18 December 2006

Long live the Roxy

I went rollerskating Wednesday night - yes, rollerskating, which I haven't done since I was approximately 8 years old - at a rink in the city that's regularly shut down for underage drinking violations. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with a weekly roller rink in NYC, but assumed it was appropriately skeevy, and that afterwards I would need to soak in a multi-gallon bath of Purell in order to de-grossify myself.

The rink is called the "Roxy," and touts itself as a pseudo-disco club. On Fridays, it's a gay dance club, and when it manages to avoid being closed by authorities, Saturday is a regular dance club. The discreet entrance (which is a nice way of saying "hidden" and "scary") is on West 18th Street, a deserted alley with nothing on it other than old warehouse-like buildings, chain link fences, a parking lot and some construction equipment. The faded blue neon sign looked kind of ghostly in the rainy evening, and you could hear it buzzing. It was like a movie set, complete with post-rain spatter and rats rummaging around the construction sites garbage cans. The bouncer at the door checking ID's was the complete package of club-bouncer stereotypes: Monosyllabic, tall, muscular, and dressed head-to-toe black puffy jacket and black baseball cap. It seemed almost a parody to be signing a release that he handed me that said "I accept responsibility for any injuries maintained while rollerskating." Slightly incongruous, yes.

My friend who accompanied me wasn't in the mood. But I had convinced her to go for 1/2 hour at most... knowing that it would be gross and we'd probably just head to a nearby Thai place for dinner and vow never to speak of this silly outing again. When we arrived at 8:30, we didn't expect anyone to be there... and we were pretty close. It was fairly quiet. After entering through a stairway lit with 6 blue light bulbs, we went to the "admission" booth and duly paid our $24 for skating and rentals.

For some reason, these people think that drunk people can hang on to minute slips of paper, because you got a paper when you paid, a paper when you rented your skates, and a paper when you checked your bags. When we entered, it was like a 1980's dance club... colored spotlights, black lights, neon green palm trees hanging from the ceiling, and lots... and lots... of roller skaters. Early in the evening, there were a fair number of us newbies represented and my friend and I took to the dance floor strapped into our four-wheelers. We looked ridiculous. I felt like I was 90 pretending to be 9. Every time I tried to push off, I'd pinwheel like a log roller, and simply grab anyone around me in order to stay off the floor. Remarkably, I didn't fall once! In the first hours, at least. I remembered the lessons I was taught in my first rollerblading class (bend your knees, stay low, and when you're losing your balance, don't stand up) and while I didn't look very cool, I at least stayed off the floor and the flying dancers around me.

The crowd was fascinating. I rarely see such a variety of people in one place in New York city. While the city is diverse, populations of like-people tend to flock together. Not so at the Roxy. There were African Americans, Latin Americans, people in their early 20's, and plenty who were in their 60's or 70's too. The fashions ran the gamut as well. From polka-dotted hot pants, to 1950's poodle-skirts (in camouflage print), from sequin socks to velvet bell-bottoms... it ran the proverbial gamut. You'll notice, however, that my entire sense of the fashion world of rollerskating is below the waistline. That's because - as my friend so eloquently put it at one point in the evening - "This is all about butts." When you're going around-and-around the floor, trying to stay upright, the place you stare is - you got it - at the butt in front of you. As a result, you start to identify people by their various leg wear and footwear... and when a new person joined the circling, I recognized that they were new not by their faces, but by their butt. "Oh, haven't seen those ripped jeans before"... "Look, the polka-dotted hot pants are back"... "The one in the white capris is really terrible!"... Only when there was something completely out of character (flashing light-up wheels, ridiculously ugly terrycloth headbands, or someone skating backwards), was the butt-staring alleviated.

The other thing about roller rinks is that people are constantly touching you. Whether your going to slow and someone feels the need to propel you along, or you're going to fast, and you have to grab the person in front of you to slow down, or if someone in front of you is falling and you reach out to offer them support... you're constantly bumping, supporting, leaning, touching, or otherwise maneuvering other people on the floor. (Note to all you single girls out there - this would be a great place to pick up guys... just run into one and fall down... he will inevitably help you to your feet and offer you a smile! Also, note to all those daters - they do play slow tunes, which turned into "couple" dances... so come to cuddle too...)

After a beer or two, the number of newbies falling suddenly increased. We'd been there over an hour, and the alcohol intake was increasing, and I think that either the confidence was overstated, or the balance was undermined. But it seemed that we suddenly were dodging flying people (or piles of people) at an increasing number. When people did fall, it was like a community effort to get them back on their feet. The security personnel (subtly wearing white shirts that said "ROXY SECURITY" in block letters) would rush over, and stand in front of the fallen person, directing oncoming skater traffic around the downed individual. Other skaters would stop to help, and within seconds, everyone was back in the groove.

Not wanting to break the groove, I managed to go down once myself. Not hard - and in my own defence, someone clipped my wheels - but enough to take another newbie down with me. Security was there in a blink, helping us both up and asking if we were OK. After a bevy of giggles and apologies, we were back up and running. No worse for wear, but definitely in need of some Purell.

By the end of our three hours of skating, I'd decided that one fall and countless bumps, grabs, pokes, pushes, and elbows were enough, so I called it quits. To tired to figure out the rainbows of slips of paper I had shoved in my pocket, I simply placed all my slips in front of the various coat check, ID check, and skate rental people to let them choose which color they liked best. Eventually I did end up with my own footwear, clothing, purse and ID back.

I'll go back, because it was super-fun and I promised my sister some photos. Next time I'll bring more friends with me to reserve one of the booths along the side. I'm also bringing my extra large bottle of Purell.

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