“Egyptian Lover” by Egypt, Egypt:

The sounds of Egyptian Lover's 1984 song "Egypt Egypt" fill the building. It's a shufflers' favorite. Exhausted, Joey exits the rink carefully to avoid a collision with the skaters who weave in unison like schools of fish.

Mario Alvarez keeps the peace at Super Wheels.
Mario Alvarez keeps the peace at Super Wheels.
Rosemary Taveras rediscovered skating two years ago while at a children's party.
Rosemary Taveras rediscovered skating two years ago while at a children's party.


Click on the photo to view the Roller Jam slideshow.

Yes, this is the old Hot Wheels," Mario Alvarez acknowledges with a tired nod that shows he has answered that question a thousand times.

The rink was known as Hot Wheels until 2000, and Mario has been manager for the past five years. Before that, he worked at the rink between 1987 and 1992, doing everything from manning the concession stand to keeping speed skaters in check as a floor guard. "This place was bangin' in the late '80s, early '90s," Mario says.

Those were the days that robotic-sounding freestyle music ruled South Florida. "Everything freestyle, Miami-style, happened here," Mario says. Glossy autographed photos of all those music groups used to line a wall inside the rink, faded proof that they rocked the house before crowds of 800-plus. In 1999, Hurricane Irene soaked all the musical evidence.

It was also in the early-'90s, as I entered high school, that I stopped roller-skating regularly. My precious speed skates ended up in my father's storage space. I carry them into Super Wheels, and Mario suggests that I stow them in the office during a tour. As I hand them over, the lady behind the counter gasps. She extends her arms gently, as if the skates were a prized family heirloom. "Wow," she says breathlessly, "these are two stripes, with Zinger wheels. They don't make these anymore." She's the first of four people who trace a finger of admiration along the dusty face of one of my 24-year-old Zinger wheels.

Super Wheels has the same carpet-covered bench seats, cheap snack tables, and flashing light system as other roller rinks. But it's somehow more child-like. That might be because the décor consists of primary colors. Also, games like air hockey and Dance Dance Revolution occupy half the space.

There's a disconnect between this carnival atmosphere and the skating floor itself, which is dark and trippy under colored lights. Mario points proudly to the maple rink floor, past the wall where the cool kids sit. As Mario waxes nostalgic about the stage where freestyle singers once made young girls weep, a stream of regulars interrupts to say hello. And ask favors.

A redhead with a backward hat, tribal tattoo on his right forearm, and spacers in his ears approaches Mario with a lengthy tale about someone who's talking smack. "I've known him since we were little gits," the redhead explains, "and now he tells me he's gonna take me down in the parking lot when I leave tonight. So I'm going to go talk to him, try to sort this out. But I don't know what's going to go down."

Mario says there hasn't been a fight at the rink in years. The rules of the roller rink have been drilled into the skaters. The cardinal rule is that once you leave, there's no reentry. Another clear no-no is fighting.

The young man has Mario's full attention. "I just want you to know," the redhead continues, "that my intention is to talk, not to throw down, because I don't want to do anything to jeopardize my ability to come back." Mario nods a silent approval.

The two young men are former rink rats, all grown up. Rink rats typically start skating young and then maybe graduate to a part-time rink job in their teen years. "I can honestly say," Mario says after the young man walks away, "that half my regulars here were rink rats when this was Hot Wheels."

There were so many rink rats in the late '80s, Mario recalls, that South Florida roller rinks like Super Wheels could open every afternoon and usher in a crowd. These days, children's birthday parties and school vacations pay the bills.

Mario and I walk past the two feuding young men, who appear to be hashing things out peaceably, and settle near the arcade games. As we talk, a skater I had met at Galaxy hovers nearby. "Get your wheels on," Jeff Allen instructs.

I glide toward the skating surface in boots that used to feel like an extension of my feet. Jeff is at the front of a shuffle line, as usual, bouncing and singing along to MC Shy-D's 1987 track "Shake It." My right skate is wobbling something awful, so I stop to check it. Scott Shea rolls up to keep me company. Then the music slows. It's a Stevie B ballad, "Because I Love You." Apparently, Super Wheels still values the couples skate. At a bare minimum, the sappy love songs force the aging speed skaters to take a break.

Jeff approaches again. "Is she harassing you?" he asks Scott.

"She can harass me all she wants," Scott responds.

Jeff lectures me about the perils of being all work and no play. He asks to "interview" me and then skates off, signaling that the conversation will be held on wheels. The front wheels on my right skate are now pulling wildly in different directions. My body tingles from the vibrations as I try to stay vertical. The lack of control is completely unnerving.

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