Birthplace of the Disco Skate

So when i was telling John and Erickson about my trip to the the roller skating rink last Tuesday night, i started out this one sentence with, “So this guy was hitting on me at the snack bar..” And then i started cracking up. When was the last time you told a story where anything happened at a snack bar? Cause when was the last time you were anywhere that had a snack bar? And damn, i wish had been taking notes because everything at the roller skating rink was kind of like that. The reason i went skating was that i had these brand new black roller skates for my Halloween costume that a lovely soul named Trixie just gave me. After trying them on in her apartment i realized quick that i needed some practice if i was going to survive the night without a trip to the emergency room. I remembered that someone somewhere had mentioned to me that there was a rink in Brooklyn, and when i googled it, i found United Skates of America Empire Skating Center. Birthplace of the Disco Skate was spray painted on the back wall. But wait i’m already getting ahead of myself.

So it was a dark and rainy night and darleen had bailed on me, but i was intent on checking this thing out. And it was only three train stops from my house so what did i have to lose anyway? But as i emerged from the Prospect Park Q station i could already tell things were different in these parts. There was a drive-through Wendy’s and across the street from that a drive-through McDonalds. Next to that was a “Meat Warehouse” ringed by a pretty sizable parking lot. It was the suburbs to the City of Park Slope.

After four very long blocks and a query to the guy in the little hut at the Arco station, i finally found the big low building. At the door were two very large bouncers, one of whom held the door open for me. And then in the vestibule were a woman and two men wearing bright orange “Security” vests and i was asked to open my bag which was searched thoroughly. And i mean thoroughly, not these wussy searches you usually get. I felt kinda cool opening my backpack to reveal my oh-so-professional very own roller skates. I didn’t feel that cool when the woman frisked my body equally as thoroughly. It was odd to have so much roller skating security i thought at first. But then i remembered that one by one all the skating rinks in LA became off limits due to gang violence. What’s up with that anyway? Why you wanna mess with a bunch of litle kids birthday parties and disco skaters?

When i walked in the place was nearly empty, and it brought back loads of childhood memories. The rink was huge, and lit with at least a half a dozen disco balls, and a bunch of other colored lights. In the center of the rink was a little island ringed with benches. The groove area, i remarked to myself. Up above the rink was a dj booth. Now i don’t remember dj booths at my childhood rinks, but maybe i just hadn’t started noticing those things yet. The walls were lined with lockers. There was a snack bar at the back left, and arcade area at the back right. Just as i remembered. And the best part was those big circle things that are covered with carpet where you can sit to put your skates on or just take a breather. I think i might have gasped.

Slowly i started to get my skates on. More people started coming in. There wasn’t anyone skating when i first walked in, now there were three or four, and they were all really good. I was starting to get a little anxious, cause i already knew sucked. I already knew i sucked a lot. I had some trouble with my locker which required a trip to security where a little man who had a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito’s character on Taxi held my hand as we rolled back to where my stuff was.

“I’m not a very good skater,” i yelled over the music.

“I just don’t want you to get away from me is all,” he smirked.

That got sorted out easily and i made my way to the rink. I was wobbly and by this time there were lots of people skating, and they were all really really good. Like crazy good. I had to stop to lean against the railing and just stare several times. The music was mostly dependable R&B like Mary J Blige and Aaliyah. People were whooshing by me, backwards, in pairs, in triples. They were lifting their feet to the music for a half length down the floor, or swaying their hips in time to the beats. Really, it was as much dancing as it was skating, and suddenly i started to feel like a prisoner in my own body. I just couldn’t do it. This is what it must feel like to not be able to dance, i thought. How awful. I could feel the rhythm, but my body was just not cooperating. It was painful. I almost wanted to take off my skates and just dance a little bit, just to prove to somebody, to myself, that i wasn’t really this lame.

But i pressed on. After a half hour or so my legs started to hurt, my right leg especially because i only could turn using the small quick movements of one leg. Everyone else was turning with long graceful strides where the one leg crossed way over the other one. The kind of move that would have led to an ugly face plant had i attempted it. There was a sort of “mini rink” where people were practicing new moves, and i alternated between the two. I wanted to spread my badness around so no one would get too irritated with me. And this guy who had been hitting on me at the snack bar earlier, who i thought was super cheese, who had like seven gold teeth, was one of the best people out there. I kicked myself for not chatting with him more. Cause i needed a lesson, a nice long lesson.

So the crowd. What kind of people stay out late on Tuesday night to get their groove on with the aid of eight wheels? All sorts it turns out. It was certainly an all ages affair. There were plenty of teenagers and kids in their early twenties, dressed to the nines in hop hip gear. Then there were plenty of people in their 30s and 40s that looked like they worked in real estate, or something equally practical. Nearly everyone was black, with the exception of a small contingent of older white women in their 40s and 50s. I reckoned they were the hot young skating things in the 70s, and just kept at it. I was the youngest white person there by at least 20 years. The common thread, of course, was that everyone was really good. It almost made me wince, because there wasn’t anyone who looked like they were learning or just starting out. I mean, were all these people just born with skates on? Anyway, let me stop whining.

So people would whoosh around and find a partner to skate with for a few laps around the rink, and it wasn’t unusual to see one of the older white women in bike shorts with a matching sports bra disco skating with a 20 year-old black kid with a do-rag on, both sporting giant grins. Talk about racial harmony. There were tough looking young men, disco skating with each other. And yes, as the entry fee suggested ($5 for women, $8 for men), men outnumbered the ladies by like five to one. The rink guy was in a referee’s outfit, looking really cool and really in charge. There was a whistle permanently inserted in his mouth. He’d skate along a group of cute women, whistle on alert, and bounce his head up and down, nodding at them approvingly. Then he’d take off and join another group. There was this funny group of like four “bad boys” who kept whooshing by everyone dangerously close and very fast. They freaked me out a half a dozen times at least. Did i mention i don’t have health insurance?

It was so cool, i could have died. And i wanted desperately to be good. I may get into roller skating. I can’t promise, but I think i know where i’m going next Tuesday night. I just need a lesson, a really long lesson.

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