Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reminiscing: Skateland

Last week, I talked about a love for hockey in the Bacon household. While writing it, I made a quick mention of roller skating and Skateland. How could I have forgotten about Skateland for so long in my Reminiscing? It was a such a huge part of growing up in Lockport. While not as big as hanging at the Lockport Mall, it was very integral.

My first pair of roller skates came from a garage sale or my grandmother’s house. I can’t remember which, but it could have been that my grandmother found them at a garage sale. At any rate, these things would fit over your shoes, and then you had to tighten them with a key. That key was on a piece of leather that we could hang around our necks. Oh, the horrors if you lost that key!

Those skates had the hardest wheels imaginable. They were brutally hard to skate on. They squeezed your feet even through the sneakers, because you had to make sure they were tight. If they weren’t, they’d fly off and that would be an ass-over-teakettle disaster. When one of the skates let loose from the sneaker, there was a sinking feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. You knew that pavement was going to hurt.

We lived within a mile or so from Skateland, or Skateport as it was called at first. It wasn’t terribly out of the way for us to go there. Considering we were now “experts” at skating on our garage sale skates, shouldn’t we go to the cool place and show off all our moves? Yeah. That never really worked out. Imagine the looks of amusement and condescension when we showed up with those skates. “You can’t wear those things in here. They’ll ruin the floor.” So we had to rent skates, too.

Those rental skates were nothing special, but they were miles above what we were used to. Those wheels would spin smoothly. With the laces, there were no chances of the skates flying off and you taking a header. The only falls would be from our lack of skills rather than lack of skates. While we were enthralled with the rentals, there were guys out there with their own skates who, in my eyes, were the king skaters. They could do things on skates I hadn’t even dreamed of yet.

They skated backwards. They crossed over. They could dance with girls while both were on skates. I couldn’t even dance on my feet let alone on skates. Dancing came later, although I’m not sure I’m ready to tell that tale yet. Thankfully, it was the 1980s rather than the 1970s. These guys didn’t have the permed hair with polyester pants and half unbuttoned shirts. Instead, it was Jordache, pinstriped jeans with t-shirts that had hems differently colored than the rest of the shirt, and big combs in our back pockets for that feathered hair.

Occasionally, there were birthday parties at Skateland. Parties like that weren’t as common then as they are now, so going was definitely a treat. One thing I liked about those parties was being able to drink some soda. We weren’t really allowed to have it at our house (even though we snuck it out of those awesomely cold glass bottles) and had to sneak it to have some. Then we’d spaz out and skate, high on cake and cola.

Remember requesting a song? The DJ never stopped nodding his head in time with the music, so you weren’t sure if he was acquiescing to our request or just really into what he was spinning. If he knew you, you were more likely to get a song played. If he liked the song, too, it was even more likely. Sometimes I would request a song that was so off the wall that he had to play it just for the comedic or shock value. And then he’d tell me I couldn’t request anymore tunes.

When we got older, the spectre of being able to stay out all night became more of a reality. Skateland used to host an “All-Night Skate.” They gave us the chance to push those boundaries set forth by our parents. At no time, would they let us stay up all night. And to be totally honest, despite our best efforts, it was terribly difficult to stay up all night.

I went to a few all-night skates in my time, maybe three or four. Basically, they would lock us in the building until 6:00am and the rest would be mayhem. Well, mayhem until 3:30 or so, when we all would hit a wall of tiredness. There were always those die hards who could stay up all night. I wasn’t one of them, although I did my best. All I can remember is that there were definitely less people continuing to skate in the last two hours or so. The booths were always full, so there were people leaning against the walls by the lockers to get a bit of rest.

I went one time with a girlfriend. She was always a little high strung, but she petered out about the same time as a bulk of the people. We found a place near the lockers around 4:30. I might have dozed off for twenty minutes or so, but she was out. That twenty minute nap revitalized me, and I went back to skating. I think that was the secret-- pace yourself and take breaks, especially early. That way you could make it the whole night.

It was an odd feeling when it was finally time to go. As a teenager, we generally didn’t get up before the absolute last minute to get ready for school. Walking outside into a fresh dawn was a fairly new experience. The skies were a brightening gray, and no matter what time of year it was, there was always a chill that really woke you up no matter how exhausted you were. Many times, there was a low lying fog hanging about.

When you think about it, our parents were troopers. Sure we stayed up all night, but they had to get up before six in the morning on their first day off for the workweek to pick us up. And they had to drop us off the night before. While they knew we were safe, they probably didn’t stop worrying about us. I know when my kids go away just for a late evening, I worry about them. I can’t imagine what it will be like when they start driving in just a couple years.

I’m not sure if they still do all nighters at Skateland. And I’m not sure I’m ready for my girls to be out all night like that. I should be. The twins went to Virginia on a band trip for three or four days last year right at the time they turned 13. And they’re only a mile away when they’re at Skateland. I might have to break out the skates and go with them. I just have to find that darn key….

Craig Bacon doesn’t have a brass monkey, but he will fight for his right to party, because after hanging at Skateland all night, there’s no sleep ‘til Brooklyn.