I grew up in San Francisco’s Sunset District in the 50s and 60s, on 45th Avenue, near the zoo and the Great Highway. With miles of sidewalk in all directions—four blocks to a city mile, or so my dad used to say—it was prime roller skating territory. One Christmas there was an item on most every kid’s list: Super Skates. We had just gotten our first black and white television and ads for Super Skates were all over that thing.
This would have been the early 60s, when I was 8 or 9. Skating was a major part of my life and, oddly, an athletic pursuit I was reasonably good at, despite the fact that I was/am a huge chicken, afraid of speed, heights, competition, pain and pretty much everything else.
Despite the risks and occasional scraped elbows and knees, I loved to roller skate. The meditative thump-thump of the wheels chunking over the evenly spaced cracks in the sidewalk and then the rumble-rumble-rumble when I slowed down to cross the lumpy asphalt to the other side of the street. It was hills on two sides of our block; you could build up some major speed and, if you hit it just right, turn the corner in a crouch, on the outsides of your wheels, without spinning out and tumbling onto the streetcar tracks down on 46th Avenue.
So the huge deal with the shiny, steel Super Skates was this: no keys, straps, tools, or assembly of any kind required. You just inserted your foot in the skate, tapped your toe on the ground and the skate snapped snugly in place, conforming to the size of your foot.
They were spring-loaded!
This relative ease was a very big deal as anyone who remembers roller-skating back in the day can attest. It might take ten minutes or more, much more, to get the conventional skates on and adjusted to fit right, and by that time your friends were likely gone, out of sight around the corner. There were straps to buckle, screws and toe clamps to tighten and something was always broken or missing. I remember my old skates being pretty much tied onto my feet with shoelaces and anything else I could find.
But Super Skates were an entirely different animal, a space-age marvel. Just tap and go. Or so the ads promised.
Bright and early that Christmas morning my younger sister and I opened our presents. We ripped the colored paper off the big boxes that held the magical skates. We tried them on, popping our toes on the carpet to get the skates to snap into place, doing it again and again and marveling at the metallic thwack each time the skate snapped shut.
"You'll wear them out," our mother warned.
“I wonder who else got them?” my sister said.
“What if we’re the only ones?” I asked, suddenly concerned I might be the odd ball in my fancy new skates.
“You won’t be,” said my mother, exchanging a bemused look with my father.
Every few minutes my sister and I parted the living room curtains to survey the damp, gray street below. Mother had said we could go outside with our skates as soon as we saw another kid out there. Soon the street was filled with neighbors in their new Super Skates clacking back and forth.
Mom was right. We weren't the only ones who had fallen for the ads.
Nothing topped that first morning's ride. It wasn’t long before I tapped my toe and the fit wasn’t as snug as it had been the day before and each day after that it was looser by degrees until there was no denying the fact that the Super Skates weren't super at all, they were wobbly, not a good thing for a skate, and dangerous on the hills.
I gravitated back to the rusty old pile of skates in the garage. By the following Christmas, Super Skates were a memory.
I wasn't sorry. I'd missed my skate key. There was something both cool and comforting about a skate key hanging from an old leather lace or chain around my neck, along with my dog tag. It signaled which club I belonged to and it also made the perfect token to toss during a game of hopscotch—another game I was pretty damn good at, come to think of it—just the right heft and weight to toss across the chalked lines while hopping on one foot.
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.