Written by Anne-Marie Te Whiu
Are you still standing? Or have they traded you in for an over-priced apartment block? Maybe you’re a carpark now, housing hundreds of gas guzzlers. Do you sigh at the end of each day, when the last car leaves, clearing the way for the skateboarders to launch themselves at you in night’s fluorescents?
My memory of your sound rises quickest when I think about you. Your sound, and then, your music. Within you, I first took the pill that is loud music. I first felt bass in my body. I’d grind your curves, scissoring my knees, rexing in to a grapevine, skating forwards then backwards, gliding and powerful under a disco ball of flickering coloured lights. I turned into a teenage jaguar. The bass hum travelled through your floor directly into my wheels, travelling through my roller skates and up into my limbs. If you were packed out, like you were most weekends, your bass was big and you tasted like thunder.
Until you, the loudest I’d heard music played was at home. My oldest brother prized his small red stereo, with which he made many, many mixtapes. He got me loving U2 and Cold Chisel and Public Enemy and De La Soul and Sade and The Beastie Boys. The occasional nights he agreed to me staying up late and watching Rage with him were the best; he was my navigator to groups that were regarded by mainstream music as dangerous or political or not worth knowing. I knew I was growing in these moments as Iggy’s ‘Real Wild Child’ lassoed me close to the screen.
Mum and Dad listened to music on the clock radio in the kitchen or on the record player which was setup in a special corner near the piano. I’d get comfy curled up beside it and flick through the records like I was discovering gold. The Beach Boys and Elton John and Kiri Te Kawana and The Eagles and Neil Young and the Mamas and Papas and Joe Cocker and Van Morrison and Boney M. These records along with the groups my brother shared with me mapped the beginning of my music. I was still working out the edges of my own tastes.
This morning I was up early, walking towards the sun lifting itself out of the sea. I stuck to the left of the path, following the arrows, avoiding the bicycle lane, making no eye contact with the super fit people running towards me. Then, out of the blue, a girl on roller skates came gliding
through, easy as pie, breaking their rhythm. She was wearing headphones and a pink trucker cap covered her mop of hair. You slid in to my mind, dear rollerskating rink and I wish I could be in you, again.
The road outside our home was usually dead quiet of cars. It was easy enough to setup a game of cricket or chalk out squares for handball. My favourite time was about an hour before the street lights came on, especially in summer when the asphalt was the perfect temperature – inviting enough to lie down in the middle of the road. I remember how intense and strange the neighbourhood could be when it was silent, and then how cicadas would turn it on until their life was all you could hear.
You were so different from these suburban streets. I started visiting you on Saturday afternoons. My three brothers never wanted to come anywhere near you, which was perfect. They were drawn to the mud of the BMX track. You were mine. I’d meet Kim there, my best friend who loved skating as well. She couldn’t skate as fast as me but I didn’t care and neither did she. We had wheels and we were ready to roll.
It was such a big deal to spend time in you. The rink had a halo whose light I lapped. The air was thick with anticipation, a portal to a version of myself that wasn’t bound by the fight or flight mode of family at home. Every song the DJ played urged me to go further, push on. When I fell it hurt, but in a quick minute I’d be back on my wheels, rolling. Like salmon I moved with the flow, a clockwise run of rollerskates.
At first, I hired skates, then after hassling Mum for ages, I got an adjustable metal pair I had to screw in to fit the length of my feet. They were clunky and rattled and felt like dancing with an unruly shopping trolley.
When I turned 13 that all changed as I got a pair of white, boot rollerskates for my birthday. It was 1986 and that year I wore them more than shoes. They were my ticket to freedom. They had trucks along their base-spine that were flanked by four thick, solid red wheels which kept me
grounded, giving me grip and wings. Axle and bearings solid. Extra-long sturdy laces disco’d up the boot where they were hooked on by metal eyelettes that sat like diamonds on the flap of the tongue, tucking in my ankles and my attitude. By that age I could wrestle, wrangle and defend myself. I knew what it felt like to be pinned down and tickled until I wet my pants, to be flicked with a wet tea towel until I bruised, to have the skin on my upper arm twisted and turned by brothers – they entangled me in rough seas early on and it was sink or swim. In the rollerink it was groove and glide.
My rollerskates kissed your smooth cement surface. The crowning chunk of a stopper at the tip beneath toes was more of an anticipatory weapon than a defence. In these rollerkates, my little world opened up to me. Your rink got wider and I easily stretched out in to rarely rolled corners.
I breathed my body in a new way; I cut air with ease and drew unfolded lines. The Models, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, A-ha, Simple Minds, Eurythmics, Wham and Michael Jackson. All of their music moved inside me as I moved inside you, rolling towards myself.