“You know,” my boss said to me, “I think we should go to the park and learn to rollerblade.” Raeann was a practitioner of healthy habits like sweating in gyms, and had learned that rollerblading was a beneficial physical activity. I told her, “I’m in.”
This conversational interplay occurred sometime in the early 1990s, and rollerblading — wheeling about on inline skates — had just come to the attention of the (ahem) “older” crowd. My boss was the creative director of the advertising department for a major St. Louis, Missouri, retailer; I was one of her assistant creative directors, in charge of newspaper advertising and the in-house photo studio. I was also her friend, having been a part of her staff in Indianapolis, and reunited in St. Louis after L.S. Ayres closed its doors. We had spent many hours talking about the joys and vagaries of life so it was not unusual for her to suggest that the two of us learn to rollerblade. As we made plans to meet in Forest Park to begin our training, I remembered the first time I had strapped on skates.
“We should go to the skating rink with the rest of the guys,” my best friend said, one summer day. We were sophomores in high school, and neither of us was old enough to drive, nor did we have access to a car. “Why would we do that?” I asked him. “We can’t skate.” Floyd agreed, then responded with every boy and man’s famous last words: “How hard could it be?” A one hour bus trip took us to the rink, but when we entered it, our resolve wobbled. The place was huge, and people were grinding around the wooden circle at light speed. But we “screwed our courage to the sticking point,” and rented the skates that had four fat wheels on the soles. Standing up was easier than with inline skates, but staying up and moving forward challenged our skills. We persevered, kept getting up, and by the end of the day, Floyd, at least, was able to join in when the rink announcer called for the “all boys’ skate.” I stood on the outside of the oval and watched a thick stream of muscle, sweat and testosterone whomp by until Floyd interrupted the flow with his tottering determination. Boys whooshed around him as if he were a rock in a stream. I was content to practice staying upright and alive during the less aggressive, “all skate” sessions. By the end of the summer, we were capable skaters, though we never felt confident enough to find a partner for the “couples skate.” Thirty years later, with few intervening practice sessions, I was embarking on a mission to ice skate on wheels.
Raeann and I met in a large parking area of Forest Park, and started our learning process. Once we were able to convince our ankles to support our bodies, we enjoyed some moderate success at forward motion. And it was, indeed, a beneficial physical activity that engaged all of our muscles in the business of staying off the ground. I managed to avoid a fall that day, but Raeann, creative as ever, managed to fall in the most graceful and gracious way, as if she had decided to weave herself into the design of the landscape. We never managed to achieve the level of grace that we had perhaps, imagined, or that I had seen over the years, the dancing on wheels of two competent skaters, but we duplicated what I had experienced so many years ago: The quiet joy between two comfortable friends.
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