Thursday, January 27, 2011

A "Playlist" Sparks Memories Of A Roller Rink

Yesterday I created a playlist for my IPod that only a few people would enjoy for the exact same reason I created it.

The 24 songs are all pop music hits that were popular in either the 50's, 60's or 70's. While they are all "golden oldies" and fans of that era of music would enjoy them; but these recordings have a specific common bond. They bring back memories of a special place from my childhood. That place is the Bushkill Park Roller Rink.

The skating facility is no longer open. I believe the last time it was was more than 5 years ago. It's located in Easton, Pennsylvania, near where I grew up. It was recently featured as part of the TV show "American Pickers".

It's where I learned to roller skate. I spent many many nights (from 8 to 11PM) going around and around with my friends and family from the time I was 8 until I was in my early 20's. The place was a very popular social scene for kids and teenagers for decades. My sister Peggy's 16th birthday part was there.

The songs on my play list were all played during the skating sessions throughout the years. They hold some of the strongest memories about a specific time and place in my life than any other songs in my personal music collection.

The song "Soldier Boy" by the Shirelles is the #1 memory maker on the play list. "This Time" by Troy Shondell, "Sixteen Candles" by the Crests, and "Puppy Love" by Donny Osmond also take me back to those days of skating counter-clock wise around the rink; racing and cutting up with friends.

But the Bushkill Park roller rink wasn't just skating around in an approximate oval. The entire building was an experience. There was the snack bar area that sold 12 oz. sodas in old fashioned glass soda bottles. The kind that had to have the caps pried off of them before you could drink them. There was also an enclosed glass display case full of candy such as licorice and gumdrops, jaw breakers, candy bars and bubble gum. It was all sold to you by a very old woman. I don't remember her name or even if I ever did know it at all. But I'll never forget her. She was very thin, had wrinkled skin, snow white wavy hair and a very prominent nose. You would tell her what you wanted and she would put it in a small brown paper bag. We called them "penny candy bags".

There were pinball machines between the snack bar and the admission/skate rental counter. Over the years the games changed but that was the place to play pinball during the night. A place to "get away" from the skating floor if you just needed a break or wanted to try your best to win a free game or set a high score. The sounds of the bells made from pinballs banging against the bumpers was as much part of the soundtrack of the roller sink as the music I've mentioned.

The admission/skate rental counter was the place you always saw Mom Long. She was old and , maybe 5 foot tall at the most. She had short grey hair and wore "granny" style wire framed glasses. She kind of reminded me of George Baily's mother in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" only with totally grey hair. Mabel "Mom" Long was the owner of, not just the skating rink, but the entire park. Her husband had owned it for years but after he died, in 1961, she ran it with the help of the old lady at the snack bar and a really old guy named "Mel". He looked like your stereotypical mid 50's aged carny worker from the movies.

"Mom" Long was one of those women who was "old" since anyone could remember. She was a bit gruff and could be a bit nasty or insensitive at times. My cousin, Roger, once told me that his "best memory" of Bushkill Park Roller Rink was when he fell and broke his arm while skating and Mom Long pulled on it. Can't remember if he mentioned the circumstances or why she did it. Just that he said it was the worse pain he'd ever felt in his life.

I liked Mom Long. She was always nice to me. I really respected her for what she did as owner/ operator of the park over the years. It wasn't an easy thing to do. I know as far as the roller rink was concerned she ran a tight ship. She didn't put up with anything out of line or against the rules from her patrons. I thought so much of her I cut out her obituary from the newspaper when she died in April of 1989. I still have it in my personal memorabilia.

There were other unique elements to the Bushkill Park roller rink experience. The area where you hung your coat up was isolated and open to anyone. You had made sure you didn't leave anything of value in your pockets that you didn't want stolen. Getting ripped off didn't happen all the time but it did occasionally. I remember having a few hats, sets of gloves and even a heavy winter jacket stolen from me over the years.

The seating area was where you changed into your skates at the start of the night and stowed your shoes under one of the wooden chairs. Hoping that at the end of the night you could still find them where you left them. There were several 2 ft. squared gray painted "blocks" of wood cut at an angle on one side, so you could prop your foot up at an angle, to help you hold your skates steady as you put them on.

The bathroom at the rink was accessible just off the skate floor. It was small and it was primitive. Just barely a bathroom. Of course, I was never in the girls room but the boys' bathroom had a urinal that didn't have any typing of flushing capabilities. The single stall was just toilet installed over a pit dug in the ground. No flushing at all. Stink? Whew! It wreaked!.

The walls along the skating floor were painted mostly pink with a Polynesian/tropical theme to them. There were scenes of islands and palm trees all along the walls. I always imagined that back in it's most popular days (the 30's & 40's) when the paint was new and the lights all worked it was quite a beautiful place. But to me, just like the proprietors who ran it, the place always looked old.

On the far side of the skating floor opposite all the other areas I've mentioned was a small DJ booth. That's where they played the 45 RPM records on a phonograph over a very tin sounding speaker system. I don't ever remember there being a dedicated "DJ" to play the records. The job of setting up the records on the automatic spindle of the record player was that of the teenage boy who served as the skating guard. It was part of his job in addition to making sure everyone obeyed the rules of the rink.

That brings me back to the music. I've already mentioned some of the songs in which my my roller skating memories abide. And I've described the rink and it's facilities. But unless you had the Bushkill Park Roller Rink experience yourself I could never fully describe it to you. It was always, for the most part, a good time.

I was always assured of having fun at each session. More times than not, if I went skating on a Friday or Saturday I'd go to spend the night at my cousin Gary's house afterward.

I can remember taking my skates off and having that strange feeling when I started to walk in my sneakers again. It was the combination of lingering effects of the hours of vibration from the wheels of the rented skates and the blisters they gave me.

As we left for the night Gary and I would usually stocked up on candy with the money we had left over with the intention of eating it on the way home or some time before we went to bed that night.

The final memory I have connected with each session at the roller rink was the short walk from the steps of the rink entrance (see picture at the top of this post) to the spring at the edge of the amusement park.

There was a small building that, on the side, down a couple of steps, had a cement basin. Into the basin from a couple of open pipes flowed cold fresh water from a spring somewhere below the park. Mounted on the building were a couple of Dixie cup dispensing machines. You could put a penny into one of these machines, pull a lever and get yourself a small cup to fill with spring water and enjoy. After a long hot summer night of roller skating I thought those cups of water were very very refreshing. Even as I'm writing this I can fondly remember how it felt to quench my thirst with such pure cold water.

Anyway, I hope that my personal recollections of Bushkill Park's roller rink have sparked some pleasant memories of your own. if you didn't grow up in the Easton area and never ever heard of Bushkill Park or it's roller rink until you started reading this post; you're probably really bored at this point and would like me to wrap it up. And I will.

But the path I've taken while compiling my latest IPod play list (this includes researching articles on Google and watching videos on You Tube) has evoked such fond and wonderful memories of a special place from my childhood I HAD to write about it.

By the way if you want to see some video of Bushkill park and the roller rink that were taken back in 1988 just go on to You Tube and type in "Bushkill Park". You'll get to see a little of what I'm talking about as well as see the amusement park I went to as a kid. I have a lot of memories of the park as well. But that's another post for another time.

No comments: