I drive past the place almost daily, but for the first time, on a recent afternoon, I actually reflected on a place I’ve not been to in years.
When I was in elementary and junior high, it was such a big deal to go to skating parties at Happy Valley. The ages-old building would be bursting with kids and music on a Friday night and we tried very hard not to miss one. From an early age, I remember going there. You’d pay at a little window and walk in to a counter where you’d tell them your shoes size and hand you a pair of old skates. Some kids brought their own. I did until I grew out of them and then I just rented them each time.
I remember the songs you’d always hear in there – “Push It” by Salt N’ Peppa and songs by The Beastie Boys, assorted hair bands (like Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Poison, Warrant, etc.) and songs that I’ll never think of now, but that you didn’t hear on the radio – you only heard them at the skating rink. In the corner, there was a deejay who played…gasp!...records! Indeed, actual vinyl. He would have a book of songs and you could pick them out. I remember spending idle time between “good” songs looking through the books in hope of finding something better. The deejay booth was high up and covered with carpet. You could only see the deejay, I think, if you were skating around or if they climbed out of there….maybe that was because I was short.
Around the room, there were benches and on the benches were different classifications of people. There were little kids you didn’t know, kids your age, a few parents and some older kids – the older kids were interesting to watch. Sometimes they would be omigosh…holding hands…or kissing! I recall one time what would best be described as a swarm of little kids, myself included, was pestering some of these older kids doing whatever interesting things older kids might be doing. In an effort to get us to go away, they told us we wouldn’t understand what they were doing because we hadn’t learned “the facts of life.” Of course instead of getting us to go away, we followed them around all night virtually begging to know what the facts of life were. We followed them to the restroom, around the skating rink, to the snack bar, behind the coat area…still no resolution on the facts of life. I’m still wondering what “the facts of life” might have been. Maybe they didn’t even know…but I bet they wish they’d just ignored us in the first place.
I distinctly remember the taste of the pizza you could get at the skating rink. It wasn’t entirely cooked, as in the crust wasn’t crusty, but after an evening of going around and around the skating rink, it was heavenly. There was candy and pop – things we virtually never had at home and since Mom gave us money, we could buy some if we spent wisely.
There was always such an excitement that would build up from the afternoon at school when you made a mental calculation of who was going to the skating party to getting ready for it and then being dropped off there. Afterward, you were elated and exhausted usually. There was typically some kind of drama over the course of the evening – who was skating with whom or who was “going with” whom. That is a funny phrase actually, now that I think about it. I remember telling my grandfather about “going with” somebody and he gave me a funny look and said, “You’re a kid and you can’t drive – so how are you ‘going’ anywhere?”
For whatever nostalgic reason, I always kept track of whomever I went skating with and wrote the person’s name in tiny letters on the back of the ticket stub they gave you at the door. It was a ritual after the skating party, when I got home, to dig out the stub from my pocket, write a name and date on it, and save it in my jewelry box. I wonder if I still have those? After years of skating parties, there were a quite a few.
It’s funny. I don’t think I ever went to the skating rink after eighth grade. I’d like to go there now, just to see what it is like. Has it changed at all? Does it still smell the same in there? Do kids still have as much fun there as I did way back when?