It was week one of the lockdown order in New York and it was beautiful out — one of those bright and warm March days that provide a fleeting preview of the summer to come. The streets were empty, both of traffic and most people. With pickup basketball or soccer completely forbidden, the only kind of exercise I could get outside would have to be solo. I wasn’t going to run; I don’t understand how that suffering slog is enjoyable for anyone. Instead I decided to Rollerblade. If we were taking this time of isolation to reinvigorate forgotten hobbies (jigsaw puzzles, sourdough baking), then Rollerblading seemed like the perfect active pursuit for the moment.
I’ve been on a mostly unspoken, wholly unfulfilled mission for the last couple of years to return in-line skating to an acceptable form of fitness and transportation. Everything else from the ’90s had inexplicably become cool again, so why not the skates I wore nearly every afternoon of my street-hockey-filled suburban youth? They provide a solid core workout while getting you where you want to go faster than walking. They’re less burdensome than biking since you don’t have to worry about locking them up, and there’s a joy that comes with skiing on concrete that you just can’t get from a jog. But I couldn’t commit. The crowded city streets, uneven pavement, and a general sense of embarrassment kept my skates in the closet.
Then social distancing happened. The biggest hindrance to my skating — having too many people around to run into and be seen by — was officially banned. With the streets basically mine, I laced up the Rollerblade RB Cruisers that I’d optimistically gotten the year before but had hardly worn. The wheels are burlier and packed tighter together for a smoother ride and a better sense of control on city streets. And the boot is light, soft foam with a minimal plastic frame. They were nothing like my middle-school skates: molded boots seemingly made of the same plastic as a refrigerator door and nearly the same breathability. (K2 makes a similar pair for street skating called Uptown skates, but I was a Rollerblade kid growing up, so I decided to be a Rollerblade kid now.)
I pushed my way up my now carless street, getting reacquainted with the smooth roll of the skates, and figuring out how to stop all over again. My glutes and thighs started burning, much faster than I expected, even though I was using my muscles in a way I hadn’t since I was 12. And then, an even bigger surprise: As I made my way up to the nearly empty park near my Williamsburg apartment, I spotted another Rollerblader, a safe distance away, chugging along in a pair of in-line skates among the runners. Someone else knew just how much more fun it is to be on wheels than feet.
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