Where can you find a boyfriend, limbo and eat a really big dill pickle? Now that Skyline Skate is closing, all that's going to be tough.
“You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around: that’s what it’s all about!”
Can the words of that song conjure any image besides roller skating? If so, maybe the song will live on, but roller skating, at least in Laramie, Wyoming, will not. As of the last weekend in April, skaters in Laramie put their right legs and so forth in and out for the final time, as Skyline Skate closed for good.
The rink stands between a self-storage facility and a mini-golf oasis, and has welcomed both young and not so young into its mirror-ball-lit dimness since 1972. Owner Lisa Poledna said she and her siblings chipped in and bought the place after their mother died. They ran it for almost five years to the day the rink hosted its final skating party.
The building — a steel structure which from the outside could be almost anything were it not for the “Skyline Skate” sign — had been for sale about three years. Poledna said there had been no For Sale sign on the building. “We didn’t want to scare anybody,” she explained. The new owners plan another purpose for the building, which they are keeping quiet about for now. For sure, it won’t be a roller rink.
That decision puts a serious crimp in the options for Laramie roller skaters. True, there is a city run ice rink, in a similar steel building a few miles away. During the summer the rink is available for graduation parties, wedding receptions, and similar festivities — when an intimate setting won’t do.
Poledna said that when the city opened its recreation center and ice rink, business at Skyline Skate suffered. “It is a case of the government competing with private business, even though we wanted those things to come in,” she said. Between the city’s taking over recreational amenities and the economic slump, which Wyoming is only just starting to feel, Poledna said her family has had a hard time keeping the rink going. They have other family enterprises, such as a rental business, to fall back on. Poledna said that with the economy the way it is, business that deals in what people need, rather than what they want, is the better way to go.
When I saw the announcement in the paper about the closing of Skyline Skate, I knew I had to be there for the final day. I had only roller skated at the rink a few times in the last several years. For one thing, I told myself, I preferred to get my exercise outdoors hiking in the mountains or riding a bike. For another, the last time I skated at the rink was on a weekday afternoon, when everyone was at work except young moms and their children. And me. The lone solo adult, I felt myself drawing suspicious looks as I scissor-stepped around the patched floor. I think those young moms worried I was a creepy pedophile waiting to snatch one of their darlings from under the limbo pole. But with the rink closing and my days to skate drawing to an end, I decided to bear the funny looks.
I arrived promptly at 1 p.m. as the afternoon skate session started and found Lisa Poledna scurrying in street shoes between the skate rental counter, the snack bar, and the DJ booth. I couldn’t scurry very quickly after her (roller skates and carpet aren’t too compatible). She told me she’d decided to keep the rink open past the advertised closing time of 3 p.m. and would stay open until the last skaters were exhausted. She announced over the P.A. that since there was plenty of root beer and plenty of ice cream, everyone could get a root beer float at the snack bar free for the asking.
The crowd that afternoon didn’t seem too despondent that this would be their last session of wheeling counter clockwise under the mirror ball. Of course, they could have been chanting a eulogy for the old rink and I never would have heard it over the boom of roller rink rockage.
Permit a digression here: as a young teen, I spent nearly every Friday night at the Mission Skating Rink in Mission, Kansas. I remember the giant dill pickles served in waxed paper bags from the snack bar and the sloped restroom floors that made skated girls skitter like pinballs among the stalls and fixtures. I remember the adults patrolling among us, blowing reprimanding whistles when a young skater misbehaved. I remember the “Snowball”: boys lined up along one wall, girls the other. One at a time, boys skated along the line of girls, selecting one to be his partner. I would stand self-consciously, usually not picked until the song’s third verse headed into its final repeat and fade chorus. Finally, I remember the feeling of taking off the skates at the end of the night and walking on leaden feet back to the car of whichever parent had driven us gaggle of girls to the rink.
Roller rink culture has changed little since those days in the 1970s. Here were young parents shod in sneakers, leading a tiny skated tot between them around the rink. And there were the 5-year olds clinging to the security of the wall railing, making one lap last ten minutes. A bit more advanced were the free-ranging 8-year olds thumping to the floor in front of me with the unpredictability of leaf bags tumbling from a moving pickup truck. There was the knot of 12 year-old girls skating a few laps before heading to the snack bar for gossip.
Finally there was a group of older teenage boys, athletically beautiful skaters, all. They floated around the rink with rubbery grace, left arms draped across the smalls of their backs as they cross-stepped through the tight turns. They skated forwards or backwards, changing direction like a school of fish, they played catch with a nerf football as they skated and – what’s this? – pulled cell phones from baggy jeans pockets to text message in the dim darkness. The only teen I saw fall had been watching his phone instead of his skates. The others picked him up, laughing so hard he fell again before he’d traveled three feet.
Lisa Poledna had told me her main regret in closing the rink was that this loyal group of teen customers would no longer have a safe, fun place to hang out. She said owning the rink had taught her that she wanted to find a way to keep working with kids, helping them stay out of trouble. Some of the remarkable skaters I saw that day not only virtually grew up at the rink, they held jobs there. They were losing not only a hangout, but a paycheck, too.
No one seems to regret the closure more than Poledna. “I want to let people know we aren’t closing because anyone did anything wrong. I just hope they can appreciate that they had skating for five more years than if we hadn’t bought the rink,” she said. Poledna has another reason for regret. She grew up in Laramie and was once one of those teenage skaters herself. “I got my first boyfriend here,” she said.
After more than two hours of skating counterclockwise, listening to the music of my youth sampled by hip-hoppers and cautiously finessing my scissor-step into a scissor-kick, I was poetry on eight wheels with two rubber stoppers. I could dodge tumbling children and errant nerf balls without falling or slamming into the side railing. I could go fast enough down the back stretch that the breeze blew through my hair. For a few beautiful hours that afternoon I wasn’t fifty, clumsy and blistered. For just a little while, I was fifteen and beautiful under the light of the mirror ball. That’s what it’s all about.