Traveling in time requires nothing more complex than a pair of roller skates: they can make an adult feel young, and set a child free.
Time itself has stood still at the Oceanside Roller Rink, which opened in 1950. John Middlecauf owns the rink at 315 7th St. and conducts business in a no-nonsense fashion. To a comment on having been in business since 1950, he replied, "Something wrong with that?"
For $16, two adults and four children can have hours of exercise, laughs and spills at the rink. Skates rent from 50 cents to 75 cents depending on time and day. Admission ranges from $2 to $3.
My skating companions on a recent afternoon were my 8-year-old son, his friends the twins, their sister, and their Vermonter father who could not resist an afternoon at the rink. The first 15 minutes were a confusion of determining skate size, lacing the shoes of children accustomed to a Velcro environment, and steadying feet on an unfamiliar surface of wood.
After one turn around the rink, I could not believe that the human body could endure the spills that my son had unwillingly performed. Moving the crowd along was a matron with a whistle around her neck. Her ever-patient figure appeared behind fallen bodies so that they would not be hit while on the floor.
"Hey, Johnny," called a young girl, who had been skillfully rounding the rink, to the owner in his office, "could you look for that record called 'Ronni'?"
"I come every Friday and Saturday night and afternoons during vacation," confided Kirsten Briggs, a 12-year-old Washington Junior High student from Vista. She and her friend, Monique Petras, danced and seemed as poised on skates as in sneakers.
Bertha Long, a retired schoolteacher who taught for 30 years in Oceanside, recalled bringing school and Girl Scout groups to the Oceanside Roller Rink. While her daughter from Oklahoma City, a daughter-in-law from Visalia and four grandchildren were visiting for the holidays, they had ventured to their childhood rink.
"We have been to Universal Studio Tours, the Spruce Goose and the Queen Mary in the past week," Long said, while holding a young grandson and watching her family round the rink, "but the cost of a few hours of roller skating is still affordable for a family."
Two youngsters with shiny new roller blades joined the group in motion and seemed delighted with the confines of the rink. There is no fear of darting into street traffic while in this arena.
The children in our party were making noticeable improvement. My only method of stopping was to clutch the rails or slowly come to a stop. For that reason, whenever one of the children fell, I could not be of much assistance. The matron came to their aid and did so most graciously. I thanked her for her help while envying her ability to stop at will. "We have ice," she told me after one particularly spectacular fall by my son.
We stopped at intervals for a drink or treat from the snack bar and I marveled at the extensive rows of bleachers on one side of the rink. They speak of a time when the rink was filled to capacity with skaters.
There is a large metallic ball hanging from the ceiling, and I envisioned skating about the rink in a darkened atmosphere with the light shining on this ball, throwing images around the room. In the back of the rink is a room that can be reserved for parties.
During the first hour of skating, I did not recognize any of the songs being broadcast in the rink. Not so with the younger skaters: Monique and Kirsten mouthed the words frequently as they sped past. I asked Middlecauf if he played any '50s or '60s hits for people my age. Although he has an extensive pile of old 45s, the answer was no. "The record player is not working too well and I basically use tapes the kids request," he said.
Suddenly, the music stopped and Middlecauf announced that skaters were to go to the center of the rink for the "Hokey Pokey."
The thought of following dance directions in a circle was overwhelming, but we managed to "put our right foot in, our hips in, and even our backsides in," as instructed. The Vermonter's three children performed admirably to the lyrics but my 8-year-old sat out that dance at one of the three video machines near the floor.
Upon returning to the regular skating pattern, I ventured to use the stops on the front of the skates. Mistake. Big mistake. I am told that the resulting fall (with my skates well above my head) looked somewhat like the tuck position in high diving. I had watched children take similar spills all afternoon with no ill effect. With dignity, and much effort, I regained my composure and continued skating.
When M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This" sounded, the twins assumed the role of MTV characters and gyrated to the sound while skating.
"What time do we close this afternoon?" the matron asked Middlecauf over the sound of the music at 4:15 p.m.
"Four," he said, peering at his watch and noting that his watch had stopped.
"Clear the floor, please," was announced over the speaker and the skaters reluctantly took off their skates and headed out.
We walked toward the car, vowing to soon return with a larger entourage.
Slowly, the steady feeling of movement in shoes without wheels returned. But, oh, the magic of gliding on roller skates on a wooden floor lingers.