What Do You Get When You Mix Rink Rats, Twin Pines, a Musical, the Storm of the Century, and the Number 333?
By Bookin Banshee
Quad skating has played a significant role in my existence since before I was conceived. When my mother was a teenager, she saw the musical film Xanadu in theaters and became an instant fan. Xanadu is a story about Kira, a Greek muse who sings, skates, and falls in love with a mortal named Sonny. My mother vowed that if she ever had a daughter, she would name her Kira after the muse played by Olivia Newton-John. A few years later, I was born, and my mother kept her promise.
Fast forward three years, and I was scooting around on rental trainer skates that strapped to my tiny tennis shoes every weekend at the Twin Pines roller rink near my grandparents’ summer home in Waveland, Mississippi. I scooted myself around those Fisher Price yellow and blue plastic converters with the red straps every night until the Velcro gave out.
It was at Twin Pines where I befriended a girl named Lisa; she was a few years older than me, and she taught me how to glide instead of scooting, or dragging, my feet along. Thanks to Lisa’s tutelage, I graduated to the beige rental skates all the big kids wore.
I never skated competitively growing up even though I competed in many other sports over the years. A part of me wishes I did, but another part of me is grateful that skating remained a hobby and nothing more. I could enjoy it sans nerves that often strike as a result of performance anxiety. As I grew, I watched the tricks—backwards skating, fast turns, jumps—the older kids did on the rink and mimicked them every opportunity I got. That was how I learned: trial and error. As my skill list grew, I was adopted as the smallest member of the “rink rat pack,” the self-proclaimed exceptional skaters of the bay area. Everyone wanted to be in the rat pack…every wannabe kid who walked through the front doors, laced up, and soared on the rink. But, the rat pack, a group of scraggly teens who would have otherwise been on the streets if it wasn’t for their neighborhood Twin Pines roller rink operating Fridays through Sundays.
Over the years, the leader of our rat pack, Teddy—one of the scraggliest rat-tailed and by far the BEST skater—was hired as a skate keeper and referee of the rink. Some of us younger members sneakily tried to trip him as he glided in his black and white striped shirt and whistle, reminding kids to skate with the traffic and not sit on the side rails. He did bring something new to the rink, though: speed skates for rent! They came in vibrant blue, green, and orange colors, and they were FAST! No one in the rat pack was caught dead in the old beige ankle biters with the knotted laces any more.
As new artistically competitive friends moved to the area, I began practicing artistic skating alongside them, spinning and holding arabesques alongside them like swans coming of age. I raced and played limbo, as part of the rink’s game-playing rituals. I found a friend to hold hands with during the couples’ skate and enjoyed the wider open space of the rink when it was either backwards or girls’ skating only. (There was a boys’ skating time too, and I sometimes tried to crash that until Teddy caught me.) I did this into my college years until nature threw me a curveball.
People who have never lived in New Orleans can only imagine the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina. I was born and raised in New Orleans and was student teaching when the storm destroyed my home city. Waveland, a small city with one tiny main street on which was the one-story city hall building, a playground, and a library smaller than CVS, was wiped off the grid as a result of the hurricane. Moreover, Katrina left most of the Bay St. Louis area in shambles. I was told that a large tidal wave wiped it out, and I guess that’s true considering that no buildings near the beach, including my grandparents’ summer home, still stood. Twin Pines survived only because it was a few miles inland. But its owner, an elderly woman named Joan and dear friend of the family, was found dead in a tree. Most of my friends there were very poor and couldn’t afford the travel expenses of evacuating, so they hunkered down to brave the storm. Only a few survived.
Twin Pines skating rink never opened to the public again after that. Rumors spread of its revival, and a man from New York named Richard Paterson bought the property with aspirations of revamping its family-friendly appeal, but that was in 2014, nine years after the storm, and no progress has been made on the old roller rink since.
All that remains are the brief article on the WLOX website (see link under Further Reading), one late picture of the rink with the “TW” in “TWIN” missing from the sign, and the memory held by the few surviving rat pack members. We keep in touch to this day, recalling the countless fun weekends when we ruled the rink.
It is for them that I skate. It is for them and for my grandparents, the first people to stick my feet inside a pair of training skates for toddlers. Maybe even a part of it is for my mom, who named me after a roller skating muse. They are all the reasons why I stumbled into the CRG Warehouse in October, looking for new comradery in the art of roller skating…even though it took a new and foreign (to me) form with roller derby. They are the reason I don the number 333—one 3 for my family, one 3 for the rat pack, and one 3 for me—as a symbol of unity regardless of the distances between us. My grandparents have since passed on after Hurricane Katrina, but I can feel them with me, especially when I’m on the rink. Somehow, in some way I cannot explain, skating brings me closer to my loved ones passed on. So, I’ll keep on skating for as long as I can, to be reminded that they and my late rink rats are never too far away.