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The Architecture of the Rink

To be perfectly honest, roller skating is something that I have thought very little about in the past several decades. The only reason I mention it now is that my daughter recently read a graphic novel about roller derby that piqued her interest and she wanted to give roller skating a try. It turns out "The Rollercade" is just a little over two miles from our house and so last Saturday I took her there so we could tie rental skates to our feet and have a go of it.

I honestly can't remember the last time I had done this but my best guess is that it was around 1989 and that it was at the "Skate Connection" in Arlington. My general impression of "The Rollercade" in the late 2010s is that it is basically identical to the "The Skate Connection" in the late 1980s. The dim lighting, the disco balls and the polished parquet floor (with a rough patch in the corner where a roof leak had warped the wood) was all eerily familiar. Some of the music was new of course - songs from Taylor Swift's 1989 were not available in 1989 - but "The Hokey Pokey" and "Thriller" seemed to be played directly from the playlist of my youth.

Although modern four-wheeled roller skates and the rinks where they were deployed date back to the mid-1800s they became a staple of the American suburb in the 1950s. The wellspring of post-war American suburbs, Levittown, naturally had its own mid-century skating rink. Roller skating underwent a renaissance in the late 1970s and early 1980s when polyurethane wheels improved the skating experience and disco music gave skaters something to do

Although the inline skating boom of the 1990s saw a renewed interest in skating as a sport, part of their appeal was that this type of skating could occur on any paved surface and so did not require a trip to the local rink. As a result the skating rink itself remained in a state of arrested development: the lights may be updated to LED and Tab may no longer be offered at the soda fountain but otherwise the roller skating rink of the 2010s is basically the same as the one of the 1980s. 

A roller skating rink is a singular architectural experience. Like a bowling alley or a baseball stadium it is a place whose sights, sounds and smells are instantly familiar even if you haven't been inside one for a quarter of a century. I hope the memories my daughter made last weekend survive as long as mine have.

I hope "The Rollercade" survives that long as well.

So That Just Happened

my high school looked nothing like this in 1995

Last weekend was my twenty-year high school reunion. It should be noted that I didn’t actually attend the reunion itself since I had to head back to San Antonio for a friend’s wedding. But as I needed to make a trip to Dallas anyway I decided to take advantage of the fact that some of my far-flung classmates were going to be in town and so was able to meet up with a few people for a personal, mini-reunion.

The class of 1995 was unique in a way in that it was one of the last to graduate before email was a thing. As a result one of the highlights of my 10-year reunion was acquiring the email addresses of a handful of friends with whom I had lost touch. Of course, in 2005 even as I was gathering those addresses Zuckerberg was quite literally creating Facebook that would soon make keeping up with large groups of people even easier.

Still, nothing can replace the visceral experience of reconnecting with someone in person. Ten years ago it was great to be able to spend time with people that I quite literally had not seen nor heard from in a decade. That said I remember leaving that first reunion with a slight but palpable sense of sadness. It took me a while to figure it out exactly what was the cause.

My time in high school was by no means the high water mark of my life. It was a thing that just happened. The experience I had there was shared by a large and diverse group of people who at the time very much defined my world.

For a time in the mid-90s that world was all consuming. And then suddenly that world ceased to exist.

When we graduated we by definition all moved on. We went to college (or didn’t). We got married (or didn’t). We had kids (or didn’t). In the rush of becoming adults we lost track of how much things change.

I think the sadness I felt ten years ago came from the realization of how incredibly temporary high school was and - by extension - how temporary every stage of life is.

Jobs come and go. Apartments and houses are moved in to and then out of. People we love pass away. New ones are born. When we were young everything seemed so much more permanent but in reality it is all incredibly transient. Things that once seemed so terribly important become irrelevant with startling quickness. The reverse is true as well.

*  *  *

On the Friday night before the actual reunion (you know, the one I missed) I picked up a friend for dinner. On the way we passed by our old high school building.

It might be because I’m an architect, but I tend to organize my memories by the places where they occurred. I remember my kindergarten playground. I remember the archway where I first kissed a girl. I remember the view from the altar of the church where I was married (to a different girl).

My memories of high school are not so physically rooted. Not long after I graduated they expanded my high school to a point where it doesn’t look much like it did when I was a student there. Even though I drive by the building whenever I visit my family, the experience does not move me to reflection – not in the way I’ve been moved in these past few days as the reunion approached, as photos were posted online and as I had the opportunity to spend time with old friends.

After dinner on Friday, my friend and I decided to make an appearance at the homecoming football game. Admittedly this was an odd choice for me (I don’t know that I ever actually went to a football game when I was in high school) but it seemed like a fitting and proper thing to do. While I was there I realized I was having a quintessential high school experience – a full two decades after graduating.

It occurred to me then that our memories are active things. They are not tied to a particular place or time. They are instead a starting point for our future. They can be revisited, renewed and expanded. High school (or any experience) may only last for a finite period of time, but our active experience of it can last a lifetime.

So I suppose in the end it isn't a thing that just happened - it is a thing that is happening still. 



Father Knows Best

image courtesy the Arlington Citizen Journal

So as scary as it may have been to start a new design office, when I established HiWorks in 2013 I at least had someone I could look to for inspiration - my Dad.  As a small business owner himself, he taught me the importance of hard work, patience and putting the customer first.  Although the heating and air conditioning business is somewhat different than architecture, there are certain core values that are important to both endeavors.

At any rate, I was proud to learn that my Dad's company - Hightower Service Inc. - was recognized in the Arlington Citizen-Journal as the "Best of the Best" for heating and air conditioning services for 2013.  

Way to go, Dad.