Skating Heaven

I can fly like the wind...and crash like a meteor hitting the ground...ouch!My idea of heaven is a permanent skating party.

When I was a kid, I spent endless hours skating on a small pond in my grandparents back yard. They had dredged the pond just so I could go skating on it in the winter. That’s what my grandfather told me, and he would never lie.

That small pond was a universe. It was Ice World. The denizens of ice-world didn’t have feet. They had blades! They traveled all over, swiftly and silently, in graceful curves, and whirling stops. It was always with a crushing sense of loss that I sat down, removed the blades, and walked away, earth bound in shoes.

Recently that experience was recreated, in a church group roller skating party. True, the ice was replaced with hard wood floors, the winter silence with loud dance music and I wasn’t the only inhabitant. But I had blades!

When I first bought roller blades, I got a second-hand inexpensive pair with pink shoelaces. When I put them on and tried to actually use them I had two surprises. The first was the discovery that my husband was not going to let me out of the house on them unless I covered my self with a lot of protective equipment.

“What?” I said.

“We make the kids wear helmets biking. What kind of example are you setting for them? Would you let them out with just roller blades and nothing else?”

“I’m not going to let them roller blade at all. Its dangerous.”

“Right!” he said.

So I dutifully brought a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards. When I went out, the neighbors snickered.

The next surprise was that somehow I did not quite have that effortless glide. Roller blading was hard work. Joggers passed me with ease. I felt like a middle aged women, covered with geeky equipment. So I quit.

A year and a half later, I sprained my ankle. My doctor told me I couldn’t jog, but could roller blade, because the skates provided a lot of ankle support. At this point, my husband, who is normally a rather sensible sort, decided to join me. He was temporarily in a supportive sensitive mode. But he was still male, and he immediately went out and bought top-of-the line equipment, explaining that it was much safer to have good equipment.

Being female, I immediately went out and bought the same skates. We went nearby secluded neighborhood with a hill to try them out, and discovered the true difference between expensive and inexpensive skates. Expensive skates flew. In fact, a decline of about five percent, which doesn’t really qualify as a hill, brought us to a speed that felt like 90 miles an hour.

Now, the really significant fact about roller blading is that stopping is an advanced technique. My husband inadvertently discovered the most widely used technique, called the “walk-out”. That occurs when you find yourself going at great speed, out of control, down a hill, and suddenly a car is coming at you. You say “Son of a B****!” and run onto the grass as fast as you can, usually tumbling over and over again in the process.

After our first roller blading session my husband searched the Internet for advice. There were a lot of useful suggestions for beginners who just wanted to know how to stop. The “walk-out” was one. “Hitting a tree” was another. “Bumping against another skater” was suggested as an option, with the caution that correct etiquette suggests asking the skater first.

Gradually, the realization that only knee pads stood between us and various five ton vehicles sank in. This was aided by a couple of close calls, and the results of numerous “walk-outs”. Maturity eventually got the best of us, and the blades sat alone in the closet, until the church skating party.

Wooden floors are softer than pavement, and sharing space with people is somewhat less harrowing than with cars. Still, it is rather remarkable to watch a large, mixed age group roller skate. First, there are a number of plodding small children. They haven’t figured out how to do it, and they skate painfully slowly, round and round the rink. But they never quit. Other children hold hands with their parents, their skates sticking out at an impossible angles, their bodies horizontal to the floor. Their parents, who are also on skates, have strained faces. You imagine that they are sending silent prayers to the roller skating god that they will not end up in a humiliating tangle of feet, legs and blades there in the middle of the floor. I dub one boy the incredible rubber kid. Every time I see him, he has fallen, each time in a different and seemingly impossible combination of twisted limbs. This never bothers him. He looks focused and never never leaves the floor.

There are real skaters there as well. The yuppies have brought their own fast blades. (The true secret to effortless roller blading is how much the owner has spent on the blades.) A small gang of pre-teen boys races round and round the floor, looking a bit like sharks circling the ocean for prey. This group is mobile and competitive, and they race round and round the track like obnoxious drivers on 128, darting from lane to lane and leaving disaster in their wake. There is high drama as they narrowly miss the small prodding children, and come within inches of smashing into the incredible rubber boy.

But today no blood is shed. The yuppies win races, the girls giggle and flirt, the boys show off, the non-skating adults sit and eat popcorn and chat with each other, and the dance music plays on. For the moment, feet have become blades, and once again I’m in skating heaven.

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