By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Eventually, though, the rigors and ruts of life did stop her skating. She hadn't skated for years when someone asked her to come down to Fountain Valley and she met someone from her past who inspired her to take it up again. Who was this muse? You guessed it—Kenny.
She had known Kenny more than 20 years ago. He was always a bit different from the pack, but he always loved to skate, to skate his way. When she saw him making his way around the rink, with his heavy eyelids, his seeming obliviousness yet his utter awareness, the inner conversation indicated by his moving lips, and his tendency to express his thoughts with his hands in a manner that was part martial arts and part David Byrne, she recalled it all.
"When I saw Kenny, I remembered how much I loved skating," Michelle says, watching Kenny glide by backward. She kinda nods at him, and he kinda nods back. Or maybe he's just nodding, or maybe he doesn't see her, or maybe he's just ignoring her. . . . Hey, it's Kenny; it's best not to think too much about it.
"When I saw Kenny," she continues, "I remembered how much fun it was."
Such is the history of roller skating, entrenched in a seemingly endless cycle of being discovered and discarded by the American public. "If you're going to be in [the roller skating business] you had better get used to riding the good times and weathering the bad ones," says Kathy May. She and Barry have run the Harbor Roller Rink in Costa Mesa, now a record store. They had Fiesta Roller Rink in San Gabriel (gone) and the Garden Grove Skate Co. (gone).
"That's just the way of the business," she says. "All those rinks did well, but because of the size of the building, the land they were on wasn't generating as much money as the owners wanted. That's just the way it's always been."
Invented in 1770 by some Belgian guy, roller skating hit America hard in the late 19th century with the advent of not just skating but roller racing, roller dancing and something called roller polo. By the early 1900s, hundreds of rinks had opened, including ones located in the Chicago Coliseum and Madison Square Garden.
It remained popular until the 1920s, then died, then was resurrected—per Kathy May's theory—during the Great Depression.
It died after World War II—boom times and all—then came back in the aforementioned days of Jimmy Carter and Rollerball, Roller Boogie and Kansas City Bomber.
The '70s were when Michelle took up skating, and when she got back into it, she went back unashamedly. The same cannot be said for Tommy, who was a kickass skater in his younger days. But then he went on to own this gym where people kickbox and work out, and he was a well-respected trainer and businessman. What would people think? Yet a year ago, he couldn't deny the pull of the rink any longer.
"At first, I couldn't bring myself to tell people what I was actually doing," he says. "I'd be leaving work, and I'd tell people I was going out for a beer, but really, I had my skates stashed in my car." Tommy would then make his way to the Skate Center. He says he skated "without talking to anyone for months."
But over time, he became more comfortable with his inner skater. He made friends with Paul and Michelle. As he polished his skills, many will tell you that he became the best all-around skater—speed, creativity, technical merit—at the rink. He not only started telling people where he was going but invited them along as well. On this particular night, he has brought Ramona Caouette, a novice he had brought a few times before. Ramona didn't think she'd like the roller-dancing scene, and then something clicked.
"I was just standing here watching everyone else doing it, you know, thinking I wouldn't be into it, and then I saw this guy dressed up in, like, this old guy in a leprechaun suit," she says. "Or maybe it was a green ski suit—I don't know. It was green, and he was wearing a top hat, and he just looked like he was having a lot of fun."
And who was that green-tinted, top-hatted man? You guessed it—Kenny. Kenny, who at this moment is orbiting his own solar system dressed in a purple turtleneck and a black bowler, giving off a Xanadu-meets-A Clockwork Orange kind of vibe.
"Kenny . . ." says some guy, his voice trailing off, a smile across his face. It's hard to watch Kenny fly around the rink and not smile. It's hard to watch anyone roller skate and not smile.
"The thing about roller skating is that when people go out to a club, there's always those cool people who think they're too cool and they stare down at the floor with their arms crossed and their bodies all closed off," More says. "Put those same people in a roller rink, and they're grinning from ear to ear. It's impossible to close yourself off while you're skating. You're opened up."