It’s not too much, the Kiwanis Ice Arena. It’s an unassuming ice rink in a very cool town. The place is a fixture, like the Lighthouse or Inquiring Minds. It is there and will be there always, a cold house on the edge of the village. Every little town has something like it, a privilege that becomes second-nature, a strange niche that almost doesn’t fit. Something that would surprise outsiders by its very existence, but is standard fare for the natives.
The ice arena is on the far north end of Cantine Park. It’s a big blue building with puffy white ceilings connected to a humble little lobby. At the moment, there’s a nativity scene hanging outside – Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus without the trimmings (wise men, camels, zebras, etc.) – and a few strings of butter-white Christmas lights. Inside, in the lobby, are a trio of arcade games, chief among them NFL Blitz, the undisputed champion of mid-to-late nineties sports-based arcade cabinets. A groovy choice, no doubt. Elsewhere in the lobby there are folding chairs, capsule machines stocked with toys, pictures and clips of patrons hanging on the wall, and a pair of vending machines. This could be the lobby of any bowling alley or movie theater, locked and stocked with old arcade games and smelling like it’s been cleaned routinely, on the hour, for the past 20 years.
After loading up on rental skates – three dollars – and paying admission – six for adults, three for young’uns – the rink is yours. There aren’t any serious grandstands. There are bleacher seats on the west side of the rink for crowds of community league, high school, and junior league supporters.
I notice that there aren’t a lot of people on the rink after I wobble my way to the rink on the carpet, under the scores of sponsor flags and banners dedicated to all of the greatest Saugerties and FDR hockey teams, and the American flag that hangs on the far side of the rink that’s approximately the size of two trailer homes laid on top of each other. There are two meek dad-looking types gliding around on the ice backwards and frontwards. They are calm and emotionless, in a Zen state that is the exact opposite of my current mentality, as they turn around quickly on their blades and kick up an icy mist. They’re wearing fancy, ergonomic, definitely-not-Kiwanis-issue ice skates.
Also on the rink are two little girls who glide with ease, giggling with each other as they move counterclockwise around the ice. They never fall. Feeling emboldened, I get a little overzealous, start moving really fast in a straight line, lose control, realize that I’m going to body check myself into the glass, kick down my heel in an attempt to slow my roll (because that’s how rollerblades work, the brakes are on the heel), fling my arms out at my side in an attempt to steady myself and land very not-coolly on my butt and hands. The little girls laugh. I am tempted to up and leave when this happens, but I stick it out.
There’s another girl, slightly older than toddler-aged, being coached by her mom as she half-skates around on a training aid. Training aids are available for rental for three dollars – they’re really just hurdles with curved bottoms that provide stability when you’re learning how to skate. Unfortunately, they’re only toddler-or-dwarf sized. If I could duct tape two together and create a Frankenstein adult-sized training aid, it sure would help the situation. But I doubt the guy behind the admissions counter would be cool with it, even if I explained how such a device would surely encourage neophyte adults too proud to fall but not too proud to skate with a big hurdle.
One of the weirdest feelings is stepping out of those rented ice skates and readjusting to the static carpet of the lobby. Your feet ache and you feel like you should be two or three inches taller with feet two or three times heavier (and deadlier). You realize that ambling around on standard earth isn’t quite as fun as gliding, falling, and gliding again on an ice rink. It’s similar to the feeling of stepping out of a car for the first time after a long road trip, only with a bittersweet twinge that comes from realizing that you aren’t having fun on the ice anymore.
With a date, it’s a charmingly active pre-dinner, pre-movie outing. As a family activity, it’s quite reasonable. There’s something calming about hanging around in an ice arena, particularly a nearly empty one with few people to critique you and your motion. It’s nice to float around on the antiseptic cool of the ice rink, even if you’re wiggling and waggling and almost falling over every time you try to execute a fluid motion.