The dark and musty atmosphere, mirror balls, M.C. Hammer, arcade games, limbo, birthday parties and the thrill of skating as fast as you dare! Almost everything you can use to describe the skating rink is something I miss from the world today. Yes, including M.C. Hammer.
I don’t recall my first trip to the skating rink, or really any specific memories at all. I very much remember the atmosphere though. Really the only skating rink I’ve ever been to was the Dodge City Skating Rink. It’s nothing more than a heating and cooling business now, but for me a memorable landmark in my childhood.
Back when I was in grade school, our school would have Skating Parties every so often. Twice a year maybe. There would be teachers and chaperones there, and us kids could skate, hang out, or play on the video games if we brought our own quarters. I don’t really remember socializing with anyone in particular while at the skating parties. I knew my classmates, but for the most part, I was content just to be there, to be able to roll around the floor, listen to the music and be mesmerized by the lights. If there was a clic that hung with at these things, I sure don’t remember it.
The building itself, I remember being dark, and having a certian “old” smell to it. I can’t remember for sure, but I want to say as you walked in, to the left was a counter where you’d pay. Off to the right was the area where you got your rental skates. I never had my own pair of roller skates, but man how I dreamed about it. What I ended up getting was some gnarled leather things that laced all the way up your ankles. Despite their lack of attractiveness, they worked pretty well. I don’t ever remember getting skates with stuck wheels or anything like that. But some of the kids had “nice” skates. The ones that looked like actual sneakers that you would actually want to wear. Those were the cool kids.
If you walked further straight into the door, past the front desk, there were arcade games lining the left wall. Some real classic stuff like Ms Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and maybe Off-Road. I’m sure there was a pinball machine or two. To the right was an area divided off from the rest of the floor. It had tables and a concession stand. There you could get cotton candy made fresh there, candy, pretzels and maybe some pizzas from a pizza oven. It was almost guaranteed that at all times, somobody was celebrating their birthday and there would be balloons, party favors and kid’s coats and belongings covering one or two of the tables. They were mostly round fiberglass tables with their own attached benches.
Further past the arcade machines and concession area was the rink. As you walked in you’d be to the left of the rink where there were numerous cubbies for your shoes and belongings, a long bench for lacing up your skates, and a wall separating you from the actual skating area. Things like this are hard for me to judge now. I want to say the wall was chest high, but seeing as how I would have been 4 feet tall, it’s hard to say. Along the wall were two or three entrances onto the floor.
I don’t really remember learning to skate. Who taught me, the part where I fall a lot. I really don’t know. For the most part I just remember going pretty slow most of the time. As I went more often, I got to the point where I could cross my feet across each other going around the turns. I felt pretty bad ass at the time. It was so much fun rolling around, watching the lights of the mirror ball move across the ground as I turned along with them, you’d get the sensation of standing still, even though you were moving. The strobe lights made things seem like they were moving in slow motion, and there was always some sweet 90’s jams pumping out of the speakers.
To break up the action and mix it up, they would do different games or events at regular intervals. There was limbo, which I was phenomenally terrible at. I never got past the first pass or two. I remember one girl I liked always was one of the last people left. She could do the splits and get way down low. It seemed like you couldn’t even get a dollar bill between the pole and the floor, but I’m sure it was hardly as extreme as that. And of course I never talked to her about it, because that would mean I’d have to talk to a GIRL!
Speaking of girls, I was always super jealous of the guys that could skate backwards, because when the dance song came on, the guys would skate with the girls, only one person would have to skate backwards. I was convinced until at least sixth grade that the reason I didn’t have a girlfriend was because I couldn’t skate backwards.
Spin the bottle was another game they did at the Dodge Skating Rink. It was far more innocent than the name might make you believe. All the kids would sit in a circle and they would spin a bottle in the middle. If it pointed at you, you got a neat little prize like a frisbee or a yo-yo. The games weren’t really anything specially, but it kept you from going around in circles endlessly and were always a neat little thing that you kinda looked forward to.
It’s weird. This is a place I can never go back to. There’s a roller rink here in Great Bend that I really want to visit, but I know it won’t be the same. And I seriously doubt they’ll be blaring any Vanilla Ice. I miss those times. Going to the skating rink was more than just the fun of skating. It usually meant there was something special going on, a school party or a birthday party. They were all good days.