Monday, December 27, 2010

Skating, Unscathed

My wife is the eldest of thirty cousins. They range in age from 26 (my wife) to 10 months old – 10 boys, 20 girls. The day after Christmas, as a gift to both the cousins and their parents, the older cousins took all the rug-rats rollerskating. Five of us above the age of 20, corralling upwards of 25 pipsqueaks on wheels. If this sounds like the recipe for disaster, you're probably right. But if you've ever met my wife, you know she's crazy enough to handle it.

As we entered the sheet metaled warehouse that was the roller rink, I was bombarded by early 90's decor – space scenes muraled across the walls, jagged graffiti-esque lines scralling around the rink with chasing lights causing seizures among the faint of heart. An overwhelming odor of shoe spray and floor wax flooded my nostrils. The din of children laughing, wheels rolling on hard wood, and teen pop Bieber trash overwhelmed my ear drums. As my senses adjusted to this new reality, I began to acclimate myself to the new surroundings. I laced up my tan skates, tottered to the edge of the rink like an unsteady child on newly discovered legs, and circumnavigated a few tentative laps.

As I gained confidence in my wheeled abilities, I began to notice the other skaters around me. Although I hadn't seen these people before, I realized that at every roller skating event I'd been to in the last decade, I'd seen the same archetypal skating entities:

Roller Derby Girl

Jet black skates with canary yellow wheels. Striped stockings that end just below the knee, covering her muscular calves. Black hot pants that read,

“SLAMMAHGIRL”. Black jersey and matching wrist-guards. Braided brown hair tied neatly behind her head, and a determined grimace that makes my nervous to be skating on the same hemisphere as the determined amazon.

She skates with a force that commands any novice roller to be wary of he elbows and hip checks.

Grandpa Glider

Do you remember the days when a teenaged couple would go out for sodas at the local diner after a rousing skate at the local rink? White-walled tires and Brilcreem were the standard in the 50's and, for some, it hasn't changed. There is something endearing about the 60 year old couples who are still using the skates from their courting days.

Besides the gray hair and arthritic hands, you can spot these soda shop skaters by their classic skating style. They dreamily glide 'round the rink, kicking their heels back while neatly tucking one hand behind their back. An heir of propriety exudes from a geriatric skater – evidence that they were taught to skate in an age when skating was an art form akin to dancing a waltz or a polka, and it is their sole duty to perpetuate this graceful sport with all their might.

Hockey Star

This guy is the masculine foil to the Roller derby Girl. He's in workout pants and a hoodie, brought his own roller blades, and means business. If the rink would let him, he would bring his hockey stick on the floor to let everyone know he means business.

Although this Gretzky skater is more comfortable on the ice, he can skill cream any amateur on wheels that dares to stumble in his path. As rink rules frown on the practice of flattening children during an open skate, he generally prefers to leap over fallen munchkins, which is preferable, although still frightening for all parties involved.

The speed skate is Mr. NHL's forte. He barrels round the wood floor with the tenacity of a bull, trying desperately to prove the masculinity of his wheels against the more effeminate skaters who might defame his blades.

Homo-Erotic Inline Speed Skaters

As a bi-annual, recreational skater, you are bound to get lapped. It is just something to come to terms with. When you are passed by a skater, you think little of it. But when you are passed by two skaters, crouched for speed and wind resistance, the latter awkwardly grasping the gluteus of the former, you cannot help but feel emasculated.

Completely in-sync, these men share the intense love of skating with the Hockey Star and Roller Derby Girl, but do so in a more graceful manner. Each is in-tune with the movements of the other, arms and legs swinging in unison, focused on navigating the screaming teens and ancient lovers to beat their last time trial. Even their breathing is in-sync as they stream through the masses with balletic grace.

They are so focused on their craft that not even the scathing disdain that comes from the Hockey hooligans can break their composure.

Solo Skater Savant

His custom skates are freshly polished. His wrist-guards are monogrammed. He skates to the beat of a very different drum.

Objectively this man is an incredibly talented skater. Throughout the skate he practices tricks and gyrations that would make figure skaters cringe, seemingly for his own amusement. I would dare say that he was completely unaware of any other presence on the wood that day.

Contorting your legs into bizarre, cartoonish poses while on wheels may be a sign of virility and Casanova-ism in some cultures, but I do not believe that is the case in my own. It was sometimes painful to watch this character groove, slightly off-tempo, to the top 40 musical stylings that blared throughout the rink. I can only imagine that this was a cardio regimen prescribed by some new aged yogi, as he at times resembled Shiva the Destroyer, his arms and legs undulating in a meditative fury.

Passive-Aggressive Teen Bieber Freaks

One of these teenie boppers was having a birthday and, to her chagrin, her mom picked Orbitz Skating Emporium as the destination for her party. Mortified, she refuses to show that she is having fun. With her cadre of screaming airheads, she screams the immortal lyrics of Ke$ha and Justin Bieber at the top of her off-key lungs.

The unfortunate side affect of these squealing ladies, beyond my loss of hearing, was that, in the throes of musical ecstasy, they lost all ability to navigate. These pre-teens morphed from shrill 90 pound drama factories to a herd of moaning water buffalo, incapable of breaking away from the pop-drunk group think that drove them around the rink with ferocious blindness. Woe to the unaware skater who happens in front of this all-consuming ball of prepubescent power.

Uber-Serious Skate Ref

Every sport has rules. Every rule needs enforced. Every enforcer needs a weapon. Give a 22 year old a whistle, striped shirt, and a pair of used skates, and watch them turn from Playstation addict to keystone cop in two seconds flat.

It doesn't matter if you are wearing plastic Playskool skates or professional skate stars, you will receive equal wrath from these skating sheriffs. Do not stop. Do not push. Do not have fun on this roller rink.

There is a certain level of animosity that exudes from these enforcers towards any of the more proficient skaters in the rink. It is as if the ref's are once great remnants of Derby teams, Hockey squads, or speed skating duo's that, due to injury, have become washed up and are forced to relive their glory days as haggard sentries of the rink. They look down their noses at those of us who just skate for fun, and envy the wheeler who can still stand among the pro's. They are trapped in a purgatory of failure and disdain, bearing the scarlet letter of a referee's stripe. The whistle is a badge of honor. Their wheels will forever spin to serve.

Skate On, Sundance

I left that roller rink shorter, sorer, and more aware of a bizarre niche of American culture: the 21st century roller rink. I will still enjoy a good skate now-and-again, but will exercise caution the next time I venture onto that wooden floor. It's a vicious world that shows no mercy on the faint of heart.

Skate with caution.

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