These are real skaters. Sure, they come to hear the music, they come because there is nowhere else to go, and they come because everyone else comes. But above all, above parties and bars and hanging out at shopping malls, they come to the Alexandria Roller Rink every Saturday night to skate: solo, trio, double, backwards, line dance, in the aisles, in the bathrooms, in the video arcade and on the 30,000- square-foot maple rink that some say is the best within 200 miles.
Teen-age heaven is here, where speed and tricks are cool, where what you strut is not skating skirts and colored tights, fuzzy pompons above your toestops and a locker key around your neck. The uniform is unisex: straight-leg designer jeans and Polo shirts --and give 'em the real thing, a jumping horse and rider, no tiger, no fox, no alligator.
Sometimes, Amy Tate is "mad at my parents," so she goes to the rink. She is 17, a senior at Friendly City High School. "I go on the floor and after awhile I feel better. I come home happy afterward." She seems to think about that a bit. "I have so much fun here, I don't want to leave and go to college."
Todd Dixon likes "to skate and race cars," because "both are fast and dangerous." He is the veteran, the unofficial ringleader. He is also 22 years old. "You meet more girls here than at a bar," he says. "It can be a lot safer, too. I'm not drunk when I leave here."
Nobody seems to be drunk or stoned or anything but exhausted when they spill out of the building at 10:30 p.m. Mark Ray, who co-manages the rink with Sam Gilyard, says they've worked hard to keep order. "We used to have an off-duy police officer here on weekends," says Ray. "But we haven't had any bad incidents in three years now. We have a firm policy--you mess up, you go out of the rink for 6 months to a year."
Part of the credit for that goes to Robert Brown. "Mr. B" to the 40 or so kids in his teen skating club. "My kids respect me," says Mr. B, as he's called by all within the confines of the rink. "We have total frankness, and nothing gets by me.
"He treats us like his children," says Tate. "And he punishes us when we're bad."
There are white teens who come to the rink, everyone is quick to point out, but not many on Saturday nights. "They come more during the week," says James "The Duke" Lewis. "Last week we had a good six busloads of them," Dixon says with a grin. "We had so many we had to turn some of them away."