A trip to roller-skating nostalgia, and thankfully, not the emergency room

A shorter version of this column first appeared on DallasNews.com. You can find more stuff on the Lifestyle/Entertainment section's Whatever blog.

My kids made their way around the roller rink as colored lights blinked overhead and music thumped from the speakers. Having spent many afternoons of my childhood at skating rinks, happily doing loops on a roll to nowhere, this could’ve been a moment when I lived vicariously through my three sons and shared their joy.

But how could my three sons find any joy in this?

Over and over they plopped to the wood rink in an assortment of falls as comically awkward as the contestants on that celebrity diving show Splash. My kids stumbled back upright like newborn fawns only to fall down again, and I cringed as wheels zoomed by and came perilously close to turning fingers into speed bumps.

This trip to Thunderbird Roller Skating Rink in Plano, the idea of my 10-year-old, Ryan, would surely end quickly. Ryan was getting the hang of skating, but the bumps and bruises were piling up. My 7-year-old, Cooper, was hugging the wall and doing the splits. Nathan, my sometimes rugged, sometimes whiny 5-year-old, was an out-of-control menace bound to cause a domino pileup of kids, skates and tears.

Nathan waving his arms, leaning forward and then backward, grabbing wildly at the wall – looked like a test subject for taser use on skaters. He seemed to be trying to simultaneously roll one skate forward and one skate backward. It was like he wanted to fall.

This was not what I remember from my days of roller skating, although I’m not going to say that I was some kind of roller-skating wunderkind straight out of the movie Xanadu.

(That’s right, I saw Xanadu, the roller-skating musical that came out in 1980. My explanation is that I saw it with my older sister, and also that 8-year-old boys found a confusing but undeniable allure in Olivia Newton-John.)

I was a decent roller skater. I honed my skills, and skinned my knees and elbows, on the cracked sidewalks of El Caminito Drive in Glendale, Ariz. I made a lot of trips to Great Skate, the rink in my neighborhood that was always brimming with kids from Horizon Elementary School, home of the Fightin' Panthers and the smoke-filled teachers’ lounge.

The old home base for fun ... and potential injuries.
Great Skate was a big-time destination when I was in elementary school, and the place knew how to find its market. Flyers offering special deals – Two dollars off! Free skate rental! Free hot dog! – circulated at the school before holiday breaks. When we had a half day or a complete weekday off for something like parent-teacher conferences, Great Skate would be flooded with my classmates. We’d go in circles for a couple of hours, compete in the races and limbo contest, and then go the arcade when it was time for couples skate.

Well, most of us did. We were in fifth and sixth grade, so our boy-girl relationships were just starting to transform. And no relationship was strong enough to survive a pileup of roller-skaters caused by awkwardly unbalanced hand-holding.

Tons of kids from Horizon Elementary went to Great Skate. Even my best friend, Brian, went a few times. Brian was pretty much a non-skater who bought nachos and hung out in the arcade, but one time he clung to the wall and circled the rink. The deejay then announced that “the kid in the red shirt made it all the way around” and Brian never put on skates again.

I was pretty good at staying on my feet, but not so good at the key injury-avoidance skill of stopping. I would just try to plan ahead, slow down and roll to a stop. Sure, I plowed into the walls a few times. I might’ve even done something resembling Splash star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s back-flip faceplant.

But I couldn’t have taken as many spills as my kids. I don’t think I had the grit to get back up and keep trying like them. Then again, it’s been a long time since I was 5, 7 or 10 years old. I don’t remember what it’s like to have an elastic body and an indestructible outlook.

My biggest fear was that our skating trip would end with a visit to the emergency room. I was nearly as frightened, however, that my kids would fall down in the grungy bathrooms. Take off your skates, first, I told them. I couldn’t believe how many adults rolled into the bathroom and risked a full-body germ flop.

Knowing that it might be the last time I would ever skate, I took a few laps around by myself. I planned ahead, slowed down, and exited the rink safely. I sat down next to my 5-year-old, who asked if I ever fell down when I skated.

Not on that day, fortunately. I think Nathan and everyone at the rink would’ve noticed. The 6-foot-2 guy wiping out in a sea of kids would undoubtedly be the day’s highlight/lowlight.

But I assured Nathan that not falling down was unusual. Even for someone who had watched Xanadu and done thousands of laps at Great Skate.

“I used to fall down all the time when I was learning,” I told Nathan, hoping he wasn’t too discouraged. His hair was sticky with sweat after an exhausting hour of taser-skating.

He said skating was harder than he thought and that his legs were sore. He also told me that his backside was hurting a little from so many flops. But most importantly, he wanted to know when we could go back to the skating rink.

“Tomorrow?” he asked.

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