Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Life Set To Music

by Steven P. Velasquez

Ever feel like your life has been set to music; somehow choreographed? Ever feel like there should be a camera crew filming you in your own reality TV show? A few nights ago would have been a great night for my film crew and I.

A Place For Us Is Born
When I was a kid, a roller rink opened up near my home in Rutherford, NJ. Its name was the "Wallington Skating Center" and she first opened her doors on Labor Day 1982. A buddy of mine (Anthony DiMeo) invited me there for an afternoon skate one day and curiously, I went. I had no idea what a "roller ring" or "roller rink" was. Once through her doors though, I discovered an enchanted wonderland of music and movement. Arcade games, a light show that reflected colored lights to the beat of the music - and girls - lots and lots of girls. What more could a pubescent Latino ask for in life than this?

Life Has Rhythm
Immediately, this thirteen year-old fell in love with the place but I'll need to compress time in order to respect yours. Suffice to say I didn't get spit out of there until my early 20's, a changed person for life. In those four walls, I encountered many firsts, some that I can repeat proudly, others not, but firsts all the same. Lifelong friendships were discovered, lyrics of the songs of a decade were seared into all of our collective minds. I discovered facts about life that today help me in the world of emergency medicine, facts like life has rhythm, pulsations and beats. If you don't understand me, try living without the beat of your heart. The beat of the music in that building was its life force.

Memories Are Made
That rink served as the social Mecca of South Bergen County and surrounding areas for over a decade. The building had a capacity of 800 people and we'd often have the Fire Marshall's there as our crowds could exceed 1,000 with hundreds more in line out the door, along the building and down the large parking lot beside the railroad tracks. Her walls pulsated with music and would energize me as I approached night after night through my teen years. There was a palpable movement and flow through there, wrapped in spandex, highlighted in neon, frozen in hair-spray and always punctuated in lyrics - music. One couldn't, or at least I couldn't imagine the indelible impressions that were being carved in my young mind, but they did.

End Of An Era
Over time, like any living creature, the WSC (Wallington Skating Center) aged and suffered from health issues. With declining interest and loss of profit, she ground to a halt. There were a few attempted incarnations afterwords with different business ideas, but the music (and thus the pulse) had stopped. It stopped until it  re-opened again as the "Inline Skating Club Of America" in 1995 (Reference: http://www.rinktime.com/skating_rinks/nj/inline_skating_club_of_america_skating_rink_arena_wallington_nj.cfm?). Several of my friends had visited there over the years, posted pictures to their social media sites and lamented over what they saw as a sad version of a once great concept.

Roller skates were now referred to as "quads" and were more suitable for a museum display. "Skates" now meant in-line skates. I still vividly remember the first guy to ever come to WSC (from California) with those monstrosities. "That's the most ridiculous thing ever!" "That will never catch!" we laughed. He looked so awkward and gawky when juxtaposed against our teams of talented dancers, shufflers and speed-demons (I guess we were wrong). Anyway, that business (Inline Skating Club of America) also ceased to exist and once again, her music had stopped. For years she lay abandoned and I feared would be fodder for a bull dozer one day. I'd drive by occasionally and tell my children of the once great Mecca, the music-filled home of a generation.

New Beginnings
Anyhow, a recent investor has once again rebuilt our beloved roller rink, right in the same building, the same mold and form of where she once lived and shaped a generation. Her walls are music and light-filled once again and she has been resuscitated - breathing and beating - again! Her new name is Fun Force and can be found at http://www.funforcenj.com/. They have a laser-tag area, private parties, children's parties with huge bounce houses that get deflated when they open the floor all the way for skating. They have arcade games from our generation too! I played Ms. Pac-Man with my eight year-old! You've gotta go!

A Life Set To Music
So how did I find out? A brother of mine from my motorcycle club (The Fourth Watch MC) invited me to his son's birthday party on Facebook. When I saw the address of 551 Main Ave. Wallington, I almost passed out. Enthusiastically, I replied and committed to being there with my youngest. That night, I raced up the Turnpike and got off on 46 West. As I traveled along 46, Ozzy Osbourne's 1991 hit, "Momma I'm Coming Home" played loudly on my radio. I turned to my lady and said; "how appropriate" as I felt I was, in fact, coming home.

Al Mack made the front page of "The Bergenite"
during a special event at WSC.
We stopped at Shop Rite in Lodi to get a birthday card for my buddy's son. Still psyched from the perfectly timed Ozzy song, I entered the store and playing over head was Mariah Carey and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Sweet Fantasy" from 1995, a song that heavily sampled the Tom Tom Club's 1981 "Genius Of Love." 

Now anyone from my era at WSC probably associates that song with WSC's single most talented skater, Albert Mack. It didn't matter where in the building Al was, when Genius Of Love came on, Al was out on the floor.  A young man fueled by music, fast as the wind and seemingly made only of cartilage, Al would gracefully float by avoiding the pile-ups of fallen skaters, dazzling the wall-flowers and inspiring all of us to discover the energy source in the music, in those four walls, under those lights.

I wish the new owners success in their business. I pray that that building continues to inspire future generations. And I, like many of you, wish occasionally - that I could go back.  

Our old nasty brown rentals now have a sleek black appearance

A long view of the place. What was the office (upstairs) is
now a party room

Left window - Skate Rentals
Middle window - DJ Booth (our turntables were traded in for a MacBook - amateurs!!)
Right window - What used to be the Pro-Shop is now a party room

I'm standing in the opposite corner of where you would enter the building.
The couches you see there serve as a barrier to the metal fencing that divides
the bounce toys from the skaters. When the kids are done bouncing, the toys
are deflated, the couches and railings are removed and the floor is open for skating.

This shot is from the area that used to be the children's party area with the picnic tables.
To the left are video games.

Those little geriatric walkers kill me! A sign of the woosification of this generation.
We use to fall and break shit! We were tough!!

You probably can't see it, but I can see the ghosts of our generation... still out there.

I hope you enjoyed this!