Written by Gino Provenzano
It was the late 1970's and the latest craze that was sweeping the nation (along with Disco) was roller-skating.
Our TV sets were flooded with images of super cool scantily clad women with long blonde hair wearing shiny tube tops and really short satin shorts roller- skating along Malibu Beach (California not Dorchester!). Usually accompanying the ladies was a guy with no shirt, too much gold, and a really bad perm. (Hey it was 1970's!)
Fonzie on skates
Even Hollywood had roller-skating fever. The latest episodes of Charlie's Angels, Happy Days (Fonzie on skates), The Million Dollar Man, Love American Style, and The Waltons (I made that one up) featured their stars on roller skates. As with most fads, it started on the West Coast and came East. We needed to be a part of this craze but if we were going to be as cool as the West Coast, we needed to throw away those metal roller skates that we had in our closets - you know the ones that needed a key to change the size - and get with the 70's.
Our opportunity came to East Broadway in the form of a new business called Rent-n-Roll. It had everything we needed. The latest roller skates with sparkles in the rubber wheels complete will stopper in the front and a menu of renting options - by the hour, half-day, full day - and yes, wall to wall video games. Home video game consoles were just coming out so arcades were still the rage. What a business model, a can't miss 70's bonanza.
We were becoming outlaws
The first summer that it was open, you couldn't walk down the street without seeing somebody you knew roller skating. We had our own waterfront to roller skate along. It wasn't Muscle Beach but it was close if the guys at the L Street Bath House left the door open! (Don't look ladies! I just saw an old guy wearing just a loin cloth I think). We would roller skate out to Sullivan's for a box of french fries and come back and get another box at The Sea Shell. Stores started to put up "No Roller Skates" signs in their windows. We were becoming outlaws.
My knees were torn to shreds
Everyday, I couldn't wait to meet my friends at Rent-n-Roll. We would play Missile Command and Gallaga for hours as we listened to Blondie and The J Geils Band blasting from the oversized 1970's speakers (nothing was small in the 70's). Then it was off to the streets of South Boston. This is where it got dangerous. You see, the TV shows and movies always showed the beautiful people roller skating on really smooth surfaces with no cars and trucks within eyesight. We didn't have that landscape. The first time I hit a manhole cover I hit the ground so hard that my knees were torn to shreds. (This is true and I still have the scars to prove it.)
For some odd reason, we thought it would be a good idea to use our "dragging skills" (also known as bumper hopping to some of you) while on roller skates - more accidents and scars followed. But we survived the first summer of Rent-n-Roll. Unfortunately, Rent-n-Roll did not.
It was not longer cool to roller-skate
ATARI, Nintendo, and Colecovision took away the need to play video games outside the home. Soon Roller blades replaced roller skates. It was no longer cool to try to roller skate down the street with one leg extended out in front of you while in a crouching position. Skating backwards while making an S pattern was also passe. It was fun while it lasted and you never know, it could make a comeback.