody in the same group. And I feel like that’s even more prevalent today. There’s just so much misconception, especially in this county, about what goes on in the actual city.