From the road, the rink is barely a suggestion, wedged behind the hot pink awning of the Amber Lounge strip bar and the grimy windows of the Smith and Harris Machine Company. Even its streetside sign, which advertises Pepsi, is a modest affair, spelling out "Skateland" in small black letters. But there's nothing unassuming about the cars packed in the parking lot on Super Bowl Sunday night--or the unusual assortment of people inside, sparkling under the mirror balls. A wizened man with bottle-cap glasses and bowed legs teeters on eight wheels to the "Julida Polka." Teens on inline skates chat each other up, while a large young woman in a bright yellow shirt waltzes on clouds, in the embrace of a tiny man who could be her grandpa.
"It's almost like church," says Louise Shaw, a graceful skater in a twinkling blue leotard. "You get something out of it." Shaw (pictured below) started skating fifteen years ago, at age 34, and now competes nationally. She comes here every Sunday, when the program alternates between all-skates and formal dances like the Robber's Waltz (during which skaters can steal each others' beaus) and the fox-trot. One of Shaw's favorites is the flea hop, a fast-moving skate with continuous forward and backward motion. "The more people out on the floor, the longer he makes it, until he wears everybody out," she says of organist Mike Clemens.
The uptempo Clemens--trained by the rink's original organist, who retired a few years ago--was a godsend. "A roller skating organist is really hard to find," says Skateland co-owner Trent Brandnan, as his dad, Neal, walks by with a carton of chips for the snack bar.
Trent's grandfather, Sam, built the rink in 1960 on land he originally intended for a bowling alley. (Sam changed his plans because there were already three alleys down the block.)
Trent, 33, has been working at the rink since high school, when he was a floor guard. He's seen a lot of people come and go, only to return years later. So has Shaw. The "really, really old people in there," she notes, "were generally skating back when roller skating was the thing to do in the '40s."
"They'll die on the skating floor at age ninety. They won't even be able to drive a car, but they'll get someone to drive them there."
Brookpark Skateland, 13445 Brookpark Road (216-267-3966), hosts skating to live organ music on Sundays from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Admission is $4; $6 with skate rental.