Before a recent Saturday afternoon, I hadn’t been in a roller rink since some time in the late 1970s. After our trip to the Lynden Skateway, I’m happy to say not much has changed in the intervening 30 years.
When the Saturday in question dawned soggy and hovering at a brisk 38 degrees or so, it was quickly decided that even the kids, who are used to being told "they are going out in the wind and rain and are going to like it," were going to need to stay indoors. A Plan B to our usual weekend trip to Hovander or Semiahmoo or Clayton Beach was required … enter the Skateway.
As I said, not much has changed, thankfully, from the Rollerama, RollerWorld, or whatever rink you frequented when you were a kid. The floor is still wooden parquet, the surface buffed smooth by the thousands of denimed and corduroyed bottoms and knees that frequent it each year.
There’s a snack bar and an arcade; both are packed full of kids who seem to be in a constant rhythm of getting up and falling down. Long lines of picnic tables are festooned with disposable "Happy Birthday!" tablecloths and cakes as birthdays are celebrated on skates.
Parents, mostly skateless, putter around the changing areas and tables, or find a quieter nook with a good book while their kids buzz around the rink.
The ebbs and flows, the timeless traffic patterns and micro-societal rules of the rink still apply as they did when we were all kids: wall clingers, splitters, and wipe-out artists stay to the outside, keeping out of the way of the speed demons, tag players, reckless wonders, and ultra-cool backwards superskaters, who make the inside part of the rink their own semiprivate playground.
All of the icons of our teen-years’ roller rink are still around in full force:
• Old Guy Superskater: He’s balding and paunchy, but man, can this guy still skate. He zips around the rink with a self-assured "don’t worry, I won’t hit you, even though I’m skating backwards at close to 30 miles per hour" look on his face, and after the first few blurry passes by you, you stop to even notice him.
• The Skate Betties: The supercool, superhip teenage girls we were all too afraid to talk to still inhabit the skate rink, and they’re just as intimidating now. Even my sweet-as-apple-pie 6-year-old couldn’t resist snickering when a Skate Betty, showing off fancy moves in the middle of the rink, took a header just like the rest of us.
• The First-Timers: In this case, that would include my daughter, my 3-year-old son, and, at least in terms of skill level, myself.
We stand out from the crowd. No long, fluid slides and strokes for us; we are easily identified by our tiny, mincing steps, much like we were picking our way barefoot through a room of broken glass, with flailing arms desperately counterbalancing as our feet threaten to roll out from under us.
First-Timers usually make up the highest percentage of criers in the rink. Constantly falling down in front of your peers can lead to hurt feelings and crocodile tears — at least it did for me, anyway.
• Mrs. I’m-in-Charge: Every rink needs at least one of these. These folks are the rink version of the Ski Patrol; they are looking out to make sure the First-Timers aren’t run over by the Skate Betties or the Superskaters.
Armed only with a pair of fast skates, a cool nylon sweatsuit with sewed-on skating patches, and a whistle, Mrs. I’m-in-Charge directs traffic with a firm-but-fair attitude and gruff, "I’ve Seen It All" countenance.
Her word is law, and when she blows her whistle and tells everyone to stop, turn around, and skate in the other direction, well, darn it, that’s what you do; if you have to accomplish the "stop" part of that procedure by falling on your duff or slamming into the wall, then take one for the team and do it.
She also controls the disco ball, the rink’s lighting system, the PA system (nothing funner than having her pick you out of the crowd when you have tried to sneak, solo, into a "couples skate"), and runs all the afternoon’s games, such as the timless "Numbers Game." If you’ve ever been to a rink, you probably know what the Numbers Game is; if not, don’t worry about it
• The Grizzled Vets: These are the parents who don skates and take to the rink with their kids, but aren’t First Timers like me.
They don’t skate enough to really improve, but it’s not been so long between trips to the Skateway that their bodies don’t remember how to get from Point A to Point B with a modicum of grace and style. My wife fits into this category, bless her. Come to think of it, she may actually be a Skate Betty alumna.
It was a fun Saturday afternoon at the Lynden Skateway, and we’ll be back soon; my kids and I are determined to climb from First-Timer status — but look for us along the side wall just in case.