You pay your admission. You take your ticket. And as you press your palm against the heavy door, you take a deep breath. Did you wear enough neon to glow properly under the black lights? Did you remember to leave your purse at home, because you don’t want to pay two quarters for a locker, because falling on a knobby, orange locker key causes a pain memory that has stuck with you for two decades? Did you wear all the CK One you own to muffle the musty smell of 40-year-old carpet?
You were devastated to find out that Josey Skateland, the skate center of your youth, had closed. It’s an iglesia now. (You hold onto hope that it’s a skate iglesia, complete with disco ball and Hokey Holy Spirit Pokey, but you’ll never go inside to confirm that because the truth is a cold-hearted she-devil.) You were further devastated when White Rock Skate closed. So you set out on a mission to find the best living skate centers in North Texas.
The door opens, and the familiar smell of brown leather skates and teenage anxiety hits.
★★★★★★★★★★★★★★ (Out of 5 Stars)
The playlist at a skating rink is so very important. A good song will make you sing-skate with your best friend while you shoot the duck. A good skating rink song will make you fall in love during couples skate. A good skating rink song can make all the pain of seventh grade wash away. And a bad one makes you realize you’ve been skating for three hours, your Hypercolor shirt is totally highlighting your sweaty pits, and it’s time to go home.
The first song you hear when you walk in sets the tone for your entire experience. “My baby, he don’t talk sweet. He ain’t got much to say-ayeeay-ayeeayee.” Oh, damn. It’s a great one. “But he loves me, loves me, loves me.” Throw your shoes into a cubby, lace the 18,000 holes of your skates, and get the hell out on that floor before you miss the “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” dance break.
Texas Skatium opened in Garland in 1982 and is third-generation family-owned. It’s very well-preserved. Like, that old-money Dallas socialite well-preserved look where you can tell that maybe she had some work done recently, but not so much that she can’t move her forehead anymore. They got the good doctor.
The giant letters above the skate bar spell out S-K-A-T-E. Every letter lights up except the S. It’s perfection. They have Skee-Ball. They have fully functional video games. They have bounce houses at the ready to make sure your friends break their arms at your bday party. The whole place is sparkling clean. And the DJ just cued up “Sussudio.” These people are professionals.
In total, there are about 2 square feet of carpet here, so if you’re a carpet-phobe, this will be your favorite spot. But if you’re new to skating, that lack of carpet also means there’s no respite from skating.
Be sure to grab a wall and pull yourself to the snack bar, though. It’s fully stocked with all the best Frito-Lay products, including the purple-bag Doritos. Unfortunately, you can’t pour your own drinks at the soda fountain at Texas Skatium, which makes me wonder where on earth today’s youth will learn how to make a suicide. Pouring a little bit of every soda flavor and mixing it all together—this beverage is directly connected to every memory I have of skating. I can still taste the DrCherryCokeSunkistPepperSpriteRedDrank.
The giant screen hanging at one end of the rink plays the music video for Jackson 5’s “ABC.” The distinct thunk of knees, then elbows hitting the floor at top speed can be heard as the door to Texas Skatium closes. Sk8 life is good.
The sign in the lobby reads “If you have been drinking or drugging, you will not be allowed to skate.” Six bucks gets you admission and skates on a Sunday afternoon. It also gets you access to the most amazing skate-dancing you will ever see.
At one point, there are five adult skaters in the middle of the rink skate-dancing to the beat. It is like I just walked into the movie Roll Bounce. Somehow, they make line dancing in skates look cool. They are spinning, they are kicking, sidestepping and cross-stepping—nothing big and broad, just taking it easy, looking chill as hell. It is mesmerizing. Meanwhile, a young girl skates by with an LED light-up grill that blinks as she mouths the words to Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.”
It’s worth noting that there are not “kid-safe” versions of songs here: 4-year-olds hear all the colorful lyrics of Jay Z and Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. But it is hard to care about 50 saying, “Shake that ass, girl,” when my kid is smiling her face off, learning to bounce to the beat with kids she just met, and dabbing on skates. I’m sure the Kidz Bop version of that song sucks, anyway.
This rink has a step down at its edge that immediately separates the regulars from the newbs. There’s no railing to hold onto. It’s just a carpeted step down straight to the rink. Little kids scoot to the edge and flap their arms like baby birds trying not to fall on their faces as they slowly stand up. Teenagers speed up to the edge and jump off of it onto the rink in their in-lines. And that’s the way it is here. Every man (or toddler) for himself. If you fall on the rink, the DJ says, “Get up and keep moving, Naomi. You’ve gotta keep moving.”
Of all the rinks I visited, this is easily a favorite. At most of the other rinks, they have these new-to-me contraptions called “skate helpers.” They’re essentially walkers made of PVC with roller skate wheels. If you’re new to skating, you can skate around the rink with one of these so that you don’t fall down. But not at Redbird. At Redbird, super-skilled-at-skating dads are the “skate helpers” for their toddlers. And when a kid falls down, another kid helps him up. As the incomparable Nick Cannon wisely says to Bow Wow in 2005’s Oscar-worthy Roll Bounce, “Hey, if you don’t fall, how are you going to know what getting up is like?”
On Thursday nights, Redbird hosts “Adult Only Thrifty Skate.” It’s only $3 and it only lasts one hour. Probably because more than one hour of this much awesome would blow your mind.
The owner at Thunderbird Roller Rink announces proudly over the scratchy speakers that they’ve got their 45th anniversary coming up this summer. The staff wear the classic skate-employee uniform we all grew up with: the black-and-white-striped referee jersey. At some rinks, there were no employees out on the rink managing skaters. Here, there’s at least one referee skating at all times.
This is a great rink for beginners. They have the aforementioned PVC skate helpers, and they are the most dedicated to safety of all the rinks. It’s the most Type-A Helicopter Parent skating experience you could possibly have at a roller rink.
The DJ here plays a lot of Toto. He starts with “Africa,” which he skate-dances to like the kind of man who loves him some Toto. Then comes “Rosanna.” That’s when he busts out the splits and really gets into a groove. He looks to be somewhere in his early 50s, and he’s doing the job of the skate rink DJ exactly the way it’s supposed to be done. He plays whatever the hell he wants to hear, and goes out on the rink and shows up all the other kids with his baller moves.
There’s one thing here that none of the other skate rinks have: windows. Your average skate rink tries to keep things pretty dark so that the disco ball and neon strobe lights can set the mood. And also to better hide the dirty carpet and worn skates. It’s a strip club lighting theory that usually serves this kind of place very well. Nobody wants full lights on this experience. Except Thunderbird, apparently. It’s bright as hell. And somehow, super clean. And also the air conditioning appears to be working wonderfully, which is a miracle in a skate rink. It’s movie theater cold.
A 23-year-old rolls onto the rink using a skate helper and says to me, “Don’t judge me,” as she passes by. She’s adorable and clumsy and looks like she is practicing pratfalling during her entire tour of the rink. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of coordination caused by genetics or by the Bay City Rollers song that’s playing. She says this is her first time back to Thunderbird since she was a kid. “Nothing has changed, not even the carpet. This place is the best.”
If you’re looking for some good, clean skating fun, this is it. One thing to note: as sterile and safe as this rink is during the day, it frequently hosts roller derby bouts at night. So maybe Thunderbird does let her hair down every once in a while, after all.
Walking up to Forum Roller World, you hear muffled bass and “This—is how—we doooo iiit.” Friday night here is a dream. A guy in white jeans and a neon shirt sees that a line of people wanting to rent skates is forming at the skate bar. He speeds off the rink floor, jumps on top of the skate bar, skates along the top of the bar, jumps off the back side, and casually rests an elbow on the bar before asking, “What size, ladies?” Oh, I don’t know, do these skates come in HOLY COW DID YOU ACTUALLY JUST DO THAT? This move must work on all the ladies.
When he’s done renting out skates, he gets back out on the floor and skate-dances to “Space Jam” like Justin Timberlake would if Justin Timberlake were super into skate-dancing. This guy’s style is much like the crew from Redbird. He has that casual smoothness to his skating that makes it look like he isn’t even trying. Versus the style of the guy with the ponytail who’s out there twirling and arabesque-ing so hard he’s about to smack a little kid in the face with his skate. But you know Justin Timberlake Guy cares just as much as Pamchenko Guy about whether you notice his skate skills. He’s just way better at hiding it.
It’s time for Red Light/Green Light. In this game, skaters line up at the back of the rink, and when the DJ says “green light,” they skate as fast as they can toward the finish line. When he says “red light,” they have to stop immediately. First one to the finish line wins. I forgot that the traditional way kids stop on skates during this game is to fall down. I wince every time I hear 40 kids’ elbows smack the floor. They laugh. Because at this age, falling only hurts when you’re falling alone.
A woman in her 50s glides around the rink with her long, super-bleached mane flowing behind her. Yes, she has her own headphones. And obviously she has a badass fanny pack. And, hell yeah, her skates are lined with fur. Stop being so jealous. Oh, wait, you can’t stop being jealous because she just flawlessly skated backward through a crowd of wobbly kids and now she’s even one-upped that by taking a phone call. “What am I doing? Oh, nothing much. I’m just besting all these youths right now with mah dope-ass skate skills.”
Make the drive out to Forum Roller World. It’ll be so much more than worth it. And remember: it’s BYO leopard-print skates.
F-150s line up to drop off kids on Friday night. Inside Dad’s Broadway, sixth-grade girls pointedly mouth the words of “No Scrubs” at their male counterparts—“A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me”—and then giggle and skate away. When the DJ announces the fast skate, the room quiets. This is serious. I’m rooting for the kid with the mullet (complete with braided tail) because when given the choice between regular kid and mullet kid, always put your money on the mullet. Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” blares, and it’s on. Mullet reigns victorious and is hugged by all the ladies. For he is no scrub. Have a need for skate speed? You’re in luck. Dad’s Broadway offers lessons.
Mid-Cities Skate is right down the street from a lumber yard and next door to a VFW. The manager says it’s been here for 50 years but had a remodel two years ago—and it’s freaking fantastic. The black light carpet glows bright and proud. All the wall clocks work. Usher’s “Yeah” plays through a solid sound system, highlighting with clarity the “I won’t stop ’til I get ’em in they birthday suit” Ludacris verse. The manager gives the DJ a look near the end of that lyrical adventure, and it immediately cuts off, with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the obvious manager-pleasing follow-up. Every time they turn the lights off to show off their fancy new disco lighting here, kids crash into each other and litter the floor like bowling pins. It’s wonderful.
We recently hosted a birthday party at Westlake Skate Center for my 8-year-old. It was great. They told me to bring my own cake and drinks, and said they’d “take care of the ass.” For the drinks. I love a serious Texan accent. Old Carpet Trigger Warning: this place has more carpet than any of the other rinks. And it all looks to be about 40 years old. The walls are carpeted. The benches are carpeted. The doors are even carpeted. If these carpet-y walls could talk, they’d say, “GERMS, Y’ALL. I’M 100 PERCENT TOXIN.” But hey, the disco ball works and the DJ’s grandma owns the place, so he’ll play whatever you want on his iTunes right after he gets you your skates. What else do you need, Picky?
On $1 Skate Night, Aloha is packed with unsupervised kids in the dark. Waiting in line for rental skates, I hear the distinct sounds of sucking face and turn to see two teenagers macking down and snap-chatting it. They are proud of themselves. And suddenly I turn into The Uncoolest Mom Cop Ever. “I should really go over and pull those two stinkers apart by their ears. Where is the manager? Is there a manager? These kids can’t be a day over 13 years old. And where does one purchase a paint-on camouflage bodysuit, while we’re at it? Are they even PLANNING on SKATING AT ALL?” In this moment, I realize something: I’m so old. Keep sucking face, y’all. It’s what kids do at the rink.