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A trip around the rink
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
A few weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Toronto Ontario. It was there that I put on my sidewalk-sale hockey skates for the first time in years, and made my way shakily around Nathan Phillips Square. I didn’t fall, despite my lack of skating ability. I got lucky. The outdoor rink had just opened the day after I arrived, and no one was really crowding it yet. It closed at 10 p.m., but the Toronto police have better things to do than to boot tourists and kids playing hockey from an outdoor rink. It was rather magical, skating around downtown Toronto in a rink lit by the lights of the city (they turned the overhead lights off at 10 p.m. too). For a while, it was just me and some kids who brought their sticks and pucks to the rink. There were signs saying hockey wasn’t allowed. I skated over and asked them if they were going to take up the whole rink, because I didn’t want to impede on their game. They said they were just going to knock the puck around, but if more people showed up, it would probably turn into a game. And we co-existed. Peacefully.
It was nice to only have seven or so other people to worry about, instead of the big crowd that would show up the last Saturday night I was there. Even so, I had had enough practice so that by the end of the week, I was more secure on blades than when I first started out. The rink is big. During warmer months, it serves as a pond. Imagine the whole of Headwaters Park Plaza, the space they use for concerts and the beer tent during the Three Rivers Festival, turned into a skating rink. That’s Nathan Phillips Square.
I went to the outdoor rink at Headwaters, just to see if skating held the same peaceful, contemplative nature that it did in Toronto. Of course, it fell short.
Last summer, I’d looked for the rink, figuring that it was a permanent addition to the park, something perhaps like Nathan Phillips Square, in which it would serve as a pond or some other facility during the summer, and become a rink in the winter. Silly me. This is Fort Wayne, the architectural motto of which seems to be, “who cares if it looks like crap.” No, the Headwaters rink is a seasonal affair, plunked down in the plaza, a slab of ice one-fourth the size of the rink at Toronto’s City Hall. An unsightly railing advertising Nipsco, National Serv-All and various banks lines the rink, offering the beginners a place to hold on and generally slow things down. In contrast, at Nathan Phillips, there is no railing. The rink is sunken, with a foot-high ledge around the perimeter, which makes a handy place to sit down without having to skate all the way to the rink entrance to take a rest. If you want to skate again, all you have to do is stand up. The more sure-footed (or is it sure-skated?) step up from the ice to the ledge and walk over to one of several benches lining the rink.
I was surprised to see the number of people at the Headwaters rink. I was hoping for small crowds so I could glide around and think; no such luck. Everyone was there; the beginners with rental skates, the beginners with new skates, the hotshot hooligans who make life miserable for the other skaters, the old, the young, the experienced, the flailers, whose arm movements make them look like Regis Philbin on crack, the directionless who ignore the counter-clockwise circles made by everyone else. Then, after the ice was resurfaced, there were the kids who would skate across, then fall intentionally on their cans, as if the ice was some sort of giant Slip and Slide.
At least the hotshot hooligans in Canada had better balance, so that if you did run into them (as I did) they wouldn’t fall down.
And despite not being a great skater, I didn’t fall. Not at Nathan Phillips, not at Headwaters.
However, the comparison between the two rinks makes me wince at what Fort Wayne thinks is “good” or “progressive.” Yes, the rink is a good thing. Too many people sit around during the winter, adding the city’s number of obese. But if I were to invite the man I met while skating at Nathan Phillips Square to Fort Wayne and showed him the outdoor rink, I’d be embarrassed. I guess it’s a start, and the rink at Headwaters had one thing that the Toronto rink didn’t: free parking just steps away. However, Nathan Phillips doesn’t charge admission; I thought $4 per adult to skate on a very small rink here in town was quite steep seeing as that the facility isn’t really permanent. At least the Zamboni was in working order; I was afraid, at first glance, that the resurfacing device would be three guys wielding squeegees and garden hoses.
I did go skating again at Headwaters. This time it was mid-afternoon on a school/work day, and I had the rink to myself. The experience still wasn’t like what it was in Toronto, but a little bit of the meditative spirit returned, if only for a while.