Student relives skating glory days

Posted by on Feb 13, 2013. Filed under Entertainment.
Rollerskating rinks are an often forgotten slice of Americana. My local rink used to be the place to go for young teens in my town and when it closed down, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of loss for the Saturday night sweat and dance funk that now seemed inevitably relegated to the scrapheap of history. Though the disco glory days of the late 1970s have passed them by, today’s rink owners are reinventing the model for a new generation.

Family man Chris Maganias, 50, of Tarpon Springs is keeping the local scene alive with his Astro Skate franchise. Starting with the rink his father built in Tarpon Springs in 1981, Maganias has spread his unique brand of late-night fun across the area, opening new rinks in Pinellas Park (2002) and Bradenton (2010).

promotional photo

promotional photo

At 20, I don’t exactly fit Maganias’s target demographic at his Pinellas Park location’s Friday night “Teen Scene” session (7 to 10:30 p.m.). His website, astroskatingcenter.com, recommends the session for kids aged 10-14, and by the time I roll up at 6:30, there’s already a line of about 30 local middle-schoolers chomping at the bit. Many have been bused in by Maganias’s very own charter fleet company, Astro Bus, which provides transportation for school field trips and keeps his rinks well stocked with young skaters.

High-school Freshmen Michael and Grant,15, (not real names) of St. Petersburg’s Dixie M. Hollins High School stand apart from the younger crowd cued up at the door. Grant tosses his long blond hair as their conversation turns to Cheyenne (not real name), a classmate rumored to have recently lost her virginity on the Pinellas Trail. “You guys come here a lot?” I interject. Not much, Michael informs me, since he always gets into a fight when he comes here. I press for details and he doesn’t disappoint. “I beat the s–t out of some kid in the parking lot and the cops came.” I can’t help but smile at his fresh face and his juvenile bravado.

Michael and Grant are full of obviously embellished stories of high school sex and violence, but they’re not bad kids. They are exceedingly polite to me and to all the other skaters dodging and weaving around them. They tell me skaters here aren’t allowed to wear white tees, bandanas or any other clothing deemed “gang related.”

Maganias works hard to keep his place family friendly. “We focus on little kids,” he explains. “Little kids are loyal, man.” Maganias’s 7-year-old daughter, a precocious speed skater, is out there tearing up the rink on this Friday night, and Maganias’s business model is to ensure that his rinks are safe and appropriate for his daughter and everyone else’s, too. “How can I tell my kids not to skate but tell your kids, ‘come on in’?” he asks.

Their enthusiasm is infectious, and I can feel the familiar anticipation building in me as I wait for my turn to relive the long summer nights of my youth. I’ve got my old skate bag slung over my shoulder and the $7 entrance fee in my pocket. I hope I can still keep my feet under me.

Just as I’m cramming my stuff into a 50-cent locker, my best friend arrives with our girlfriends in tow, and we lose ourselves in the thrill of speed and the folly of our stumbles and falls. Maganias’s elaborate light package provides a perfect atmosphere, with a stunning combination of blue and green lasers, disco balls, flashing wall decorations and even a fog machine. The music is mostly top 40 pop, which young Michael drowns out with a little My Chemical Romance on his iPod.

The evening runs smoothly in the capable hands of Maganias’s high-school-aged staffers, who lead us through games like tag and change as well as an uproarious soda drinking competition at the snack bar.

“Kids we hire are quality kids,” says Maganias, “you gotta have decent grades.” Maganias is well aware that his middle-school skaters look up to the older staff as role models and swoon over the beautiful girls who run the show.  Young love will always be a part of the roller rink mystique.
We leave sweaty, tired and a little scraped up, but deliriously happy, emotionally spent.  It was just as I remembered, but I can’t quite put my finger on what makes a night at the rollerblading rink so special for so many, whether it’s 1979 or 2012.

promotional photo

promotional photo

The next morning, Maganias calls me for a quick phone interview and sums it up perfectly.  ”They might have family trouble, home trouble, whatever.  But when they put on their skates…” It all melts away.
Posted by on Feb 13, 2013. Filed under Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry