Roller Skating: A Tragicomedy

A while back I got an urge to go roller skating. Initially, I thought I would just to go to a roller rink, strap on some rented skates, and spend an hour or so messing around. But I quickly discovered that the only remaining roller rinks in the Chicago area are either WAY out in the suburbs, or WAY on the edge of the south side. There were a few Roller Derby classes available, but these were a) also in the suburbs b) cost money and c) cool as Roller Derby seems, I didn’t really want to take up a contact sport. I just wanted to roller skate.

I looked into roller skate rentals, but the only place I could find charged $20 to use inline skates for a few hours, which–well, at that point, you might as well buy a pair of skates. And I didn’t want inlines, either–I wanted old-school old-fashioned roller skates. I asked around to see if anyone had skates I could borrow, but finally I concluded that if I wanted to roller skate, I was going to have to buy some damn roller skates.

My new skates arrived on Monday. They’re cute, white sneakers with purple accents on top of purple wheels. I had them delivered to work, and tried them on in my office to make sure they fit. I felt tall and slick in my new skates, and was tempted to skate down the hall to show a coworker my new purchase, but I didn’t think my boss would appreciate the midday recreation break.

Since it’s already cold in Chicago, I thought it would be a while before I could try them out. But on Wednesday morning it was almost 50. So I put on my new skates, my purple leggings, a navy dress, and a cardigan. I thought maybe I would skate down to a nearby forest preserve, which is just a little too far too be a comfortable walk. But on skates it would be easy, right? I would have to skate down a busy street, which might make me look a little quirky–a 32-year-old woman roller skating alone in a dress on a weekday morning in December–but I thought I could handle a few shouts of “Hey, Roller Skate Girl!” or whatever other witticisms people trotted out.

Realization 1: I may have overestimated my skating skills

I had only taken a few steps when I found myself grabbing for the fence to keep my balance. Skating didn’t feel as easy as it had when I was a kid. I didn’t feel as steady on my feet. I guess it was going to take some practice.

After a few feet, I ran out of fence. Okay, I told myself. I can do this. I glided a few more feet and promptly fell on my butt.

I didn’t fall hard. And only a few people saw me–commuters heading for the rail station across the street from my house. I laughed it off and tried to look confident as I stood up and started skating again.

I made it past two or three houses before wiping out again, falling forward this time, my dress flipping up around my waist. My legging-covered knees were now covered in small smears of mud. The commuter closest to me had now seen me wipe out twice in the space of three minutes.

Realization 2: I may have underestimated my capacity for embarrassment

It quickly occurred to me that while I was okay with “Roller skate girl!” I was going to be less okay with kindly strangers trying to help me up or asking, “Ouch! Are you all right?” My cute, quirky dress suddenly seemed more “delusional middle-aged lady dressing too young.” And I became aware of how many people were actually on the street in my seemingly quiet neighborhood–a couple of commuters crossing the street, a lady walking two German shepherds. I’d have to get past all three of those obstacles before reaching the first bench.

Instead, I took my skates off and darted left into the alley, walking in my black socks. I affected a confident stance, hoping as long as no one came too close they would think I was wearing black flats, not walking in a wet alley in my stocking feet like a crazy person. I think I pulled it off.

A few houses from the park, I crouched on another curb and put my skates back on. I wobbled around the walking track that encircles the park, nodding greetings to the occasional jogger or dog walker. In my head, the track at the park was smooth. But on roller skates, every small bump becomes a hazard: berries, twigs, even maple tree helicopters.

I learned to use my skates to walk over anything bumpy looking, and I managed to keep my balance.  Barely. I was going so slowly and moving so deliberately that the birds became comfortable and began to hop nearer. I hoped perhaps I could turn this into a successful bird-watching expedition, but all I saw were robins, though one appeared to have partial albinism around his head. I made a mental note to look up albinism in robins when I got home. God, I was getting weirder by the moment.

By the time I completed one shaky rotation around the park, I was exhausted. But it had been a success, I decided. I was feeling more steady on my feet, like next time I really might be able to make it down to the forest preserve. By the time I got back to my block, I was feeling downright cocky. At least until I looked up. Dozens of guys in bright orange vests were working on the train tracks across from my house.

If I fell again, I didn’t want to do it in front of a bunch of maintenance guys. I cut right back into the alley, this time with my skates still on. I’d gotten pretty good at walking in them, and since the alley was gravelly and rough, I did that all the way home.

Well, almost all the way home.

Less than thirty feet from my house, I wiped out again–hard. I broke my fall with my hands, scraping my palms and landing hard on both my wrists. I got my tailbone pretty well, too. I sat there stunned for a moment before limping home, thoroughly chastened.

Realization 3: Roller Skating Is Not for Cowards

I spent the next two days with my wrists wrapped in splints and Ace bandages. I went to the doctor, and I hadn’t broken anything, but I was having trouble putting my hair back and even–ugh–flushing the toilet. As I struggled to tie my shoes, I felt even more ridiculous than I had when actually skating.

On Friday night, I went out to dinner with a much more athletic friend. “You have a sports injury!” she exclaimed.

And suddenly I felt kind of badass. I’ve never had a sports injury before. From the way the recovery was going, it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to have any permanent damage. And I had a story that had been making people laugh all week.

As soon as it gets warm out, I’m going roller skating again.

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