I got in the ticket line around 3:45 p.m. for the 4-6 p.m. session. Of course that session sold out before I could get my ticket so I stayed in line for the 5-7 p.m. session and warmed up in the sculpture garden's pavilion eatery. Suddenly paying $7 for a garden salad didn't seem so bad when it came with heat, glorious heat. As cheapo depot, I just sat a table reserved for customers and left with the same amount in my wallet as I had coming in.
Within minutes, the line for skate rentals reach 1/3 of the way around the rink so I left the warmth to grab my spot. I struck a conversation with some folks in line and realized that everyone skating here is required to say that they haven't skated in at least 10 years as the woman and her daughter said they haven't skated in 17 years. Quite an exact number.
I grabbed my skates and started laced them twice for maximum ankle stability that made no difference in the quality of my skating, but the piece of mind was nice. I talked to the folks on the bench across from me who hadn't skated in 14 and 11 years. Of course they hadn't in 10+ years.
Plenty of free shoes to take in the heart of DC. I'm not sure taking this picture was worth the strange looks I received.
One woman stopped after a few laps because her ankles hurt while her friend, who owned skates, said it was a good idea to stop because the ice rink was small, the surface was awful, and "people are out of control out there." Thanks for the reassurance before I head out. Sure sounds like a swell time! What a way to sell the experience I already paid for.
I rammed my shoes in a locker that was designed using the Smithsonian's collection of foot binding shoes. The lockers were raggedy and made me wonder if the peeling paint gave me a dose of lead for good measure. It was still worth knowing that my shoes were safe instead of leaving them under the benches and walkway. A locker's only $0.50 so why risk things to a rogue criminal with a shoe fetish.
I walked to the ice and joined the parade of skaters, circling counter-clockwise like vultures over the carcass of a metro DC resident's bucket list - mine. I was finally skating in DC. I skated five years ago, but didn't want to be called out so I was ready to say it had been 15 years if anyone asked.
The flock of blades tore the ice and made it bumpy after 10 minutes of laps. At times my blade struggled to push off the slush, but come on, I'm slowly skating on the Mall! It's about the experience and not the ice quality. It's also about watching hot dog skaters fall on their tailbones. There are five types of sculpture garden ice skaters:
- Experts - there are experts who pirouette in the center ice and cause no harm and experts who skate backward quickly, dash and dart among amateur skaters, and think wearing hockey skates gives them the right to violate the first two rules of the rink.
- Non-expert backward skaters - backward skating defines good skaters from average ones and a few folks showed they can still fit into their hockey skates from high school. My mediocre skating skills developed from a handful of suburban rink experiences allows me to go backward very, very slowly; a skill I wasn't about to demonstrate here.
- Tag Along Couple Kinetic Yuppie (TACKY) - the majority of couples around the ice had unbalanced skills; one person was walking on skates while the other partner was comfortable and could go faster. One couple was annoying as the guy pushed too quickly for her liking and created a human battering ram to toddlers everywhere.
- Teenagers - decent teenage skaters took after the rude experts and skated too quickly for the rink's flow and also took spectacular falls onto the ice, against the rails, and into each other that I thoroughly enjoyed.
- Parents with kids - in what made for many Kodak moments (how dated is that reference? maybe it should now be a "digital moment"), a parent shuffled along the ice holding their kid's hand, never losing touch.
After a 45-minute skate, I waited to grab a few more laps on what should have been smooth ice thanks to the Zamboni. The ice was improved, but only for five minutes as long as I avoided areas the machine missed. I'm no Zamboni driving expert, but I'd like to think you want to resurface the entire ice in one pass.
After my right ankle was tired from constant left turning, I grabbed my shoes, returned my skates, and took a final glance at the rink only to see one more assclown skater eat the ice. Good times.