“In point-one miles,” the GPS told me, “turn left.”
I turned left off of Columbia onto Blue Hill Ave. “Fuck,” I swore.
I pulled into the icy strip of road behind Chez Vous, Boston’s only roller rink, just behind Will, Gina and DJ. Teetering across the sidewalk, I paused outside the front door. “I need cash for the cover,” I said.
“I can get you,” Will offered.
“I need cash in general,” I elaborated. “Let me find an ATM.”
“… are you sure?”
After an uneventful run to an ATM and a thorough pat-down in the front door of Chez Vous, I cashed in a ticket for a pair of size 13 roller skates. The gang had filled out in my trip across the street – , , , , , in addition to those already listed. I laced up and teetered over to a coin locker to deposit my shoes. My balance felt all right. It had been more than a decade since last I tried on roller skates, but I felt confident.
I rolled off the carpet and onto the rink and immediately regretted my decision. Hands cartwheeling, I grabbed for the guide rail along the wall. I shuffled my feet back and forth like snowshoes, making the slowest progress possible. I coasted along the farthest perimeter of the rink before reaching the corner where the rail ended and steeling myself for the unaided twelve foot crossing to the next rail. Slowly I scooched, step by step.
I completed two laps in this fashion to everyone else’s six or seven. Melissa and Fraley sat with me – better skaters by far, but a little more tired and hungry than the rest of us. We watched older skaters, veterans of the roller disco era, pirouetting and gliding backward around the rink. An old man stood in the exact center of the rink, bopping and dancing to the tracks on the speakers without moving his feet an inch.
“Did he really need skates for that?” Fraley asked.
“They wouldn’t let him on the rink without them,” I observed.
Christine talked me into trying another lap. We rolled tentatively out to the far side of the rink. She coached me through the first tentative steps. “You’ll probably want to crouch a little,” she said, considering my center of gravity was about nine feet off the floor.
Suddenly, Robert Loggia’s skinnier brother – I have no better way to describe him – skidded to a twirling halt between the two of us. “The first rule of skating,” he said, by way of introduction, “is: if you look down, you fall down. Same as riding a bicycle.”
“… okay,” I said with some confusion, locking eyes with him.
“The second rule of skating,” he continued, “is: if you walk like a person, you look like a duck!” He shifted his feet back and forth in a heel-toe, heel-toe, making zero forward progress and wobbling comically. “But if you walk like a duck, you move like a person. Observe.” He placed his heels together and his toes pointing outward, at maybe 45 degrees from each other, and began to shift his feet. Slowly he started to move. “You see?”
“So.” He positioned himself about ten feet from me. “Walk like a duck! Eyes on me!” I positioned my heels together, looked straight forward in response to his two-fingered point between his eyes and mine, and began to walk forward. Sure enough, I started picking up speed – and at no cost to balance, either. I made it all the way to the end of the rail before stopping.
“Third rule! You see this?” He teetered suddenly, throwing his arms out to cartwheel. “Those are the wobblies. You get two of those, you sit down for fifteen minutes. You get three, you’re done for the night. You don’t just want to stop on the rink, just like you wouldn’t stop on the interstate. You’re working an entirely different set of muscles here.”
He skated off, backwards on one foot. “What’s the first rule?” he called.
“If you look down, you fall down,” I answered.
I made less than another lap on his instructions. Then I realized that throwing my back or knee out while rollerskating wouldn’t be the silliest injury possible prior to a black belt test, but pretty close. So I stopped for the evening. People started getting hungry as well. Fraley and I played Warzaid while waiting for folks to skate themselves out. “The fact that these skeletons can pilot helicopters,” Fraley said, “suggests that we might be able to reason with them.”
“Defeatist,” I said.
Will led us on a roundabout route to the IHOP in Quincy Center. We were the only folks in the restaurant bar some late night teenagers and a guitar-playing hermit. The waitress heckled us good-naturedly, bringing out stacks and stacks of breakfast.
“Does everything here come with pancakes?” Katie asked.
“Actually, the pancakes come with a side of omelets*,” I corrected.
* Side omelets come with a side of pancakes.