I both hated and loved going to the Skateland Roller Rink on North Texas Street as a teen. I hated telling the workers I wore size 13 skates and seeing them snicker under their breath.
I hated that Grange Intermediate School bused us there for PE class. Nowadays we’d have to sign a waiver and wear helmets, knee pads and shin guards. And that’d just be for the bus ride over.
I hated that I couldn’t skate. People who effortlessly navigated the oval mass of rolling humanity without constantly bumping into others, falling clumsily or grabbing the handrail and could do it in time to the blaring music, filled me with jealousy.
But . . . I loved “couples only.” Girls thought it was cute that a big guy was so clumsy and we’d go slowly around the rink hand-in-hand while Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” played and the disco ball sprinkled twinkling stars all over the rink.
I fell a lot and thankfully never broke anything, but locals Donna Day-Yarborough and Diana Svendsen weren’t so lucky. Donna broke her wrist and Diana broke her hand, each tripping over little boys who had fallen.
The late Wayne Purdy was the general manager for years before buying the place himself. He was a certified professional skater and brought professionalism to Fairfield. Competitors who won events would have their picture posted on a wall in all their finery.
Former resident Michelle McNeice Cummings was a “rink rat” whose whole family was involved in skating. Her mother, Estelle McNeice, was Purdy’s best friend and co-manager and Cummings’ grandparents were even the janitors there for a time.
One fond remembrance was the Gold Skate Classic.
“It was an annual weeklong competition held in Bakersfield with skaters from all over California,” Cummings said. “We performed huge themed production numbers which we’d practice in Fairfield as a show. The first one I remember was ‘Sesame Street.’ My sister was Ernie. We had music, costumes — the whole nine yards. It was like Ice Capades on skates.”
Gail King spent considerable time at Skateland in the late 1970s. While moves she learned in lessons were important, so was fashion and King rocked the requisite silk roller derby windbreaker set off by then-popular skin-tight Dittos jeans in a rainbow of colors.
Joe Joyce claims he and his friends “ruled” the rink from 1975 to 1979.
“Funny how we complain about our kids wasting all their time on video games today when we spent thousands of hours skating around in a circle on a small wooden floor,” Joyce said. “The best part of Skateland was the friends. I met my wife there. We dated until she graduated from Fairfield High and got married four days later. That was over 28 years ago! We have three children and two grandchildren.”
Cupid worked overtime at Skateland and many others have stories of meeting their spouses there, but Alan Thomas Hirschenhofer II has the most . . . colorful. Some guys remember the place and year they met their wives. Hirschenhofer remembers the time.
“On Dec. 22, 1982, I saw this lady skating who looked dead-on like Pat Benatar,” he said. “At about 8:43 p.m., I saw a commotion by the snack bar. I had a look, and beheld my future bride beating the living hell out of some poor schmuck.”
Hirschenhofer stopped her right before she delivered the “coup de grâce” to the guy’s face and Wayne Purdy played couples only. While they skated together, Hirschenhofer told his pugilistic Pat Benatar lookalike, Jo Ann Stow, that she would marry him and give him four sons. She later did just that and they are still married today.
Love is a battlefield.
Other remembrances by locals:
Joyce Nagel Jackson: “l loved the Wurlitzer organ music!”
Bruce Gross: “I remember they raised money for Jerry Lewis’s telethon and everyone would sit by the TV waiting for Wayne Purdy to come on and present a check.”
Barbara McFadden: “I always won one of the races and got free snack bar stuff!”
Purdy sold the rink in 2001. It is now the Trading Post, a used furniture store. I still can’t skate, but now unfortunately even those I was once jealous of can’t, either.
Reach Fairfield freelance writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ideas for future columns about the past are most welcome. Check out the “I Grew Up in Fairfield Too” Facebook group for more nostalgia.