Thursday, May 24, 2012


When rollerblading became popular in the 1990’s I went out and bought a pair of skates. Like any Bostonian, I went down to Eric Flaim’s Skate Sports. Flaim, a native of Massachusetts, won silver medals in the 1988 and 1994 Winter Olympics and lots of other prestigious medals in between. Everybody knew his name, and his store catered to serious skaters on and off the ice. I got some fast skates and a full suit of body armor to wear while skating. With the purchase, I got a one-hour skating lesson under a talented instructor named Lester.

Lester started out by making sure everybody knew how to put on our protective gear. Yes, we really did need a lesson for that, and still I forgot one time that the protective gear goes on before the skates. (And I learned that it’s impossible to stretch kneepads over skate wheels.) Geared up, we learned how to fall; forward onto our kneepads. Next, we learned how to stop by pushing one foot forward and dragging the skate brake. Once we knew how to fall and how to stop, Lester taught us how to go. By the end of the lesson, we all knew enough to go out and play on the Charles River Skate Path, and we also knew that we could improve a lot if we hired Lester for private lessons.

I never took any more lessons, preferring to learn by doing. I took my skates with me sometimes when I traveled for business. One time, for example, I spent a couple of nights in Berkeley, California. The first morning I skated down to the marina and back. I started early enough that the streets were pretty empty and I had a good time in the flat part of town. The next day I launched myself upward, into the Berkeley Hills. I hadn’t really planned to go into the hills, but that’s where I ended up after an hour or so of following my nose. I had a little trouble getting back because the hills were steeper than I had appreciated and I melted off most of my skate brake.

Somehow I set aside my skates about the time I started dating Alla, and I haven’t used them in a long time. In Minsk we live near an excellent bike path and I started thinking again about my skates. Before committing to bring them, however, I thought I’d better go out for a trial run in Boston and see if I still like it. I finally went skating today.

I remember Lester’s lessons, so I started by putting on my protective gear and then I pulled on the skates. Wow, I forgot how comfortable they are. They fit perfectly and support my ankles well. Dressed, I thought about how best do get down to the Charles River Bike Path. Oh yeah… That’s downhill from here. I thought about taking off my skates and walking down to the river, but decided I’d feel silly unless I took off the protective gear as well. I decided to go ahead and skate, hoping I could remember well enough how to stop. I tottered out and rolled a few meters down the brick sidewalk before deciding that I’d be better off in the street. I stopped against a signpost and waited until I couldn’t see any cars anywhere. Then I rolled down Revere Street and took a right on West Cedar.

Yikes! West Cedar Street is a horrifying mess of patched pavement, which I had not noticed until this moment as gravity hauled me forward faster than I wanted. I made it to the next corner, where I had to get onto the sidewalk. I remembered how to do this: Just step up and keep on going. Right. The very idea terrified me so I came almost to a complete stop before stepping very gingerly onto the sidewalk. Next I had to get up and over a footbridge crossing Storrow Drive. For reasons which escape me now, I went up the stairs instead of taking the ramp. I do remember why I didn’t skate down the ramp on the other side of the bridge: I felt safer on the stairs than trying to control my speed on the down ramp.

After all the drama of starting, the actual skating came as an anticlimax. It was easy. It was fun. It was no problem. I skated across Cambridge and turned around somewhere in Watertown. By the time I returned over the footbridge, I skated up and down the ramps with ease. I think I’m going to enjoy having my skates in Minsk, where we have many kilometers of bike paths. I’m especially excited about getting onto some of the exurban paths, like the one between two ski areas on the outskirts of town. I’ll bet I can even keep up with Sasha on his bike.

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