By Al Carlos Hernandez
There was commercial on TV that shows a bunch of fools in skates taking a break from a full court basketball game. They made it look like they were playing full court ball wearing roller blades.
I thought, are those dudes stupid or what? Then a light went on, we were decidedly more imbecilic as kids back in the day. It doesn’t matter which generation you are from, the pervasive use of roller skates by rowdy kids have been a traditional way of thinning out the herd.
The first skates were the types with metal wheels that one would clamp on with a key to your shoes. The problem with those were, if you’re wearing tennis shoes, they would squeeze your feet into a tamale, and would always slip off during a race, ironically causing the other skater to lose, because they would ultimately crash from laughing at your flat tire skating disaster.
The clamp on evolved into a black or white boot that had the metal wheels attached. This invention took urban skating to whole new world of possibilities. It was then I realized my need for speed.
As kids we lived in a square block cement jungle of tall housing project apartments perched on a hill. We would struggle to scale up the sidewalks to the top, survey the perilous slalom sidewalk paths below, and then would race together in packs to the bottom where a four lane major highway, flowed like a raging river at the bottom of the course.
It occurred to me that the fools in the TV commercial where wimps. They had helmets knee pads, arm pads, an enclosed court, and a reason to live. We, on the other hand, had no helmets, pads of any kind, no brakes, limited traction, and the annoyance of hard of hearing old folks with groceries always getting in the way, who always had a tendency to fake right, then, go left at the last minute.
Skating for us was freedom, rolling way, way faster than we could run, holding hands forming huge whips 7 Homies deep, gaining enough momentum to launch the last one on the chain, up the freeway on ramp, past merging traffic, up into the fast lane, only to have to take the bus back home, several towns later.
The whole roller skate thing dropped out of vogue for many years until the disco craze hit the more effeminate in the 80tys. Suddenly there were satin and sequined dancers in high boots with brick colored composite wheels, whirling and twirling to the music. People would go out to the parks on Sunday and skate all day. I was not one of them.
There was an incident once when we were at a roller rink, where my brother and I were given time out for shoulder checking and elbowing each other over the safety rails. As urban skaters our visceral objective was to go as fast as possible while, knocking competitors down with your elbows onto their backs. Those who could multi-task would show off by slapping the baseball caps off of rookies.
During the time out, I was regaling my cousin, a recent arrival from Hawaii, trying to explain the art of urban “roll logy” when I made the mistake of accusing him of not knowing how to skate. When we hit the floor, we skated side by side until he looked me dead in the eyes then proceeded to skate backwards the whole time faster than I could forward, whacking off a few hats off along the way. I was humbled.
My kids tried to get me on roller blades, but I couldn’t conceptualize how one could go straight, perched on top two bicycle type in wheel units. It just didn’t seem natural. I was sure I didn’t have enough ankle meat to pull it off, and I was right. The pitiful attempts to roller blade, resulted in me doing the James Brown “Papa almost ruined his bag splits” down the driveway. It’s a good thing there was an SUV parked in front to negate my trajectory into residential traffic.
It is amazing that many of us survived “fun” as kids.
We were on vacation in Reno recently, and in the middle of town they held a female Roller Derby event. The stout porky tattooed Babes were whipping and cutting off the jams, like Old Schoolers back in the day. The event seemed very Retro Cool.
If and since I am of the generation that now runs this country, this might give you some insight into modern domestic and foreign policy.
Folks in Washington probably didn’t wear helmets either.
Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.