I used to roller skate a bunch when I was in elementary school, fourth and fifth and sixth grade. It was the social thing to do, a Saturday afternoon session at the Aloha Roller Palace on Blossom Hill Road in San Jose — two hours of skating to Journey and Foreigner with my friend Diane.
The skates were heavy and they made a satisfying clunk when I put them on and tromped my way from the rental area to one of the openings onto the rink. I loved the lights that bathed the course in lurid color — blue, green, purple, red, and back again — the huge disco ball that scattered millions of tiny prisms across the floor, the din of all the wheels on the wood and the pounding bass of 80s rock.
Skating was better than school dances, because there was always something clear to do. I didn’t have the anxiety about how to dance or when at Aloha — I just skated around and around until I got tired or the music stopped. I used to like to pick up speed and take the corners in a semi-crouch, lifting my outside foot up and over the inside one to make the centrifugal force even more pronounced. Diane and I would fly through a bunch of songs and then take a break, steering ourselves toward the low barrier wall between the rink and one of the rest areas, stumbling a little at the transition from smooth wood to carpet and collapsing on one of the huge, round fake leather “benches” that actually looked like a demented toadstool out of Alice in Wonderland.
There was always that boy-girl heightened awareness energy going on, and sometimes I tuned into it, whispering with Diane about which boys were there and what they were doing, but mostly I was still a kid, skating at the rink with my friend, exhilarated by the air against my face as I took another spin.
I don’t remember when I stopped going to Aloha. By seventh grade for sure it wasn’t cool anymore. I do remember that I missed it, the speed and the rush, but not as acutely as I thought I would. Looking back it was a similar experience as the one I had with swimming as a kid: I loved it more than life itself and couldn’t imagine not swimming as much as possible until one day I didn’t.
What replaced skating, though? Probably Diane and Tammie and Brenda (the same Brenda of the Blue Coat) and I started to hang out at Oakridge Mall, trolling the stores for candy and trinkets and makeup. Or maybe dances started to get interesting. Either way, how I expressed myself with my friends became more subtle, less physical — until I sort of forgot about those roller skating afternoons, or maybe just packed them away in some part of my memory labeled “Stuff I Used to Do.”
Is that sad? I think so. That shift from the un-self-consciousness of childhood to self-consciousness of teenagedom can be painful. Maybe if we’re lucky, we can circle back around to that early freedom we had as kids when we’re adults. In fact, I am seriously thinking about driving down to San Jose, just to check out Aloha Roller Palace again — Thursdays are Retro Skate Night.