Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Skating Autobiography

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Last weekend, while inline-skating along the Beverly Hill Trail in Brookfield, Wisconsin, it struck me to post a companion to My Swimming Autobiography. Here it is:


The outdoor rink affiliated with my nursery school, the New Canaan Country School on Frogtown Road: where I learned to ice skate at four. Skating forward, 'round and 'round till my cheeks were wind-burned was simple. Skating backwards like classmates Jane, Alicia and Laura, never was. Disliked having to stop for the Zamboni. It seemed to take forever. I think instrumental music was pumped out of PA speakers around the rink, but the hit then was "Leaving on a Jet Plane".


Why go to the rink when I could skate on the pond of our neighbors, DiDi and Helene? It was tiny and full of lumps that made me trip -- not smooth like the rink. Still, how fun to be in our own neighborhood with skates on! I recall trying it only once and it was still so special, like a secret garden. This song, I think, was playing in the Charlie Brown Christmas special when the Peanuts characters were skating on the pond.


After transferring to the Modern Orthodox Jewish Bi-Cultural Day School from New Canaan Country School at six, ice skating was something I did a couple of times with former classmates -- an excuse to see them. Could there have been a rink under where the State Theater is now in Springdale, in Stamford? I didn't aspire to be Peggy Fleming like the other girls, and didn't dress like an ice ballerina. One of that year's hits, The Carpenters' "For All We Know" could easily have been among the songs pumped in, if the rink featured music...can't recall. Gave up ice skating.


At seven and 12, my parents dropped off my older, middle sister Kathy and me at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, when it was still on Strawberry Hill Avenue for a Sunday morning of rollerskating around the giant wood-floored auditorium. I don't remember music, just the sound of the loaned, clip-on, rattle-ridden metal roller skates. The JCC had skates for everyone, but the skates hobbled me, rather than inspired me. Still, it was a foretaste of better times on skates.


At the height of the Disco craze, the toy company my dad worked for asked him to design a bag for kids' roller skates. For "research", he bought me a pair of sneaker-skates at Caldor, which I still have. Anita Ward & Co. inspired my boogieing up and down Hickory Road, across from the house where I grew up, practically daily -- weather permitting -- from 13-17. This, among so many others, was such a magical, moving tune.

Size 13EEE

Our Jewish Community Center took a field trip to a roller rink and my dad (z"l) agreed to go with me. He had always talked of how as a kid, he had rollerskated from his house on 10th and G SW to the Library of Congress and back routinely and I couldn't imagine it. The version of him I knew was like an ad for a Big & Tall shop. And I doubted the rink would have rental skates in his size, 13EEE. Still, I looked forward to his watching me skate at a minimum. Fifteen minutes after we arrived at the rink, the two of us, along with many other JCC families, were out on the floor -- Disco skating stars for the afternoon, if not exactly looking the part. I was scared to see my dad (z"l) on skates at first, expecting him to fall, but lap after lap, he was confidently upright and moving fast, with a big smile on his face. The only pop song the quality of which we agreed on during any of this era was "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder.


Brought my roller skates with me to Israel when I stayed with my cousins in Moshav Beit Herut for the summer at 15. George Benson's 1980 hit blasted from the speakers that my same-age cousin Nitza pointed at the street for me. I skate-danced on the village street between their house and my sabta's (grandmother's) across from them. Nitza humored me and watched. I don't think my sabta and Aunt Tovah were home.


At 16, I told my mom I was going to NYC to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took a public bus to the train station, wearing my roller skates in my backpack. When I got to the Met, I kept walking behind it, into Central Park. I had heard on WBLS-FM that there was an outdoor area there where everyone roller skated. I saw a policeman on a motorcycle and waived to him. He stopped and I asked for directions to the rink. He said, "Get on," and took me there. It was the best music I could have wished for, including Evelyn Champagne King's "I'm in Love" and I felt like I was the youngest one there, skating along with adults who seemed as though they'd either gotten off the night shift or were unemployed. Everyone, especially me, was joyous. I didn't tell my mom (z"l) about my adventure till several years ago.


None of my high school friends roller skated and few of them liked Disco. As Class Treasurer, it was my choice where to go on our class trip, which was also a fund raiser. When I chose a disco roller rink, everyone I knew said, That's not going to make *any* money. They were wrong. We had to get more buses than we had planned and we made a healthy profit. Skip to My Lou...


At 23, a handsome woman reminiscent of George Michael in the '90s -- without the five-o'clock shadow -- and I dated in Chicago for a short time and she did me a giant favor: We were at the Lakefront on the North Side when she suggested I borrow her Rollerblades to see how easy they were to use, and they were! Maybe it was because I had ice skated on single blades, maybe it was because the boots were rigid plastic, maybe it was because the wheels were so tall and I felt majestic. Bought my own immediately and from then on, skated along the Lakefront for seven years while living in Metro-Chicago to songs ranging from Soul II Soul's "Keep on Movin'" to Nirvana's "Come As You Are" to Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason".

Southern Nights

Before joining IBM, I worked for a joint venture of IBM and Sears and while our CEO worked in the same building as I in Schaumburg, Illinois, my manager Rusty and the rest of the team were based in Tampa, Florida in a corporate park across from the Buccaneers' football stadium. When I visited Rusty & the team in Tampa in the early-mid-'90s, I'd take along my Rollerblades and after hours drive to University of South Florida and dodge cars in its vast parking lots. Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" was always on the rental car radio and I wasn't bold enough to join Tuesday skate-nights in Ybor City, though I'd watch the hordes from a restaurant I loved, where people could bring their dogs.


When my wife Pat & I moved to Montclair, New Jersey in mid-May of 1996, for her job as the VP of Business & Finance at Montclair State University, we lived in an on-campus, high-rise apartment for several weeks until we could get into our house. The parking lot at the base of the building became my private rollerblading rink, since I went out there in the early mornings. Favorite tunes then came from Maxwell, especially "Sumthin' Sumthin'". It was a mysterious, hopeful time; we were in a new place, yet back on the East coast near my family, then in Stamford, Queens and Brooklyn.


It was the first house that Pat & I bought together, and we still live here 18 years later. The day we moved in, I shoved my feet into my Rollerblade boots and took a spin on the deck attached to the back of the house. Before we put deck furniture on it, it was big enough to rollerblade around! If I had been listening to music then, I'd have liked to hear Black Street's "No Diggity".


First, the town re-paved Grove Street and I'd sweep down it from the corner of Alexander all the way past Walnut and back on early Saturday mornings when the traffic was light. Wore my bike helmet and listened to CDs from stars, including Aaliyah of blessed memory. My fave: "Hot Like Fire".


Then Montclair paved Park Street. That was more challenging, as I'd skate up and down Alexander to Park, and we live in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains; it was much steeper than any hill I'd encountered in the Midwest -- other than the times I'd been skiing and mountain biking in the Kettle Morain area of Wisconsin. Most likely, I was bobbing to Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It".


At IBM's world marketing headquarters in Somers, New York, my officemate at the time Jennifer and our colleagues Todd and Bob decided to bring our rollerblades to work one day. We agreed we'd skate around the 730-acre I.M. Pei-architected campus. That early-summer evening, there was no music, just the sound of the wind in our ears as we sped down a part the steepness of which I'd never really noticed while in my car. Back then, we were the jean-clad youth of the Software Group in Building 1.


At seven, our niece Zoe opted to have her birthday party at the ice rink nearest her home in Jamaica Estates, New York. She and her friends were unlike the mini-Peggy Flemings with whom I had skated at their age. With falls galore and still an inexplicable attraction to the ice, Zoe and one of her especially flailing friends were making wall-hugging circuits till I laced up and joined them. I was the giant my dad (z"l) had been to so many at the '70s roller rink, and I held both their hands till they took turns individually, being spotted by me -- holding them up -- and propelled forward in parallel as I skated directly behind them. If music was playing, it wasn't The Carpenters, but rather something along the lines of Janet Jackson's "All For You".

Might the sense of possibility and also in the sense of mightiness! Finding well-fitting Salomon inline skates in a skate store in a London suburb during a business trip made me feel like anything was possible, and then it was. I didn't put on my iPod till I navigated away from the cobblestone-surrounded shop to the Thames; it was treacherous, trying to get through the stone-paved streets and I did it without falling, and then it was a gorgeous ride. I passed a pond filled with sculptures of nymphs and it was a luscious, relatively sunny jaunt back to my colleague and friends' Liz & Kate's home. By then, I had all of my faves uploaded to my iPod, so I could listen to oldies like the British group Imagination's "Illusion".


The best pre-after-hours part of my mid-2000's business trip to Las Vegas was not the rollerblading I did on the Sunset Strip that Sunday afternoon -- it was like trying to skate through Times Square and the cross-walks were super-awkward -- but rather my discovery of another, freer spot; when I learned that the gym at the MGM Grand, where we were staying, cost US$25/day to use, I opted to rollerblade up and down the vast halls on the floor where I was staying. The carpet was thin enough that it didn't really slow me down and fortunately, no one called Security to make me stop. More iPod oldies accompanied me, including Phyllis Hyman's "You Know How to Love Me".


When I was nearly 16, my dad (z"l) taught me to drive at High Ridge Office Park. Nearly a quarter of a century later, long after my dad's death from cancer in 1982, I parked the car in the corporate park and my mom (z"l) agreed to sit in it and watch as I sailed around the pavement of one of the properties on my 'blades. For part of it, I asked her to let me play the radio and I skated nearby, so that she could hear the tunes and see my interpretation of them. Because I didn't want to blast her ears for a solid 30 minutes, I also used my iPod. The treat was the skating, but of course, also my mom (z"l) -- by then in her eighties -- watching me do something I loved. Once I put on my iPod, I skated further away and she lowered the car-seat and took a nap. Songs might have included Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".


In "Excuse" above, I mentioned that as a seven-year-old, I did not feel at home amongst my female peers, did not feel that I fit in -- both skating-skill-wise and in terms of my on-ice appearance. How delicious then to go 'blading with my colleague and friend, Esther, once on the Lake in Toronto while visiting her and her girlfriend with Pat and once while she and Lynn were visiting us in Montclair. No music either time and instead, just compatible -- and by now cool-looking -- women, making their way with fun authority.


By 40-something, I was fully self-possesed as my friend Stacy and I skated around Felice's & her neighborhood in Maplewood. The two of us, I felt -- whether it was true or just a feeling -- looked powerful and even pretty. What a difference from my seven-year-old insecurities. If a song had been playing from that time, it could have been "Life Is a Highway".


Brought my skates with me on a business trip to Milan. Necessarily, was staying out near the airport and the consolation was that the hotel sat right next to a giant park with a well-paved path. The final night, I was changing into skating clothes and the clouds burst open. The rain stopped half an hour later, but it wasn't safe to skate on the wet surface of the pavement. Instead, I grabbed my cameraphone and took a cab into the city and ate dinner along the river at a restaurant I had read about in "The New York Times", then stopped at a Middle Eastern place for cherries as dessert.


On our way back from an Alaskan cruise for Pat's 60th birthday, we stopped in Vancouver for a few days. My biggest goal while there was to rollerblade by the ocean in Stanley Park. We stayed at the old Fairmont and the concierge gave me a pocket-sized street-map and good directions that involved an elevator down to the pedestrian path along the water. I had to use the bike-lane to get over to the water and it was a weekday. I went at 8 am and there was a decent amount of traffic, but I felt safe and brave at once. The best part, besides the gorgeous views and music, including Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", was the bottle of water the concierge handed me upon my return.


This past spring, I brought my skates with me to Columbia University Teachers College's Academic Festival. Figured that during lunch I could find a place to go 'blading. Ended up at the war memorial off of 120th under a bright sun with just enough students and tourists to show off in front of. Esther, Toronto, Stacy, Maplewood and the Thames -- it was as lovely as that. Around and around, skating to T.S. Monk's "Bon Bon Vie" and more, and then back to the seminars at TC, feeling like my mind and body were at their peak.


It has been more than the time amassed by a jubilee that I've been roller skating and 'blading, and in the past several years, I've found a new skating place: Jubilee Park in Clifton, New Jersey, a couple of miles from our house. It's quiet, nearly private and offers two, huge, paved rings for my skating pleasure. Recently, I told my mom (z"l) that it's so safe, I don't even need to wear a helmet when I skate there and she was upset. "Don't tell me that. What if you fall?" Since her death on June 4th, I've gone once and worn a helmet, and always will, I guess. "Problem" is a 2014 song I never tire of; it makes me hopeful that not all of the good skating songs are in the past.


The Lakefront with Irishfest music in the background was picturesque, but the real soothing time was a solitary ride I took on the Beverly Hill Trail in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Starting at the end of Nassau Lane and past Brookfield Academy to the area arts center, I listened to "Tears Fall Down", "Breakout", "Relax" and more. During none of the time did I wonder, Why did my mom (z"l) have to die? How can it be that I can never again call her? Never again take her for a birthday meal? Never again tell her about our cute cats or a trip Pat and I are taking? Never again tell her about a happy event at work? Never again read her something I've blogged?

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