“Shake It” by MC Shy D:

Jeff and I make it around the circle only once before I forfeit. We discover that a bushing on one of my trucks has disappeared, probably the victim of dry rot. Without that plastic cushion, there's nothing to reduce the friction between my front wheels and the boot. We drift toward the rental counter to see if they have a spare part for my beleaguered skate. There, at the opposite end of the building, the music is practically inaudible. But Jeff hears the DJ announce a "guy's shuffle." He rushes back to the floor.

Joey Parilla shows off one of his Saturday Night Fever half-splits.
Joey Parilla shows off one of his Saturday Night Fever half-splits.
Jeff Allen is the alpha male at the rink.
Jeff Allen is the alpha male at the rink.


Click on the photo to view the Roller Jam slideshow.

He returns a few minutes later with a children's-sized soft drink in hand. He mentions that he met his ex-wife at a roller rink in 1992 and how he has met a lot of girlfriends skating. The rink is like a built-in social network.

"I see people that were here 15 years ago. I think that's what appeals to us — it's like a time capsule. You can go away for ten years and come back and everything is the same. Even if the people are different, the atmosphere is the same. Nothing has changed. It's comfortable. When you go to a new school or start a new job, you feel antsy, but here you feel right at home.

"You get to feel like a kid again. Then you get to know people, and you look forward to seeing your friends. It's like when you were in high school and you wake up excited to go to school and hang out with your friends by the lockers."

It's as if the bell just rang, because this adult session is over. Skaters gather around the lockers inside Super Wheels to replace their wheels with street shoes.

Jack Hernandez glides alone on the wood floor one Sunday at Gold Coast Roller Rink in Fort Lauderdale. His skating style is smooth and rhythmic, with a slight bounce. The 44-year-old firefighter is the product of an African-American mother and Chino-Cuban father. Caramel-colored biceps bulge under a T-shirt, and his tight curls are pulled into a short ponytail.

Gold Coast patrons are predominantly African-American. A lot of them groove backward, by themselves, but occasionally, small cliques skate in unison. When that happens, the routines are reminiscent of the silky choreography of the Temptations. The fashion statements at Gold Coast, meanwhile, seem to draw inspiration from MC Hammer's old dance troupe; I glimpse Salt-n-Pepa hairstyles and shirts with airbrushed designs.

Gold Coast was established in 1947, making it the oldest surviving skating rink in South Florida. Some warped sections of the wood floor feel as if they might be original. The rink is dimly lit with tiny yellow and red lights like a flying saucer in the dead of night.

Jack starts to chat me up after I point out that we have matching skates. He has been a regular at Gold Coast for ten years, but he's been skating three times longer than that. I'm one of only two white people here, but as we roll along, the DJ issues this welcome statement: "Black, white, we don't care. As long as you got skates on your feet."

Several skaters that I spoke with at Galaxy and Super Wheels told me bluntly that they won't go to Gold Coast because, with the exception of the Tuesday-night gay party, the crowd is "too black."

"Unfortunately, a lot of people look at the crowd and go, Agh!" says Miles Miron, a manager at Gold Coast who has been with the rink for 19 years. "Let's face it: If you were the only white person in a rink full of black people, you might feel a little out of place. On the other hand, how do you think a black person feels in a room full of white people?"

On many nights at Gold Coast, Miles is the token white guy. He's fine with that.

Not all rink managers are that open-minded. "Sometimes the mentality is: I don't want to deal with a rink full of 200 to 300 African-American adults," says Saletta Coleman, sales and marketing manager for United Skates of America, which operates 17 rinks around the country.

Speaking by phone from the rink she runs in Chicago, Saletta recalls the cool reception she and other African-American adult skaters received at a rink in Northern California three years ago. They noticed that the DJ would suddenly switch from slow R&B jams to country-western music — and the whole floor would stop. "When you go from hearing Michael Jackson to Hank Williams, it's jarring." The skaters agreed to boycott the rink.

Jack says he had a country-music moment six years ago at Galaxy in Davie. "A lot of the black people here at Gold Coast started going to Galaxy. And at first, the management was probably like, this is cool. Then they looked around. Sometimes black folk can be rambunctious. I myself am multiracial. But sometimes you get people together and they don't know how to act. The rink found a way to thin the crowd: by playing country-western music. We got the message."

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