You Don’t Always Make It In

berkeley icelandWe’d circled the old ice skating rink twice now. Everybody knew it was abandoned, and had been for years: it was boarded up, the signs out front had been torn in half ages ago, there was graffiti covering large swathes of it. We’d talked to a few people in the neighborhood and they confirmed that the building hadn’t been open in over half a decade.

But we still couldn’t find a way in. We found windows to peer through, and they promised untold visual riches behind, but no way to actually get ourselves inside.

At least, no way on the ground. Maybe we could find a way in higher up?

The disused skating rink bordered an in-use used car lot. We definitely didn’t want to intrude on anywhere that was in active use, so we spent some time making sure that the shack between the two of them was in fact part of the skating rink, and not the car lot. Examining the placement of the barbed wire and the fact that nobody responded when we knocked, we were satisfied that it was. So with a hop, skip, and a wall run followed by a jump and pull up, we were on the roof of that, and look in through second floor windows (first floor for you non-Americans).

This was more promising. A large run of windows ran the length of the shed, which ran the length of the building, and up all the way to the roof of the rink. Between the street lights, the full moon behind us, and the flashlights we had with us, we could hardly have seen any more if we had been inside. We still wanted in, though.

The rink spread out below us, rows of dusty bleacher seats cascading down like water over rocks towards the empty wooden lakebed that had been filled with ice and happy families, twirling and cavorting about, in ages past. I used to go ice skating as a kid, though not at this particular location, and I found it stirring nostalgic memories in me. Thoughts of gliding gracefully across the ice at speeds far above what I could run, of slamming into the walls since I never really got the hang of turning or stopping properly (I never said I was good at skating), the smooth, satisfying perfection of freshly zambonied ice. The silver light spilling out over the rink made it all too easy to imagine what it had once looked like. I’d caught glimpses of the workings underneath the rink as a kid but had never been allowed to inspect them, and now I would be getting my chance: I really wanted to get inside.

After staring for a short eternity, we started creeping along, looking for ways inside. The windows were all not just closed, but unopenable, not made so that they could be opened, and the glass was all intact, reinforced throughout with wires. I had visions of runaway hockey pucks hitting the glass and rebounding harmlessly.

We were over halfway across, and still no way inside. All of a sudden we were silhouetted in stark blue and red by the flash of lights from a police car, and the while of sirens made us all freeze for a moment, then dive for what little cover there was. Fortunately for us, the police car sped past, on some other duty. We glanced nervously at each other, hearts pounding, and it took very little discussion for us to decide that we had had enough. There may have been a way inside that we could find if we searched long enough, but we didn’t want to risk it any more than we already had.

We ran swiftly and silently back across the roof, lowered ourselves down to the ground, and disappeared, into the night. You don’t get in every time, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste when you don’t. Even the images from just looking inside from our unusual vantage point will be with me for the rest of my life. Or at least until I make it inside.

Photo courtesy of The ice skating rink is in Berkeley, California, off Shattuck Ave.

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