While on a recent pilgrimage to the Oaks Park roller rink I felt the rush of stale rink air through my nose hairs and mane during All Skate, just as I did at Becky Reber's third grade birthday party. I relived the triumph of mastering the right-footed cross over as if it were my first time. I believe we all have similar memories deep in the recesses of our brains but something happened to us in the '90s: we became callous. The unstoppable draw of modern living caused us to forsake the one thing that had the potential to heal us, the one thing that could mend all that was broken. But if we can reclaim this dying sport, we will find that it--and it alone--has the power to put the Unite back in United States.
Now, I'm not suggesting roller skating should be mandatory, that it should replace the pledge of allegiance or be forced on kids in P.E. who were unsuccessful at Frisbee golf--I'm no fascist. I'm merely presenting to you my findings, in hopes they might inspire you to do something important with your life.
At the Oaks Park rink--the veritable four-wheel Mecca of the Northwest--I witnessed seniors skating with young hipsters, and the upwardly mobile sashaying with the downwardly agile. There was forward skating, reverse skating, there were post-operative transsexuals gliding with military men, as well as gays and straights triple axling next to one another. There may have even been some Canadians.
The reason for this solidarity is simple: roller skating makes you a better person.
"Kids that are involved in [it] don't usually have a lot of troubles," says Billy Duncan, an instructor at Oaks Park who skates competitively with his wife.
It's hard not to believe him; he's been skating since the age of 11 and doesn't appear to have gone to jail once. Duncan met his lovely wife and skating partner at the roller rink, which just goes to show that even love can be found on the round, overly polished, gymnasium-style floor.
"Guys are in big demand in this game. If you're looking for chicks this is certainly a good place for a young man to be," says Mark Imhof, a linebacker of a man who turns into a gazelle as soon as he straps on his skates.
SKATING: IT GETS YOU LAID
For those of you who regularly purchase a 14-dollar cosmopolitan for the hot chick at the end of the bar, I daresay you might be spending money up the wrong tree. It only costs five smackers for admission to the rink on adult skate night and one dollar for skate rental. That's twelve bucks for the both of you--unless you have your own skates, in which case it's only ten and you are a god among men. This will help you save money and put away for retirement. And because she will grow nicer and more limber while skating, there is a greater likelihood that she will sleep with you than if you had just bought her some lousy drink.
(If your goal is to achieve the previously mentioned god-like status, you may want to consider buying your own skates. Think of it as an investment in your future and in the future of our country. Duncan mentions that one of the competitive skaters dropped $1,300 on a pair of custom boots, but only because she's a great big girl with really strange feet. If your feet are fairly normal, you can probably pick up a stock pair for a couple hundred. They will not only give you credibility, but the opportunity--as in all good sports--to be a total gearhead. "There's a quotient between how fast they roll and how well they stick on the floor. All of us crazies are always looking for the perfect wheel," Duncan proclaims as his wife hands him a $94 set of eight.)
At some point you will need to decide if you want to skate competitively. The reason to do this, of course, is to travel the world on the invitational circuit, further strengthening the roller skating brotherhood, spreading legs and a message of peace all the while. Once you have a pair of killer skates, the only thing you'll need to skate competitively--besides talent and training--is the right outfit.
As with any good uniform, your outfit says a lot about you. First of all it must always, always, match your partner's. This is non-negotiable. This tells other skaters that you are part of a team, and it sends a message to the international community that we Americans are not afraid to cooperate. If you are in competition you will likely wear something sparkly in the shape of a short dress or tuxedo. If you are simply warming up, you might step into a little, one-piece, velour number. Again, let me state how important it is that your little, one-piece, velour number matches your partner's little, one-piece, velour number.
To recap so far: roller skating makes you a better person, helps save you money which, in turn, strengthens the economy, makes people more inclined to have sex with you, breeds tolerance and oneness, encourages team building and the wearing of sequins, and makes you a more worldly traveler, thus taking you out of your provincial day-to-day existence, broadening your horizons and introducing you to new people. And I haven't even mentioned the showtunes yet.
The soundtrack to every adult skate night at Oak's Park roller rink is provided by a 1500-pipe, 1926 Wurlitzer organ suspended over the rink a la Tommy Lee's drum kit on the Dr. Feelgood tour. The Wurlitzer mastermind, the Man Behind the Curtain, is Keith Fortune. He sits at one end of the rink in a custom-built, glass brick Wurlitzer cockpit, an orange glow on his face from his name ablaze in neon a few feet away, banging out tunes such as Darkness on the Delta, Sandman, and anything from Oliver or Guys and Dolls. He used to be heavy into the Sound of Music, but he got burned out on it a while back and doesn't play it much anymore.
Not only is roller skating fun, it brings us back to old-fashioned values. Why risk Celine Dion or Night Ranger ruining your roller buzz when you can skate away the evening to organ music like people did in the '70s, six nights a week?
"It appeals to all ages," says Linda Rosser, who skates pairs with Imhof and has a blue and red outfit to match his. "I also think it keeps you young."
I tried to interview a couple members of the senior set to ask them how roller skating has enriched their lives, but I couldn't catch them in their custom skates.