I came of age in the Roller Boogie era. Throughout my tween years, many birthday parties, school outings, and get togethers involved going to the local rink, slapping on some quads, and doing this:
Well, most of us couldn’t do that kind of thing, but we definitely wanted to… and there were always a few older kids who could skate like these guys. For what is any youth activity without an inner sanctum of highly skilled show-offs?
Everything that was feel-good and fancy-free in my childhood in the late 70s/early 80s seemed to be all elbows and anger by the time I got out of college. Skating was no exception. Just like the soulful Al Green gave way to the ranting Snoop Dog and the softhearted Mary Tyler Moore gave way to the meaner-spirited Seinfeld, the quads gave way to blades, and roller boogie gave way to aggressive skating. You can’t stop time from shoving past you on the sidewalk and speeding away on inline skates.
Then, for some reason, about a month ago my wife and I decided to buy roller skates. She got the classic white boots, the exact skates I image Phoebe using when she roller-skates in the waning chapters of The Catcher in the Rye. Or does she ice-skate? Anyway, the skates symbolize innocent fun in that book, and on my wife’s feet, though innocent fun is more slow-moving and wobbly than it used to be. I got the grey-ghost flame sneaker skates, the skates I would have had when I was 13 if I had any skates I wanted.
We hit the Roller Garden in St Louis Park every Sunday morning. The Roller Garden is a local landmark — a converted hippodrome that has been a roller-skating mecca since the 1940s. Phoebe would have skated there if she were a Minneapolitan instead of a New Yorker. Every single person who grew up here has skated there and remembers it fondly and is happily surprised to learn it’s still there.
The Roller Garden seems not to have changed a thing since they redecorated at the height of the skating fad of the late 70s, either — they have the cosmic carpeting and disco ball, even a few pinball machines in the lobby. I don’t think they’ve got Space Invaders or Pac-man, because those are a bit too new.
I hadn’t skated in at least 25 years, but after a few weeks I’m beginning to find my wheels again. I’m content to just stay up and keep moving, as I did then, while other people skate circles around me.
There’s an interesting bunch of regulars we see every week — some who slow down to give us pointers, and some who speed past us to do whirls and spins and skate backward; these are the exact same teenagers who were strutting their stuff in the rink when I was a kid, I think, and they’ve never stopped coming. Now they have mortgage payments and pending divorces and bald spots and paunches, but those haven’t slowed them down a bit. Whatever they do now, they come back to the roller rink and skate like they’re teenagers. I imagine that the years fall away, and for an hour or two it’s 1979 and they’re full of hope and beans and it’s time to celebrate with Kool and the Gang.
Except, all they play on the stereo is hip-hop.