This interview was first published in the last issue of Red Steps, but seeing as people have seemingly got a bit of extra time on their hands at the minute, here it is in digital form…
English riders trekking over the pond in search of cheap pizza slices and decent spots is nothing new, but not many of our American compadres are scouring Sky Scanner in search of cheap flights to our damp island. Even less make the trip away from London’s glossy grasp to sample the sights and scents of northern England.
That said, for some bizarre reason Boston grind-tactician and all-round pleasant chap Jake Frost recently decided to make the voyage up to the city of Manchester.
He rode a bit, he visited Salford Lad’s Club and he dined out at that notorious Manchester eatery… Tim Horton’s.
Here’s an interview with him about his trip, his thoughts on riding and his work as a bike courier.
You were over here a few months back. What did you think about England?
England was tight. I’ve been a fan of so much stuff from over there for so long, so making it over there and experiencing where it all happened was really exciting for me. London definitely reminded me of Boston by the way a lot of the buildings looked and how the streets had no grid. That, plus the amount of people that were around, made it pretty overwhelming, but I felt right at home in Manchester. It’s a little smaller than Boston but still a real city for sure. The general vibe of the city felt really similar to Worcester which is a city in central Mass that’s mostly pretty run down and is more or less a free for all.
My only real complaint about the UK and Manchester specifically is the lack of good food. I can’t understand how there isn’t good food there anywhere. Fish and chips are cool but it’s not like you can eat that every day. One thing I will say though is I admire the sense of humor that you guys have. I can definitely get behind that.
I’m not sure I agree with your food statement, but you’re entitled to your own opinion. On the subject of food, were you pleased you found a Tim Horton’s over here?
I was pleased to say the least.
How come you like that place so much? There are better eateries out there.
Tim Hortons is pretty much a Canadian version of Dunkin’ Donuts. We don’t really have access to them in southern New England. I’ve made a pretty bad habit of going there a little too much whenever I find myself in Canada. I was mostly excited because the last thing I would have expected to see in Manchester was a Tim Hortons.
What sort of stuff do you eat back home? Are there any local specialties?
Roast beef joints and seafood is a huge thing here especially when you get into the coastal towns. There’s a spot I go to some times to get a ‘surf and turf’, which is a roast beef sandwich, lobster roll and French fries. It’s a little pricey but worth every cent.
I don’t really know too much about Boston to be honest. Is Good Will Hunting a good representation of the city?
To be real, Good Will Hunting is actually a pretty good representation of people from Boston. The humor, the antics, the fighting and just the personalities of the cast is pretty on point. I’m glad that movie exists so there’s at least some sort of proof that South Boston wasn’t always the gentrified hell-hole it is now.
While on the topic of South Boston, the most realistic Boston movie out there is one that I believe Donnie Wahlberg produced that’s just called Southie. A friend of mine who is much older and was also born and raised in that neighborhood claims the scene from that movie that was filmed in the bowling alley is the best and most accurate representation of Boston in any movie.
I’ll try and check it out. You’re a big fan of Morrissey. Did Manchester fit with how you’d imagined it from his songs?
Yeah I’d say so. Everything made more sense to me after I made it out there.
What other music are you into?
I’m into a bit of everything. To add some sort of reference, lately I’ve been stuck on My Bloody Valentine, 90s Cleveland hardcore, 2000s Boston hardcore, Max B, Onyx, old Eminem, Pulp, Belle & Sebastian and obviously Morrissey haha.
Changing track a little – how did you get into riding? Was there a definitive thing that set you off?
My brother is the one who got me into riding. I’d always see him building jumps in the back yard and knew from an early age I had to get involved. I’d say the definitive thing for me was just seeing my brother and his friends riding the downtown area of the town we grew up in – I thought it was the sickest thing. Just riding all day, getting chased around by the cops, hanging out with your dudes just seemed like the thing I wanted to do when I was old enough to leave the house by myself.
Just being in the mix was always appealing to me and BMX was the first thing to help me feel like I was. It’s more or less how I became a messenger years after. I was already downtown just riding around so I should at least do it and get paid.
Who were the top dogs around town when you were young? What videos were you into back then?
BMX videos from the time I was growing up never appealed to me much, mainly because I only ever wanted to see footage from Boston. A video I was really into when I was younger was a skate video called PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life. It was a video from this local skate shop called The Coliseum. That video changed my life haha.
It was almost exclusively Boston footage and it has one of the best soundtracks of any video to date. That’s how I got put on to a lot of Brit pop and it was definitely my first exposure to The Smiths.
During my most impressionable years of my riding I was usually watching All Day, Day Job 2, Please Kill Me and Left/Right. Those videos had a good bit of East Coast shit that would get me pretty hyped. The top dogs and people I looked up to was a group of individuals known as MassBMX. They used to talk so much shit on me and my dudes around the time of the filming of AOTC. They’d call us hungry and would hate how much shit we would talk as young kids. I was bitter at the time but I guess now that I’m older I kind of understand it.
What was AOTC? Was that a video?
AOTC, which stood for ‘attack of the chowder’, was a video made by a couple of dudes who moved to Boston for college. That video stirred up a lot of controversy within the people involved. Me and my friends as the younger kids got hated on super hard, all the older dudes were trying to chase some sort of success within BMX, and the clip that caused some ‘pro rider’ to be called the Boston strangler was in that video. It was a huge mess. All of this aside, there was some good riding in it.
Haha sounds great. You’ve had a part in each of the 90East videos. How did you meet Lino? And what’s Jesse Williams up to now.
If I remember correctly I met Lino through Mike Penney back when they were doing the Wormscape video. I knew Penney through Timeless which was the local BMX shop in Boston back in those days. Anybody who would come from out of town would stop there before riding the city to see if anyone else was trying to ride.
I wasn’t all that close with Jesse. I think he’s on his grown man tip nowadays. I believe he’s a business owner and has kids and stuff. He doesn’t ride anymore but I’m sure he could just get on a bike and do a 540 barspin or something completely insane if he really needed to. He’s one of the best riders I’ve ever seen in person and I was pretty hyped that every day that I was in England someone asked me about him.
You’ve got a pretty honed, grind-heavy style – where does this come from?
I’m not sure. I’d probably just say from over-exposure to videos that were street orientated. I do consider grinding the most versatile ‘trick’. It pairs well with almost any type of move you can do on a bike.
A manual is the same, but it looks way shittier and is boring to watch. A long manual isn’t impressive anymore, but a long grind always will be. Basically what I’m trying to say is that grinding is superior to everything else haha.
Definitely. There’s a lot of good spots in your video parts. Do you spend a lot of time looking for that stuff?
Yes and no. At one point we were definitely heavy on it. I’ve personally slowed down on it as I feel like within Boston city limits there isn’t much I haven’t seen before.
Lately downtown Boston has been my shit. I’ve been in this weird mind state where I felt like I had to put on for downtown because I work down there and was living down there at the time. It has been changing so much that there’s always new stuff popping up where old stuff was. The construction always creates something cool and I feel like that’s the type of stuff that’s had my attention lately.
It’s just interesting to me that you can ride a spot that’s there for as short as a week and film a clip or get a photo that will last forever.
Outside of riding, am I right in saying you work as a bike courier? What’s an average day like doing that?
You’re correct. I wouldn’t say there’s an average day but it usually starts at the donut shop to talk shit with a couple of my work friends. As far as the working aspect it’s so sporadic so there’s no saying. Summer time is usually dead and there’s no work to go around. It gets pretty stressful considering it’s a commission-based job, so if you aren’t moving all day you won’t make much money.
Winter is tight though. It’s usually busy and there are less people just walking around town so it doesn’t feel so crowded with tourists and other people.
Is it hard being out through the winter all day?
Yes and no. Carhartt pants, thermals and two pairs of socks are usually a good method for combatting the cold. The only downside to that is sometimes going into high security buildings is a hassle because you need to take some layers off and that can be really annoying at times when you need to do it upwards of 20 times a day.
It sounds it. I’d quite like a job where I was out and about all the time – do you get to see much wild stuff?
I’ve seen some of the wildest shit at work. I don’t even know where to begin. Boston has some of the craziest people ever so there’s always something interesting going on.
Especially at Downtown Crossing which is the cross roads of Boston. Every train line intersects there and there’s a large population of wealthy people who are down there to work or going shopping and there’s a large population of drug addicts and homeless people down there, so it’s a pretty intense mix of people. A year into being a courier I started carrying around a 35mm point and shoot camera cause I needed to document the type of stuff I was seeing. At this point I’d say my archive is 75% photos that I’ve taken while on the job.
To kind of follow up on you saying you’d like a job like that, I definitely feel that there’s this weird joy I get out of being down in the financial district at 8AM – there’s an indescribable energy down there. Especially before the commuters start rolling in and then around 9 it’s like a bunch of sheep in a herd heading to their shitty office jobs.
I don’t know much about the courier world at all – but it seems fairly similar to riding in that there’s a culture around it. I’m not too sure what my question is here, but are there ‘rules’ with it or things that would mark someone out as a kook?
I would definitely consider it a subculture within cycling. There are definitely rules involved. If you break those rules too often you may never be accepted. At least back in the day you wouldn’t have been from the stories I’ve been told.
Boston is a pretty aggressive and macho city. Newcomers are never given a pass until it’s earned, it’s a very hierarchy based community. Some people aren’t into that, but I certainly am and I accepted it very early on – and that made it easier for me to make my way in. If you appear too eager and want to be accepted you’d be marked as a kook. New faces aren’t welcomed because they’re usually riding around like maniacs thinking that they may impress somebody, but that’s never really been the case.
I started pretty far after the decline but the stories my older friends have are sick. Making almost 1,000 dollars a week to ride a bike around is something that I would consider more than ideal. Also rookies back then got treated way worse. My dude has stories from the early 2000s of the older dudes throwing full beer cans at him at 9am when he would ride by the stand-by spot.
Going back to riding – do you have rules or things you try and avoid with that?
No, I don’t think I have rules other than the obvious ones. Don’t use the same music or film the same trick.
Do you think people care about the… er… ‘culture’ around riding enough? Does this stuff matter?
As far as street riding goes in the grand scheme of things there is no culture now, because it’s the most popular form of riding. It’s mostly people stepping over each other for a shitty monthly pay-check that’s less than if you worked a minimum wage job. Are you really going to try and tell me that people who ride for an energy drink company can get behind the products they’re endorsing? Are you really going to tell me that people want to wear or would pay for a pair of Etnies if they weren’t getting them for free? Or ride some shit-box frame and components made by a company where the owner has never ridden a BMX bike?
I think it’s pretty pathetic that a grown man will wear a hat with the Monster ‘M’ on it for a check. You couldn’t pay me enough money to be seen with that shit on. Then when all these companies drop their riders they either then quit riding and act jaded for the rest of their lives, or they try to intrude on what a lot of people have been doing forever which is usually something they previously talked shit on because they didn’t understand it.
There’s no reason I should be seeing flame emoji comments on posts of a dude riding a cutty spot by some jock who once had corporate sponsors. Your time is up, stop trying to be involved or seek attention in places where you have no business being.
I suppose it’s a case of weeding out the rubbish and seeking out the good stuff. What sort of stuff are you into now?
My thoughts on riding are the same as its always been. It’s easy to say that everything is wack and that it’s all bullshit, but there is definitely some really good shit happening.
The stuff I am mostly into now is all the independent zines and books that people are putting out. Now that Instagram is the main source of BMX media, we’re getting all the unwanted ads and riding that you don’t care to see, like how magazines were back in the day.
Algorithms show us what is popular and not what we follow or want to see for the most part, so I mainly turn to these zines that are coming out to get any sort of entertainment from riding aside from the actual act of riding.
I feel like BMX is at a perfect spot right now. It feels good that I can pick up a tangible item with articles and photos of people riding without there being a jock doing a back flip over an underdressed woman for a deodorant advertisement. In my life time I don’t think I’ve read a magazine front to back because it had some content that sucked, but that’s not really the case as much anymore with people putting out their own stuff.
Yeah, I think people forget how much nonsense used to be around. I love a bit of negativity, so with that in mind, what sucks?
I don’t want to seem overly pessimistic regarding something that has been very important to me in my lifetime, but oh well haha. I’m really sick of people who suck at riding trying to chase clout by posting pictures and videos on Instagram of them wall-riding into a cellar door or hitting a pole jam, or sometimes not even riding the spot and just posting a picture of it. Those obstacles and a lot of others that are popular in my opinion were first utilized by people who had an advanced perspective on riding or skating in an urban environment, not because it was “easy”.
I’d naturally trace all of this back to Ricky Oyola skating in Philly. If you go to Philly there’s a cellar door every 10 feet, so it’s pretty natural for people from that area to have heavy storm door usage in their footage. But now it’s turned into a novelty item with all this internet shit. Nowadays you got kids in Nebraska or wherever they live looking high and low for a cellar door to wall ride into for their Instagram account, just so they can try and break into the niche that is known as ‘East Coast’ street riding.
There’s a reason these obstacles are popular on the East Coast and not in whatever miscellaneous state you live in. It’s just a shame that people chase the architecture or spots of somewhere else instead of utilizing the stuff they have right in front of them. It’s weird that you got people in California claiming East Coast and riding that one cellar door and pole jam out in Long Beach. why wouldn’t you just stay here if you like it so much? Between this and people pretending like they’re living in a different era of BMX just to try and stand out or keep some sort of tradition alive is painful. Hi-8 cameras and the VX gimmick are exhausting. Why should I be excited to see a edit that’s titled ‘so and so’s VX edit’ when I can go on Andrew Mick’s Instagram story and see footage that was self-filmed on an iPhone and is 100 times more satisfying to watch?
Most stuff nowadays is just an imitation of something else. This is happening in music too. Why should I want to see that some toy is trying to look like they’re in 1995 with a hi-8 camera? I can just watch the video that they’re ripping off. No one cares to be original or good they just want to look or sound like another era but maybe what they don’t realize is the era they’re emulating was innovation at the time, not an imitation of the time before them.
From riding to your job to the music you’re into, it seems you dig quite deep into stuff. Where do you think this character trait comes from?
If I had to guess, I think it came from the fact that not too many things have struck my interest over the years. It’s not like I don’t really like anything, but most shit I’ve just been indifferent to. I’ve never been into putting a lot of time or energy into something that I think is just ‘cool’ or ‘OK’.
Anything that I really like I pretty much get fully obsessed with very quickly. Once the obsession happens I need to know everything about the topic to feel satisfied.
It’s pretty much certain that the deeper you dig into something the more likely you are to find something that really suits you. That’s how it’s always been for me at least.
Do you find it strange how some people are just into things at the surface level?
Yes, absolutely. What’s the point of half committing to something? Especially something that takes a lot of time, energy and other resources. If people thought about this and kept their noses out of places they don’t belong the whole operation of many subcultures would be a lot more pure and honest.
The other side of me thinks that surface level interest is the appropriate way to go about things. I know a few people who have actual made sacrifices and don’t live a conventional life because they’re fully committed to something they enjoy instead getting in line and doing what society tells you to be doing. I can certainly say I’m a lot further behind in life than a lot of my friends because of how involved I’ve gotten in some of my interests, riding being at the very top of that list.
I often wonder how much better my life would be if I let the extent of my riding just be a session at the park after I get out of my office job. Instead I let the obsession of random things like a pipe sticking off a wall near a bump and other architectural failures fill the space in my mind.
Haha yeah it’s pretty funny when you think of it like that. Rounding this off, have you got any wise words or thank-yous you’d like to end this with?
I probably don’t have much wisdom to end this with but I’d like to thank the crew and anybody who’s supported 90East in any way. I’d also like to thank you for giving me this interview, anybody who’s ever put me up or showed me around on a trip or if I was passing through town, and all my friends or anybody who has helped me in any way over the years.
I’d also like to take this time to shout out anybody who lives a drug free existence.