Roller Rink


In the comment section a few days ago, Angelia referenced a piece of our collective past that has been buried beneath years of dust, and bad fashion decisions. A place that was once a very central part of the social scene for every rural tweeny bopper in America. A place that was once so popular it spawned a whole genre of movies.

I am speaking of the Roller Rink.

Yes, you heard me. The Roller Rink. Anyone over the age of 35 can probably remember them. They were the kiddie disco’s of our time. After reading Angelia’s comment, the memories of going roller skating came flooding back. I’m not sure where those memories had been misplaced inside of my brain. Perhaps they were in that little collection of brain cells that I sacrificed to a case of Genny Cream Ale in 1987.

In our little corner of Western New York, the local roller rink was “Skate 98”. It was nothing more than a metal pole barn on the side of Route 98 in Alexander, about 5 miles outside of town. But it might as well have been Studio 54, because in 1979 it was about as close as an eleven year old could get to the world of John Travolta and the Bee Gees. It was the height of the disco era, for better and for worse.

OK, mostly for worse.

It strikes me as funny that of all the 70’s fads, and fashions that have been dredged up, disinfected, and resold to the masses, somehow Roller Skating has managed to remain buried beneath a layer of polyester, and velour. As a child of the 70’s, roller rinks were as ubiquitous as bowling alley’s. Just about every kid went at least once a year for someone’s birthday party, and for some teens it was a weekly event, like Pizza at Pontillo’s, or a movie at Mancuso’s. Believe it or not, Roller Skating was as much a part of popular culture as Star Wars movies, bell bottoms, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Whether you were into skating or not, there were few greater excitements than a 6th grade class trip to the roller rink. There beneath the swirling lights of a disco ball, 12 year old boys, and girls would skate in circles, chasing each other, around and around as they flirted in a courtship ritual that could easily have been mistaken for an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

There were certain traditions at the roller rink that were common no matter where you lived. There was the hokey pokey, the limbo stick, the chicken dance and the Loc-o-motion. Come to think of it, there wasn’t much difference from your average VFW wedding reception really. There were rules, and etiquette that had to be followed; everyone skating in the same direction, no cutting through the middle, and rink Nazi’s there to enforce them.

Every demographic was represented at the rink. There were families with small kids, the teenage show offs that could disco dance on skates, the newbies who could hardly stand, and the little brats that tore around the place like it was a roller derby. There were even old couples holding hands and circling the floor, reliving some gilded memory of the fifties.

And of course, there was always a snack bar, and a collection of video games, air hockey tables and places to sit if you got tired of skating, or needed to find a secluded corner to make your move on Mary Jo Bambenik. The place was always jammed on Friday nights, or Saturday afternoons.

OK, you guys aren’t believing me are you?

I swear, I am not making this up. Roller Rinks were a BIG DEAL in the 70’s and early 80’s. They even made movies about them

like Roller Boogie…

and Xanadu…

Yes kids, the 70’s really were that hideous.

Perhaps it was the Roller Rink’s association with Disco Music, that ultimately killed it. Or maybe we just outgrew them. I don’t think I would have ever been caught dead inside of a roller rink after 8th grade. One by one they seemed to go out of business, or get redeveloped into something else. Yet a few still linger on. In fact, last year Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect’s 4th grade class had a field trip to one somewhere nearby. Maybe next time I’ll volunteer to chaperon as a study in tweenage anthropology, to see if anything has changed. Somehow I have a feeling Lil’ Miss 20 P would be horribly embarrassed to have her Dad along as she was chasing boys around the rink.

So, what was your favorite roller rink memory? What boy or girl were you chasing around while the lights flashed and the DJ played Pat Benetar? Discuss amongst yourselves class…

19 thoughts on “Roller Rink

  1. Ha ha ha ha! Ahhhh, I have such fond memories of skating. We had a rink in town that was PACKED. It was awesome. I wore a pink silk jacket with a skate stitched on it. I remember getting asked to couple skate with Jeremy – the second coolest skater in the rink. He could skate backwards(gasp!). In fact, only one skater was cooler than Jeremy – Clark Kelso. He could skate front, back, to the side, and even SPIN. Not to mention his cool move of dancing while skating backward (sigh!).

    Yes, yes, yes part of our childhood. A true icon.

    I have been skating since. We have the largest roller rink in Dallas right in the town I live. And you know? I still GOT it! HA. Boogie Fever Forever!

    • Can I call you “Pinky Tuscadero”? Because that pink silk jacket is freakin’ awesome. Please tell me you still have it stuffed in a closet somewhere.

  2. We had two massive ice rinks locally. One was outdoors and the other (Low Tor was the name) had four full sized inside rinks that stayed open all year round. During the spring of 77 they converted one to a rollerskating rink, added flashing colorful lights and gave us something new to do.
    I’m going to come right out and tell you that I think this is one fad that should be brought back along with the much missed drive in movie.
    Who the hell decided that tearing down all the outside theatres was a good idea? Remind me tomorrow to tell you about the time we left a high school friend handcuffed and abandoned in an old drive in movie lot for fun. She still tells the story.

    • Oh man I wish Drive-In’s would make a comeback. I guess the property they sat on just became too expensive. They use to be all over, but now they are few and far between. We’ve still got one here a few miles East of St. Paul. The place is packed on weekends in the summer time.

      and please, please, please, write a post about the abduction at the old drive in. I’ve got to hear the story now.

  3. ‘Round these parts the roller rink was still alive and swingin’ in the early nineties… one in Hamilton and one in Cambridge.

    They had even evolved to your selection of the 4-wheeler skate style, or those new-fangled “rollerblades” that I still detest.

    Mind you, I couldn’t navigate either very well, but it was fun nonetheless.

    My favourite memory was going for my sister’s friend’s birthday. I was overweight, had total lack of co-ordination, and still hoped to catch his eye every time I “skated” by. I think I was 18 or so.

    Ahhh, the good ol’ days.

  4. Did your rink have the All Night Skate?

    Lock a bunch of hormonal kids up in a skate rink over night and play Journey songs to them in the dark? Excellent idea.

    I could skate backwards once. I wonder if I still can…

    • I think that State Laws required all skating rinks to hold an all night skate for hormone addled kids. In retrospect, I guess it kept them off the streets and under “adult” supervision

  5. Did anyone else’s rink have that game they’d play in the center with the gigantic dice? I have an overwhelming need to braid ribbons into my hair and hang giant feathers from my ears.

  6. my favorite roller rink memory was ME. you should have seen me skate-dance to k.c. and the sunshine band’s “that’s the way uh huh uh huh i like it uh huh.” it really doesn’t get any sexier.

  7. LOVED Xanadu! I played a youtube vid of the roller skating scene before I took my kids skating for the first time, and I told them that’s what roller skating is like in cooler cities.

    Roller skating was so awesome that I took lessons when I was five. There were competitions and shit. It’s like ice figure skating’s dirty little cousin. That didn’t last long for me.

    But our local rink is alright. My kids love it. Sometimes, with my five-year-old daughter and six-year-old niece tugging tight on my arms, we even make it around the rink once. And my eight-year-old son’s legs don’t seem to bend as he skates like a little hunched over old man. Best memories yet.

    • I think I might need to force the kids to go skating just for old times sake. I wonder if I have any acid wash jeans in the closet…

  8. I cannot skate or do anything that requires coordination. I sometimes do walk with arm and leg out from the same side. I am lucky I know how to run without tripping myself.

    Roller skating rink is a big part of my imagination of American culture. Don’t know why. Must have seen a lot of it on TV and in the movies. Just saw an episode of Office where they went to the roller skate rink to pick up women. Well, it was noon during the week. No single women to be found. But the boy manning the rink turned on the strobe light for them. That was really cool. 🙂

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