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“There will be a skating party this Thursday night at the “Swank Roller Rink”, came the announcement over the P.A. during Mr. Mills’ class.
What is a skating Party? I wondered to myself. I had to find out. During the lunch break, my friends told me about roller skating. It seems I was living in a cocoon all by myself. Most of the kids knew of the Swank Roller Rink, they knew where it was, and they had been there before. I never heard of indoor roller skating before.
The rink was at 111th and Western. It was one bus ride down 111th to get there from Roseland. Many of the boys who attended Mendel lived in Roseland. I made up my mind to go just to find out what it was all about. For me, the trip to 111th & Western Avenue seemed like the end of the world. After all, Western Avenue was the West border of the city. From my house the total distance was seven miles and three streetcars. It took me an hour to get there with waiting and all.
The cost to get into the party was 50 cents, plus skate rental. When I arrived, a big crowd of kids were already there. The girls surprised me the most, I didn’t expect that. It was a mob scene with kids lined up to rent skates; others were already skating on the big open floor. They skated in a big circle around the outside walls of the ring.
I got my shoe skates and sat on a bench to put them on. For a long while, I just sat there afraid to get up. Finally, one of my buddies saw me and coaxed me to stand up and try. Whenever I clamped my steel wheel skates to my shoes, I was stable, and when I had my ice skates on I was great, but these shoe skates were different. Shoe skates had wide wooden wheels and the rink floor was super smooth. The combination just looked too slippery.
I sat there watching other kids like me get up and fall on their asses. Others were walking on the skates, holding onto the rails or whatever was near by. It was hard to look ‘cool’ when your legs were slipping out from under you and you were on your backside every few steps.
I finally got up enough nerve to get out into the action. At first, I stayed around the edges to be close to a grab point. The good skaters stayed away from the outside, so it seemed safer there. It wasn’t too long before I felt comfortable and was skating with ease. Then I noticed some of my buddies going around backwards. They could switch back and forth from forward to backward and look good doing it. Where was I all these years while these guys were skating at the Swank?
A whistle blew and the music stopped. “Clear the Floor” came the announcement. Thank God, I thought, “couples only”. Bunches of couples stayed on the floor. I was amazed at their ability. Some of the girls wore short skating skirts. The organist, who sat in one corner of the room, played a waltz. The lights dimmed and the couples got to have fun. I never saw so many talented people gliding around in total synchronization to the music. It was impressed by the beauty of it al. At the same time, I was thinking that I’d never be able to do that.
The dancers flowed around the floor to the music. Guys moving forward, girls backward with spins that ended in a side-by-side swinging glide. It was fun just watching. Soon the music ended and the lights came up and the “All Skate” announcement came.
The traffic on the floor during an all skate was thick. Some were skating backward, couples were dancing, some were racing and then there were guys like me all holding on for dear life trying not to fall down and get run over. The idea of falling down and getting my hands run over by skaters kept me concentrating on my balance. Skaters did fall, but when that happened a safety marshal blew his whistle and skated to where you were to help you up. At least three of these guys skated in the center of the oval waiting for an accident to happen. They also made sure that skaters weren’t doing things to make it unsafe for others. Just like a cop in a squad car, the Marshal came to get you if you were skating too fast, playing tag, weaving, or just being a jerk. It was their job to keep things fun, without injury.
I really enjoyed the dances and looked forward to the chance to sit and watch. The fox trot was a cool dance, as was the jitterbug. By the end of the night I was wishing that I could dance and look cool too, not to mention having a girl partner to skate with.
At 10:00 the party ended and the rush to get out began. The trip home took longer because the street cars didn’t run as often that late. I’d get home around 11:30; Mom waiting for me, and Dad snored away.
The next day, at school, everyone had a great time talking about each other’s ungraceful falls and their awkward attempts to make contact with girls.
Mendel scheduled skating parties twice a year, but announcements for parties sponsored by other schools came often.
Filed under: Biography, family, Memories, Sports | Tagged: Burnside, Chicago, Ice skate, Mendel CHS, Roller rink, Roller skating, Roseland, Skating, Southside, Sports, Swank Roller Skating Rink, United States, Venues | 5 Comments »