There was something about the smell of the roller skating rink I loved – sweat, hot chips, rubber and sweet smelling teen deodorant all rolled into one. It was always darker than the outside world; floor and ceiling fluoro lights would ensure the rink had a dull glow about it, while disco lights flashed intermittently. The sounds of pinball machines, arcade games and 80s pop would blend together into an unmistakable cacophony of electronica. Everywhere you looked there were kids darting past you in their skates, huddled in groups laughing at tables, lurking in corners pashing. And there was always a few bored parents leaning awkwardly against a wall. Nerds and cool kids passed each other with whispers and giggles, but once they got onto the rink, and started skating, they were equal.
Skating was everything to me as a kid. I’d swap between ice skating at our local rink, now an office block, and Downtown, a long gone Adelaide institution. Downtown was a kid’s ultimate destination – dodgem cars, mini golf, an old school shooting gallery and the rink. It was where I’d hang-out with my friends and skate. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Wham, Whitney Houston, Olivia Newton John, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Style Council, Sade, Lionel Richie and Culture Club all gathered there in song. We stole our fashions from them; teased hair, dark eye makeup, off-the-shoulder tops and lycra.
We’d pull our skates on over our thick socks, tighten the laces carefully so as to get the perfect tension. Just enough wobble in the ankle to support them and not too tight they’d cut off the circulation. Nothing was more annoying than doing a couple of laps only to have to leave again and loosen your laces. We’d check our hair in the mirror, pull our side pony tails tight in our scrunchies, wiggle our fingerless gloves on, fix our shirt collars so they stood upright and stash our duffel bags in the metal lockers. Once everything was just right, we’d eagerly stomp over the sticky, crusty carpet to the side of the rink and wait for a gap to step out.
The music would set the tone for each lap. When you got your groove on you’d start to cross your legs over as you skated the corner, you’d spin around and skate backwards and when the competitions begun you’d limber up for the limbo. Then the DJ would turn the lights down low, ask you to grab a partner and play a set of slow songs – Careless Whisper, Hello, Power of Love, It Must Be Love and my favourite, In the Air Tonight. Mostly, I’d grab the hand of a friend and we’d skate slowly looking at the boys which had escaped to the side of the rink. It was the older kids, the ones that were a a little socially backward to hang with people their own age, who relished this time. They’d skate with younger girls and for a moment feel cooler than they actually were. I was never in to them, they weirded me out.
We’d skate for hours until our body ached and then we’d grab a booth and gossip and flirt and eat. A bucket of chips would be shared and slushies eaten with special spoon straws. We’d watch the older kids bum-suck cigarettes and wish our childhoods away. Plans for bike rides and sleepovers would be hatched. Phone calls made from the phone booth, twenty cent pieces squirreled away for just the occasion. Then we’d hobble over to the lockers, remove our skates, pack our stuff and bid our farewells.
Stepping out onto the street, my eyes would sting as the sun pierced them. There’d be this moment of physical adjustment as my body left the freedom of the rollerskating world back into the real one. I’d immediately plan my next trip in my head. I’d yearn for the synthetic world again, to push through the air on my skates and hear the songs ringing in my ears.
I attempted to rediscover my youth last week. I went to my first (Roller) Skate Fit class. From the moment I held the skates, I felt a familiar buzz. My heart imploded a little as I tied my laces. “It’s just like a bike,” was my mantra. As a gingerly stood up and took my first stride I wobbled, I jerked, I fell. As a crouched on my hands and knees at my local community centre, I smiled. I awkwardly positioned my limbs to get upright. My gaze lifted up to be met with the faces of four graceful women wrapped in beautiful saris, holding platters of food. They were attending a Muslim dinner event in the adjoining room. I’m unsure what they would have thought of a group of middle-aged women, wearing skates, laying on their backs doing leg splits while Eye of the Tiger played on the loudspeakers, but judging from the smiles on their faces I think they were quietly amused. I was in pain and my sides hurt from laughing at the absurdity of it all. I love my neighbourhood.
I may have skated holding the wall for the majority of the class. I may have fallen three times. I may have been terrified for most of the time, but I felt so alive. I felt like a kid skating in the rink with the world at my feet. Lost in time. It was awesome.
Next week I might take a disco ball with me and wear leg warmers.