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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Joy Ride (Jan. 30, 2011)

Recently I did something I hadn’t done in more than fifteen years. I’d wanted to do it for a while, but one thing or another prevented it from happening. So when things came together just right the other day, I already felt victorious just being in the parking lot.

I roller skated at the only roller rink in this city, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

I’d heard references to the rink, and made mental and scribbled notes to go, but there was always something else that had priority. Still, it kept rolling through my mind. I saw something about it in a local paper, I heard that it might be shutting down soon, and I read a piece in another paper, by my writing teacher. Clearly, I was far overdue in checking the place out myself.

There were a few apprehensions in my mind. The last time I’d skated had been outdoors and I fell backwards onto concrete, after which I couldn’t sit comfortably for an entire month. But I don’t think my lack of skating in the last decade and a half has to do with fear of injury. Ice skating has greater potential for injury, and in the last eleven years I’ve been ice skating half a dozen times, in three different cities. I think it’s the scarcity of roller rinks that is the main reason behind my hiatus.

As I child I roller-skated up and down our block. I was not an adrenaline-junkie and because our street was on a slight hill, I’d roll into the grass before gaining too much speed. In my single-digit years our family occasionally went ice-skating, and while I felt a little nervous about the wobbliness and uncertainty of staying upright while clamped to blades, it was fun. It was exciting, and in the indoor rink I remember from the early 1980s, there was a treasure trove of new things for the senses: cold air, twirling teenagers, loud music and the sense of adventure.

This is exactly what greeted me when I laced up roller-skates again last week (except for the cold air). I paid for admission and skate rental, passing arcade machines and a snack bar (with the old-school black letters on a lined, white plastic board). My first step in skates was still on the patterned carpet, and it was more slippery than I’d guessed. Was I up for this? Gotta give it a try. I made my way down the ramp to the rink and was among the first dozen people on. After a few tentative moments, I realized it’s not hard at all. I wasn’t racing along, but I was steady and having fun! I felt more stable than on the thin blades of ice skates, and after a while I felt comfortable enough to speed up a little. Soon there were at least fifty people on the floor.

The building itself would be a draw for me, even if I didn’t actually put on skates. It’s in a Quonset hut from the 1940s, and I love architecture, old or new, and funky is always an added bonus. The rink did not disappoint. The building had several other incarnations between the ‘40s and 1975, when the rink was born. The color scheme is mustard, squash and cinnamon, and I loved it! A sparkly helium balloon shaped like “35” was near the ceiling and eagle’s nest office, commemorating the rink’s recent birthday. The lights dimmed and a disco ball twinkled up high as music ricocheted off the curves of the ceiling-walls. The 80s music filled me with happy memories. In the semi-dark, on wooden floors and surrounded by fast music, the place brought me back to high school dances. Maybe the size contributed to gymnasium memories, too: it’s a smaller rink than ice rinks, about the size of a basketball court. The size as well as the warmth and the wooden floors provide a sense of intimacy, unlike cavernous, cold ice rinks.

I felt complete freedom as I skated along the maple floors. My body moved with ease, my troubles receded, and my spirits soared. Suddenly, a blur raced between another skater and me, as effortlessly as a fish swimming between swaying reeds. In funky-patterned knee socks, she was muscular, confident, and fast. Was she a roller derby babe? I’d ask if I could catch her. She lapped me again and again, passing too quickly for me to ask. Eventually she slowed and I asked if she does derby. She does, and she told me about the bouts they have monthly (I’d called them “shows,” explaining that I know that can’t be the right word, but it kind of works, as there’s plenty of action to watch). We parted, waving, and I returned to my own solo roll through the disco lights.

I skated past a troop of Brownies, the girls wearing their badge-studded brown sashes across their shoulders. The average skater’s age seemed to be thirteen, but there were younger kids, older teens and grown-ups, too. Some parents seemed less at-ease than I am, but there were roller derby women gliding and even jumping as I made my way around the rink. I wanted to be like them, tough and fearless! But for now, I was just content to move along at my own pace, happy to be on my feet (and not that falling is bad but I’m proud to say I didn’t fall once in my forty minutes on the rink). The whole vibe was happy. People were having fun, even when they fell. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re moving on skates, surrounded by motion. It’s innocent fun and unlike some twenty-first-century entertainment, it’s not technology-dependent. It’s spirit-dependent.

The future of this building is uncertain. The twenty-year lease on the building is up, and the current owner is renting it month-to-month as the city council debates whether to allow its development as part of a city center project. I’ll be a bit sad if the rink closes, but even if it does, I had my turn on its floors, and I’m glad for that. Roller-skating is happiness in motion.

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