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It was just after 10 p.m. when I arrived at Gold Coast Roller Rink (2604 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale) for its Tuesday-night "Rollout at Rainbow Skate" party. I'd seen fliers for it in the previous weeks but hadn't seen any advertising for this particular night. So I took my chances. And when I spotted four girls in hot pants standing out front, I knew the party was on. But for some reason, they weren't so sure.
"Are you here for the private party?" asked the one in turquoise.
"Huh?" I had no answer.
"The private party... see?" She walked me over to a mural painted on the building, just to the left of the entrance. There, spray-painted beneath a festive, roller skate-wearing Pink Panther, was a sign for Tuesday night's "private party." Um, sorry, girls, but that's a different kind of private, ya dig? Ever heard the saying "No secrets between sailors"? You see, for years, the management explained to me later, Tuesday night was the rink's unstated gay night, and the "private party" label was an inside way to refer to it. But whatever its meaning, I wasn't going to let it stop me at the door my feet were yearnin' for some hot roller action.
Once inside, I couldn't escape the feeling that I'd been here before. All of it seemed vaguely familiar the people, the music, the clothes... the DJs. It was like an indie dance party on wheels with DJs Hottpants (Daniel Blair) and Lolo (Lauren Reskin) at the helm. And there were all the regulars I've seen at clubs like Studio A and Roxanne's on Main. Most were there to skate. Some were there just to hang out, eat pretzels, and watch Team America, which was showing on a flat screen above the rental area. But no one was bored. How could they be? After all, alcohol was being served something that's rare in the world of roller skating. The music, though, was 100 percent classic roller jams, from Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" to the Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms."
For Reskin, the chance to spin such guilty pleasures is part of Rollout's charm. "I can play stuff here I can't get away with anywhere else," she said. "Hell, I played Tiffany the other night."
"I Think We're Alone Now" now that's a classic roller jam. But, as Reskin points out, grooving to '80s music is only part of the night's activities. Like any good roller-skating party, there are games. There's the limbo(which involves crouching down while extending a leg), the stretch game(in which one skates over a pair of outstretched wooden blocks, nearly doing a split), and red light-green light (a playful game of stop-and-go). And when the mood's right, there's couples skate a perfect time to get down with some pop balladry.
According to Reskin's estimate, about half the people come up from Miami. "I'd say it's about 50/50 Miami and Broward," she said, noting that Tuesday nights have been consistently more crowded since Rollout took over. "When we started, there were about seven people here for Gay Night. Two weeks ago, when we had the night's anniversary party, there were about 225 people."
Still, Rainbow Skate's exact age is a point of debate, according to Miles Miron, Gold Coast's director of operations (who's been with the rink since 1989). "It depends on what year you believe the session started," he said, noting that the rink itself has been open since 1947. "Some say it's been 39 years; others say it's been longer."
One thing Miron does know is that Tuesday nights are seeing a resurgence since Reskin and Blair got involved four months ago.
"I remember when Tuesday night used to bring in 300 people," Miron said. "But in the past two years, the numbers have really been terrible. I was truly concerned for the session. To have the longest-running gay night in the country, you don't like to lose that. But I'm very happy about the new night. I'm ecstatic that Tuesdays are what they are."
What they're not, however, is late. Once midnight strikes, the rolling stops and the doors close. So while I sat on my ass taking notes for the first half hour, by 10:30, the place was bumpin' Fats knew it was time to put down the notepad and put on the skates.
But it had been a long time. Like, a really long time. That much was obvious the second I stepped onto the rink. Roller skating isn't one of those skills you can hold onto after a decade or two without practice. After about five minutes of trying not to fall on the other skaters, I called it a night. There's always next week, right? It's not like the rest of the Rollout crowd were born with skates on their feet. Many, like Aramis Gutierrez, were just as rusty the first time they hit up Gold Coast.
"I hadn't skated since 1984, so I was a little nervous," he said, adding that he eventually regained his skills. "I've been to Rollout about eight times so far. Now I go regularly, every Tuesday."
Hell, if all it takes is a little practice, then I'll be playing red light-green lightsoon enough. And I am definitely going back. All the buzz I'd been hearing about Rollout was well-founded. Don't believe me? Then listen to Gutierrez: "Any place where lots of beautiful women come and wear terry-cloth hot pants and white, knee-high socks is buzz-worthy."
And there's nothing private about that.