I grew up in a relatively rural area where existence was pretty simple. My biggest pleasure in life was getting to sit in the cart at Wal-Mart and snarf down a freshly microwaved bean burrito smothered in cheese ooze, then oogle the mice and fish for sale. That’s right, kiddies—my Wal-Mart used to have a snack bar and sell living animals. Organic wasn’t a word then, and Pluto was still a planet. It was another world.
My second greatest pleasure in life was attending any and all school skate nights at the local roller rink. That’s where I learned to zoom freestyle on my pink in-lines, listening to the honky-tonk droll of “Achy Breaky Heart” mixing with the whirr of wheels from my mulleted classmates. It was there that I discovered the gift of uninhibited speed, first felt the freedom of dancing alone in the dark, and eventually broke my arm.
I recently revisited that exact same roller rink and found, to both my pleasure and horror, that the place hadn’t changed a bit. Fermented is really a better word.
There’s something seriously eerie about visiting a place that hasn’t changed in two decades, especially when one of the things that hasn’t changed is the air inside it. The clientele was the same, with kids warbling round the rink on shaky bird legs and a handful of obese parents absently waiting on the bleachers for them to clock out. The difference was that the parents, mullets and all, were now rocking glowing iPads instead of kitschy romance paperbacks.
Another major change was that my limbs weren’t as lithe as they once were. Once I’d felt like the belle of the roller ball as I fearlessly swooped, dodged, hopped, and did tricks backwards. Watching Whip It, I’d even deluded myself into thinking that I could probably manage the same way Ellen Page does. But like the roller rink I’d once thought of as a home away from home, my skating abilities had definitely deteriorated.
Now, my sole goal was to get up enough speed not to be inchworming along like the kids I used to make fun of. But success in that arena brought on another problem: Once at speed, I had to manage not to crash land into children who I could crush, children who were part of a generation that knows all too well how to sue. Also, falling from a height of six feet is much scarier than falling from four.
The creaky old speakers now wheezed nearly unrecognizable “RaRa’s” from Lady Gaga instead of Billy Ray Cyrus and the batches of kids sported skinny jeans instead of mullets, but the greasy dark was just as fun as it used to be. Armed with only a glow stick, a dusty disco ball, and the will to fall, skating could still be fun.
Change is inevitable. My old burrito-slinging Wal-Mart has turned into a shimmering bastion of designer wine and organic milk. Country roads have been paved and overrun with SUVs, and old neighborhoods have been plowed down by homes for people from India and New Jersey. But even though progress is inescapable, it’s nice to know that one place will never change: Sparkles. Except that’s not its name anymore.