Love on wheels

Another Friday night at King’s Skate Country, where hormones are raging

On a Friday night, King’s Skate Country roller rink is loud. It has that muggy smell that permeates bowling alleys, high-school gyms or any place where people sweat and the windows don’t open. The rented skates rub your heels. By the end of the night, at best you’ll have a blister and at worst you’ll fall down and take some little kid with you. You seem to be the only person here over the age of 15. As you wobble your way through the crowd, you wonder what you ever saw in roller rinks when you were younger.

Flashback time: You’re 12 years old. You can’t drive. You can’t go to clubs. You can’t even get into a PG-13 movie. You spend most of your time at home or at school, where you’re constantly supervised by parents or teachers. At home, you fall into a family pecking order. Chances are you’re nowhere near the top. At your junior high, you and everyone else know exactly how popular you are—which girls will deign to talk to you, which parties you’ll be asked to. Your newly released hormones are raging, but where will you meet someone who doesn’t know that your nickname is “Snort” because of the time milk came out of your nose in the cafeteria in fifth grade? You cannot transcend your identity. You are pegged.

Now imagine you have successfully begged a ride to the roller rink on a Friday night. Your parents can’t stand the music, so they won’t come in with you. There are no authority figures, aside from the referees employed to maintain basic skating safety. You’ve got your own set of wheels. You’re surrounded by kids who don’t know you or your sordid milk-drinking past. You can be whomever you want. For the duration of a two-and-a-half hour skate session, you are free.

A single session offers a variety of pastimes. There are people “spot-rexing”—a form of roller hip-hop executed in the middle of the rink. Others play video games, eat nachos at the snack bar or join in organized games such as Paddle Tag and Red Light/Green Light. By and large, though, the Friday night scene is a cruise. Unlike an adult singles scene, where the object is to get an attractive person to go somewhere else with you, in a middle-school cruise, everyone knows that parents are waiting to drive you home at the end of the night. Whatever’s going to happen has to happen now. And it does—on hyperspeed.

“Everything happens here, everything. They need to write a book!” says Kayla Lee, a 13-year-old rink regular. She and her friend, Emily Cordell, lean against the rink wall watching the skaters. Occasionally, they jerk backward as passing boys attempt to tag them. “Something happens here on either Friday or Saturday night, and it’s talked about the whole week.”

“At least one thing,” adds Cordell.

“At least,” Lee confirms.

A quick survey of the rink reveals a myriad of dramas in progress: A young girl leans on her boyfriend’s shoulder with her eyes closed and a dreamy expression on her face. The DJ puts on the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” The boy looks over at his friends and points to his girlfriend, saying loudly, “Who let this dog out?” She immediately jumps up and begins punching him on the arm.

Two boys run up to a girl sitting on a bench. One grabs her ankles and the other grabs her under her arms. They pick her up and begin to swing her as she screams, “Nooooo! Stop!” A number of nearby skaters stop and stare. They finally put her down and she laughs and hugs them.

In one corner, a boy wraps his arms around a girl who towers over him by half a head. All of his friends watch from a polite distance of about one foot. She breaks the embrace and pushes the voyeurs away forcibly. The hugging resumes and the friends creep back to position. When she notices, she breaks the hug again and stalks off to the bathroom. The boy looks stricken. His friends attempt to cheer him up by making fart noises.

A line of girls lean over the edge of the rink talking. While their heads are turned, a boy whizzes by with his arm outstretched and slaps one of them across the face. Her nearest friend yells, “She got bitchslapped!” and they all gather around her with hugs and soothing words.

“Don’t worry!” her friend asserts. “I’ll trip him when I get out there!”

Andrew Durkee, a 17-year-old with a goatee and sleek black skates, weaves in and out of the crowd, rexing his way around the rink with a confidence born of three years of Friday night skate sessions. As the song fades, he exits the rink to catch his breath with sweat shining on his face.

“There’s a whole soap opera thing going on here,” says Durkee. “If you talk to certain people, you can watch different relationships being built and broken. It’s on a small level, but it’s still fun to watch.”

Photo By Larry Dalton

As Durkee describes the scene, a gruff-looking boy in a black sweatshirt and a baseball cap walks up and interrupts him. “Dude, do you see that girl over there in the blue T-shirt? She wants me to ask you if you’ll couples skate with her.”

“Where is she?” asks Durkee, scanning the rink.

“There. In the blue.”

Durkee’s eyes settle on a tall redhead in a tight, sleeveless T-shirt that reads “Too Much Princess for One Boy.”

“I’ll think about it,” Durkee replies diplomatically. The boy leaves. “There you go,” Durkee continues. “That girl who wants to couples skate with me, she just broke up with her boyfriend.”

Relationships at King’s Skate begin and end (and begin again) in the space of a weekend. Witness the drama currently occupying Lee and Cordell. Their friend was dumped just an hour ago. While they discuss this tragedy, another friend skates up and announces that she has just been asked out by the very same boy who dumped their mutual friend.

“I don’t know what to do!” she wails. “She’s my best friend. I’m going to feel bad if I say no, because then I’ll lose half my friends, but then if I say yes, then I’ll lose all of my other girlfriends. I’ll lose all my guy friends if I say no, because they said for him to ask me out!” She screams in frustration and skates away.

After one lap around the rink, she’s back. “I’m gonna cry! I just got asked out by my best friend’s ex-boyfriend and they just broke up, like, an hour ago! If he asks me to couples skate, what do I say?”

“Tell him no!” Cordell and Lee yell in unison.

A King’s Skater’s love life receives more scrutiny than a presidential candidate’s. It’s sink or swim in this social fishbowl, and one’s own feelings about a potential mate are less crucial than the group’s opinion of the relationship. So what’s a girl to do when her friends are divided and there’s a couples skate approaching? She’d better skate faster—or hide in the bathroom.

Despite the temporary nature of King’s Skate romances, there are real emotions involved. Feelings do get hurt and things can get ugly. Lea Cervantes, a 13-year-old who has been skating at King’s Skate “forever,” dishes the dirt on the tough side of rink culture with Lee and Cordell. “Everybody always wants to kick someone’s ass around here. Everybody.”

“Yeah,” says Lee, “there’s at least one fight a month around here.”

“At least,” adds Cordell.

“At least,” Cervantes confirms. “There was a fight last month where one girl grabbed another by the hair and swung her around.”

“What about the one between the boyfriends, the old and the new?” asks Cordell. “The ex-boyfriend and the new boyfriend were fighting and she was crying and everyone had to hold him back? It was very scary.” The girls nod, their eyes wide in remembrance.

All the drama can get a little heady, so you disengage from the pack and take a spin around the rink. The DJ spins an oldie, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” You smile as you remember skating to this very tune back in the day.

As you complete your first circle, Durkee rolls by with Too Much Princess. They smile and laugh. You see Cordell and Lee busily consoling their just-asked-out friend. You spot their just-dumped friend talking animatedly with another boy. From your rolling vantage point, all’s well in King’s Skate. You skate a little faster and feel a breeze in your hair. The mirror ball spins rotating reflections and, for the length of a song, you remember what it was you loved about the roller rink on a Friday night.