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Tucked in the rolling hills of rural Meigs County, Ohio is a sight that seems just a little out of place. Skatopia is a do-it-yourself skate park where there’s a lot to skate and few rules. Hundreds of people-skateboarders, bands, and hangers-on make the trek from all over the country every summer for Skatopia’s big party: the “Bowl Bash.” WOSU’s Jonathan Hickman has the story.
Ask people what they love about skatopia, and often there’s a common answer:
“You can do whatever you want. You can do whatever you want here, You can just do whatever. everything goes here, pretty much, within reason.” Say park visitors.
So what, exactly, is “within reason” at Skatopia? Cincinnati business-owner Don Matalka has been visiting the park with his son for years, and helps run the annual Bowl Bash.
“Anarchy does happen a lot. There will be 3 or 4 cars that will be blown up here in the next 48 hours. If You want to knock your windows out, cut your top off, derby your car and blow it up and figure out how to get back later, do it.” Says Matalka.
But as Matalka is quick to point out, that doesn’t mean there are no rules.
“You know, there’s only two rules here: do whatever Brewce says, and don’t mess with anyone else’s stuff.” Says Matalka.
“Everybody out of that car! Come here!”
The Brewce in question is Brewce Martin, founder and owner of Skatopia. He greeted some teenagers who arrived for the party.
“You guys know you can’t party out here at all. No drinking at all.” Says Martin.
But since those titles don’t do justice to the role Martin plays in his 88 acre fiefdom, people have taken to calling him the Skate Pope. Visitors are welcome year round-an hour of work is the price of admission-and some settle down on the property for weeks or even years at a time, living in trailers set back in the woods. A dirt road winds up past Martin’s house, which he shares with a skateboard museum, to a bright pink barn with skate ramps and bowls for a backyard. If the road isn’t too muddy, you can follow it up to Skatopia’s concrete “Lulabowl.” It was named after Martin’s dog Lula, who was run over on one of the dirt roads, and is buried somewhere below the concrete.
Skaters make a special pilgrimage to this unlikely mecca each summer for the Bowl Bash, a party where they’ll drink hard, drive hard, shoot fireworks at each other, and set cars on fire. It’s as though someone has crossed Mad Max with Lord of the Flies and set it down in southeastern Ohio. And the Skate Pope loves it.
“Yeah I got like 60 bands coming, I got a concrete truck coming, I got 2 professional skate teams, hundreds of campers, hundreds of cars, hundreds of idiots, thousands of cans of beer Q:SOUNDS LIKE CHRISTMAS? Yeah, it’s just like Christmas.” Says Martin.
And that’s right-along with skate teams and bands from as far as Hollywood, California and New York City, a concrete truck was scheduled to make an appearance.
“Brewce! Tell ‘em concrete’s here!”
For many of those “hundreds of idiots,” skating, partying, and working go hand in hand. Some skaters build ramps professionally, and during the first afternoon of the two-day party, Martin took advantage of their collective expertise to expand the Lulabowl.
As the sun sets, the working winds down and the skating picks up, especially down in the barn, where the main event, the Bowl Bash, itself-gets underway. The barn’s first floor has been turned into “the punisher,” an immense wooden bowl shaped like half of a hollowed-out kidney. Crowds watch from the loft of the barn as skaters barrel down what looks to be, at least for the first few feet, a nearly vertical drop to the pit of the bowl more than a story below. Patrick Splat, a skater who was there with his band Apes Hit, wasn’t going to try his luck.
“The big bowl just looks insane, I mean, I don’t know. I would like to skate it but that thing looks, I mean, we’re on tour, I don’t want to break anything. That just looks really scary. That waterfall is like 6 feet. It’s just nuts, it looks nuts.” Says Splat.
To make things even gnarlier, the bowl is flanked on either side by stages where bands play one after another well into the morning. While skaters are swooshing and clacking around the bowl, others are moshing in front of the bands. Aaron Shephard traveled from New York to join the fun.
“I definitely liked the show. You know, I can’t hear out of one ear, I took an elbow there, and I’m getting thrown around by 400 pound guys. What’s better than that?” Asks Shephard.
Inevitably, fireworks are tossed in among the dancers, and not just your standard firecrackers. These are the aerial shells you usually see exploding in a small umbrella of color well out of range of, well, your face. There was even talk of some one setting off a claymore mine last year, though Nate Wilson, a skater from the area, wasn’t so sure.
“Aw, no that wasn’t a mine mine, that was just two or three real fireworks in a case. So it didn’t go up in the air, it just exploded. Q: But it caused some damage? Not really. I mean no one died.” Says Wilson.
But damage was done this year, Brewce Martin’s two rules were broken, and that’s not all.
“Who broke the windshield on this car?” Asks Martin.
Mindy Morstadt’s drove down from Columbus, but she’d have to find another way to get home.
“You broke her window with a rock. She hit you with a club.” States Martin.
With the car’s windshield shattered, a few 12 and 13 year-olds took it on themselves to finish the job.
“These kids jumped on it, and broke, well, they, the car is totaled.”
By the time Morstadt returned from her tent to move her car somewhere safer, even the sunroof’s tinted glass was scattered across the hood. Martin called the kids’ parents and banished them from Skatopia for a year, while the fellow who broke the windshield was given porta-potty duty. It’s unclear which was the more severe punishment.
But Meigs County Sheriff Robert Beegle says that’s the only call his department got this year, and he doesn’t remember getting many more since he became sheriff. Maybe the neighbors are a little hard of hearing.
Jonathan Hickman, WOSU News.