Nine-year-old John Skinner didn't even wait for the blue van to hit its brakes before he was out the door of the Keene Recreation Center and waiting in the adjacent parking lot area.
Skinner clapped his hands, nervously paced, and strained his neck to see when the four occupants of the D.C. department of recreation skatemobile might disembark.
"I'm too anxious - I've got to wait five minutes. I've got to be the first in line," said Skinner, of 33 Missouri Ave. NW. "I love the skatemobile because I love to skate. You just move around and then you start rolling."
Not all the occupants of the Keene Center at Riggs and Rock Creek Church Roads NE were quite as eager to balance their bodies on the eight little wheels. For the opening few minutes, the main room was sparsely populated. But given a combination of youthful enthusiasm and the exhortations of the four skatemobile staff members, the hall was soon filled with the sounds of city-provided disco music and the movement of spinning, flailing, falling young bodies.
"You should see the kids - they go crazy. They come from everywhere. It's like they come out of the walls," said Lillian Proctor, the supervisor of the smaller of the two summer skatemoblies. "They're shy of the skates at first. But once they get on them, once they're reassured of the skates, then they all go wild."
The skatemoblie is part of a large mobile recreation program which is designed to take recreation away from the traditional playground atmosphere and to places wher the department's regular recreational activities are not easily accessible to people, said Jerri Reddick, program coordinator for the cultural activities division. The mobile unit's 11 permanent vehicles (extras were added for summer) log approximately 100,000 miles during the summer, Reddick said, in bringing such diversions as puppet and marionette shows, magic acts, concerts, dance and crafts to city residents.
The skatemobile that visited Keene carried 40 pairs of skates. A rented vehicle traveling elsewhere in the city carried 100 additional pairs. During the regular school year, all the skates are piled into the blue van.
Raymond Hall, 13, of 14 Jefferson Pl. NE, did little to mask his joy at the arrival of the skatemobile. "I came over here to skate. I was desperate," he said. "I like when we're playing - when we hold hands an let 'em slide (the last person in the chain is released to gain added speed).And I like holding my leg up and turnin' 'round. I like it 'cause I like to have fun."
Five-year-old J.B. Thomas of 14 Hefferson Pl. NE found it hard to copy the fancy moves of his 10-year-old brother Joseph. J.B. made instant friends with the pool table in the center of the room, never straying far and hugging it whenever he felt his balance leaving him. The table didn't prevent J.B. from taking his share of spills and after an hour's activity, the seat of his pants was a dark gray color.
J.B., however, was undaunted by his time on the floor. "I ain't gonna fall no more," he said moments before another unscheduled horizontal pose. "This is too much fun cause I like to skate."
Seven-year-old Earline Cromeatie of 53 Blair Rd. NE was better at staying off the floor. "I almost fell over there," she said pointing, "But I don't fall anymore cause I hold on (to the pool table) and I go with friends (holding hands)."
Even with the majority of skaters taking a good number of spills, injuries do liittle to deter the enthusiastic children once they get going. "Sometimes when we're outside, they might scratch their knees or arms. Sometimes we get twisted arms of wrists," Proctor said. "You wipe off the blood and they're gone, skating again. They falled down 50 times a day. I don't know how they get up."
Not everybody was thrilled at the arrival of the skatemobile. "I never tried to skate," explained 7-year-old Ron Kelly of 815 Somerset Pl. NE. "I came because my mother had to work that's why. At first I didn't want try it."
After 20 minutes on wheel, he returned his skates, politely said thank you, and went off to find fun in some other way.