- Dave Vanderspek
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On the morning of Saturday October 29th, 1988 Danny Schow went over to see his friend Dave Vanderspek at a warehouse he'd been living in. There was no answer at the door and somehow Danny had the feeling he should enter the building. Once inside he found Dave hanging from a rope naked. There was no note but there were some writings in his office at his parents house that gave pretty clear indications that he was struggling inside.
The local newspaper in San Leandro reported the strange death on Tuesday of the next week based on the odd circumstances but didn't yet know how well known Dave was in the local community and around the world. He was simply the caretaker of the warehouse.
As the week unfolded, letters to the newspaper from Dave's friends who could not stand to see him dismissed as simply the caretaker of a warehouse prompted several news articles as well as a television news report. Attention shifted to Dave's involvement with drugs and many considered his death an intentional suicide. Although, the police officer who arrived on the scene reported it as an accidental suicide related to Autoerotic Asphyxiation a means of heightening sexual pleasure by cutting off one's own air supply. There is speculation that the lead singer of INXS also died this way.
I think in a lot of people's mind Dave killed himself intentionaly but I don't really believe that. While he caused his own death, I don't believe that he was trying to kill himself. Although there were some depressive writings found in his office back at his parents house, there was no suicide note at his house. If you know Dave you knew that he always wanted to try something radder and it's not a far stretch to think that he was doing just that when he tried Autoerotic Asphyxiation. Nobody really knows if that was his first attempt. For all we know, he may have developed a habit and this time, it just killed him. The death certificate lists the reason for his death as "probably accidental".
A lot is attributed to drugs though and there is no doubt that he had a drug problem. I would not call him a junkie and there are certainly professionals who have had worse drug problems than he did. Not much has been said about what I think of as the classic child actor syndrome where you find yourself making a transition from somewhat of a star to the real world where you have to make money and get used to the mundane everyday aspects of life. In a lot of ways you feel like a has-been and the stress is very high.
Many people I've talked to from the first group of professional freestylers
had a hard time making that transition and I know I did as well. Dave
knew that the sport was changing and growing. The Vanderoll was an old
trick by now and he did not really have anything new to go with the more
modern tricks of the time. Dave was tired of competing and it showed. He
turned to street riding which was not yet fully recognized and only received
mentions in the magazines.
Dave's funeral was held at Broadmoor Community Church and there was hardly enough room for all the people that could even make it much less the people around the world who had not yet heard the news through the BMX magazines. Hundreds attended and it was standing room only. On November 7th, 1988 Dave Vanderspek was cremated and his ashes scattered by his parents. There is no gravesite to visit but there is a semi-permanent memorial placed at the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
As part of The Bridge's 50th anniversary in 1987, the public was
offered the chance to purchase inscribed bricks that became a path in the
visitor's area completed the next year. A unique opportunity to have Dave
Vanderspek memorialized in a public place where hundreds of thousands of
people pass every year.
Although I had wandered by there several times over the years and stared at those bricks, I still had not found the one with Dave's name on it. Only after this site went up did I find out from Steve Blick. If you're going to the Golden Gate Bridge, make sure to stop at the tourist area on the San Francisco side where all the busses park. You'll see the brick path. Use these to pictures to locate the brick.
Interestingly enough, the monument near Dave's brick is to inovators - which Dave definitely was.
Update: as of this writing (2/3/12), the brick is no longer there. The path has been ripped up and all the bricks are gone. A memorial plaque with all the names will be erected at the site.
5/30/1964 - 10/28/1988
On January 18th, 2012 the commeorative brick path was removed and all of the 7500 bricks were recycled into concrete mix. All except for a few. The night before myself and Dennis Dowling packed up our tools and headed out to the path to see if we could get Dave's brick out.
The area was gated and cops were parked in the lot so it was pretty clear that we couldn't start making a lot of noise. So, after the casing the place, we parked down at the lower lot and made our way past the barriers and through one of the old armory tunnels to within striking distance of the bricks. Our goal was to place a note offering a reward on the brick and hope that one of the workers would save it.
At the other end of the short tunnel were a couple police baracades and a bright construction light. We didn't know whether there were any patrols inside the fencing so we setup there and scoped it out eventually opting to jump the baracades and take a shady way over a hill up to the brick. But, not before I smacked my forehead on the old brick tunnel causing a nice bruise a trail of blood. Dabbed a little on my finger and licked it Rambo style (not really but that would have fit the mood. It was recon time.) Shoudla had a headband and a Bowie knife but oh well.
We made it over the hill and found another fence right where the bricks started. Luckily it was "locked" with zip ties. Again, it would have been cool to slice them off with the Bowie knife but my mini-Leatherman did the trick. We had to duck and run to the brick to stay out of sight and keep it quiet since the cops were right over in the lot but we made it in and attached our note with stickers and wrote around the brick just in case. We found an easy way back but saw the cops back at the lower lot hassling some other people in the van. Since we had our cameras we played it off like we had just went over the hill to take some photos. Luckily they didn't see my big old bloody bruise and start asking questions.
We weren't sure if it was going to work, but that was the best we could do and at least it was a chance. I had already felt lucky that the bricks weren't already gone so maybe...
The next day they got started on the tear-out but before they did, I showed up and talked really quickly with one of the workers. Told him a "friend" left a note on the brick and that the $100 reward was for real. He said "I saw that. I'll get it" and that was enough for me.
Just after getting home from the bridge I saw a news segment showing the demolition live and I clearly saw one of the workers carefully pick up a small chuck of bricks and hand it to another worker obviously saving some from the pulverization. I was really excited that it was Dave's brick but over the next few days I didn't get a call. Things also got busy for me and I didn't have a chance to go back over there. Finally after two weeks on one of my work from home days I took a ride over at lunch. After poking around a bit I finally noticed someone in the job site trailer and approached the guy with the 3 fliers I had hoped to post offering the $100 reward. He looked at me and said something to the effect of "we felt really bad about that but you know, we couldn't do it for one or we'd have to do it for everyone." Well, just when I thought the answer was "no", the guy pulls the brick out with a couple others attached to it and says "is this it?" I got butterflies in my stomach and the biggest grin on my face. I thanked the guy up and down and told him how this was going to end up in a museum but he refused the reward. What a cool bunch of guys there. Mission accomplished. Dave's brick is now safe.
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