In the late 1970s, my weekends were spent hanging with school friends at the roller rink. This was before inline skates were in fashion, but after those metal skates with that annoying key.
Remember the key you screwed up tight onto your shoes, and then immediately lost?
Roller skating was and is still good, clean fun — unless you consider that you were wearing still-warm, returned skates that always made your feet itch for the next few days. Other than that, it was a good way for the kids to get some exercise.
Plus, the moms needed it, too. They could always dump their kids at the front door, speed off in the Datsun, and hit a Kmart blue light special to pick up some striped tube socks for their husband’s intramural softball game.
Last weekend, I took my girls to the local rink. Our last visit to that amazing blast to the past was shockingly in 2012. My daughters were approximately 6 and 7. Their elementary school PTO would often host school skate events on teacher “professional development” days.
Otherwise the kids were home for 24 hours begging to be entertained by me; so I figured it was more enjoyable for us to hang with my friends who had kids.
The only reason I remember the year we last attended was from rereading an old column I’d written about our experience at skating camp. I spouted about how the skating event was more enlightening than anything I’d previously experienced.
The 2012 DJ resembled mine from the ’70s, but when he took hold of the microphone, look out. He waxed poetic in sync with the music and lights. I can only imagine the number of drugs he had to have sampled in his life. He leaned into the microphone, and in a sultry low gravel tone, he shared with his vertically challenged skating students illuminating life lessons through the art of skate.
“Kids, you gotta want it. You can’t be afraid. You gotta believe! Yeah, skating is like that…” and he continued.
“If you don’t fall every once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough. Skating is like that.”
And finally, the life lesson that still makes me scratch my head and wonder how such a philosopher worked minimum wage in a Kansas City rink:
“Encourage your friends, but don’t hold onto them because you don’t want to pull them down. Skating is like that.”
Life is like that? Why wasn’t “Mr. Skater, Dude” a professional motivational speaker?
Skip to 2019: I chaperoned my daughters through the roller rink’s front door and up to the vintage-sized sales window to get their hands stamped with ink. I didn’t need anything at Kmart, so I stayed.
Memories flooded in as I stepped on what can only be assumed was once a brightly designed Berber carpet. Groovy, man… real smooth.
We crossed the rink to the shoe rental, which tickles your nose as only bowling alleys and middle school locker rooms can. Then a voice I vaguely recognized came out of nowhere. It was the voice of a sagacious elder explaining to the children what can happen to your light blue Adidas tennis shoes if left unattended.
It wasn’t Mr. Skater Dude. It was my voice. I couldn’t stop myself from reliving and sharing the pain of the 1978 skating disaster. I had begged my parents to buy the horribly expensive and popular shoes because “all the kids had them,” and it would “ruin my life” if I continued to wear worn-out, dark blue shoes from Sears.
My parents saved up and skimped so I could have these running shoes, and after sporting my “best gift ever” for a few days, I had them stolen from the rink. Not only had I lost my prized possession, but I was forced to leave in smelly socks and no shoes.
I don’t think my girls or their friends understood the gravity of my loss. I thought I truly sold the story; but empathy is worth a dime a dozen in middle school, unless you compare it to their cellphones. (Insert 10 bulging eyeballs and five dropped jaws.)
Yeah. Skating is like that.
Stacey Hatton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.