My daughter is in the fifth grade. She’s just beginning that transition from child to full-blown adolescent. And with that transition inevitably comes the time when I’m not fun enough to hang out with on a Friday night.
I’m experiencing that right now. Sure, it wounds the pride a little, but I knew it was coming, so we’re dealing with it. By “dealing with it,” I mean that we’re inviting her friends to do stuff with us on the weekends now instead of putting a puzzle together or playing Mario Kart or watching Andi Mack. Well, we still watch Andi Mack, mainly because I’m emotionally invested in the show as much my daughter is, and I refuse to miss an episode.
Besides watching our show, though, I’m pretty boring to an eleven-year-old girl. So far this school year, we’ve taken friends to an indoor water park, attempted an escape room, played laser tag, gone to an arcade, visited an amusement park, gone to the movies, strolled through the mall, and so on and so forth. It’s actually been a fun year—stressful at times but fun.
Recently, though, I’ve found myself wondering what I did for fun when I was in the fifth grade. It didn’t take me long to harken back to that wonderful building on the 45 Bypass with a sign that read the most understated fact I had ever read as an eleven-year-old: “Skating is great.”
Those words were so obvious to me. It was like saying “Michael Bolton can really sing,” or “Jose Canseco can hit that baseball a long way,” or “Milli Vanilli sounds amazing!” Well, duh. All of those things rang true for me in the fifth grade, and every Friday night during my fifth and sixth grade years, you could find me at Magic Wheels speeding around the rink while the best pop songs of 1990 blared through the speakers.
My first introduction to Magic Wheels was not a great one. I was young. I don’t remember how young, but young enough to not know how to skate. I was banished to the learning rink, which was off in a dark corner and surrounded by some sort of wooden fence. I mean, I couldn’t skate, but I wasn’t an animal. After about fifteen minutes of “skating” (me picking up my feet and walking with roller skates on), I threw off the shackles of beginner and headed to the main rink.
The main rink was everything the beginner’s rink wasn’t. Multi-colored lights bounced off the wooden floor that glistened with what appeared to be an always fresh coat of wax. The older kids took those corners fast and hard, like Olympic speed skaters with prepubescent mustaches and glorious mullets.
As I clumsily loped across the carpet and headed to the main rink, my heart beat a little faster. The sound of those wheels rolling across the floor made me nervous. The only sound my skates made were a sort of clunking sound as they hit the floor and then were immediately picked up again for the next step.
Suddenly I found myself going the wrong way. Since I technically wasn’t skating, turning around wasn’t easy to say the least. Two teenagers holding hands were barrelling right toward me. I know the fear in my eyes was enough to ruin their moment, but I wasn’t worried about that then. I was worried about getting clotheslined by their arms because they didn’t appear to be letting go. It was a game of chicken, and bravery wasn’t the reason that I continued on. I had no other option. Just before my decaptition, they released their hands, and I felt the breeze of their bodies rushing by me as they carried on around the bend for another lap.
My response? I fell smack dab on my rear end (of course). I guess I had lost my balance. Maybe I had been so relieved that I didn’t get hit that I lost my focus. Either way, there I was, sitting in the rink feeling relieved and embarrassed at the same time, but knowing that this place was the absolute mecca of coolness.
A few months later, I learned to actually skate, and my mom would take me and a group of friends to Magic Wheels several times a week during the summer. I can remember how bright and hot the parking lot was as we approached the door and how quickly the coolness and darkness enveloped us the moment we stepped inside. The smell of nachos and the sound of top-twenty hits became so familiar to me that summer.
The traditions of Magic Wheels soon became as recognizable as the rink itself. When the lights suddenly went dark and the eerie instrumental intro to “Ghostbusters” began, the place went wild. Arms began swinging like unhinged pendulums to gain maximum speed as Ray Parker, Jr., asked all of us who we were gonna call. We always answered in unison. Why that song elicited the extreme response it did is still a mystery to me. I guess that’s the beauty of being ten years old: things don’t have to make a lot of sense for them to be fun.
When the limbo set came out, I knew it was time to get serious. My body has never exactly been compact or flexible. I’ve always had long arms and long legs, and contorting myself into a ball and rolling under a bar was challenging. The rules for limbo at Magic Wheels were pretty simple: don’t hit your head on the bar, and don’t fall as you’re going under the limbo stick. That was it. The first few rounds were always fairly easy; I could squat into the familiar cannonball position and easily make it under the stick. When the bar lowered, however, I had to get creative. The cannonball position was resumed, but this time my right leg was straightened out to my side. Sometimes I would even hold it forward and off the ground. Did that cause me to be any lower to the ground? Maybe. Did it cause me to look exponentially cooler? Absolutely.
I never won limbo. Ever. But I have no doubt that my style points in limbo helped me work up the courage to participate in the next staple of Magic Wheels’ entertainment repertoire: couples skate. There was one caveat to the couples skating part of the evening: if you were unable to procure a partner to glide around the rink with, then you could skate by yourself as long as you were skating—backwards! My first few years at Magic Wheels were spent in the snack bar during this depressing event because I couldn’t skate backwards, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask anyone to hold hands with me and skate. That is, until Abby Thomas.
I don’t know how it happened or what caused me to ask her to skate with me. Maybe it was being tired of sitting in those orange booths in the snack bar staring at my nachos. Maybe I just didn’t want to waste any time not being on the rink. Whatever the reason was, I still remember my first couples skate at Magic Wheels—my skate with Abby.
The year before, in third grade, I had kicked her on the playground and made her cry. Now, though, I was a mature fourth grader, and I knew the way to a girl’s heart. The song playing that evening was an amazing remix of “Freebird” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” combined into one ultimate 80’s song by a quintessential 80’s band: Will to Power. I can’t remember if I even used words to ask her, or if just held out my hand and she took it. Either way, Abby and I stumbled around the rink awkwardly, one of us speeding up or slowing down as to not cause the other one to fall. I’m confident there’s an analogous lesson about relationships wrapped up in that image somewhere, but the only thing that I could think about at the time was how much sweat was pouring from each of our hands. We didn’t speak while we were skating together, and when the song was over, we let go, and without a word went back to skating on our own. I made my mom take me to buy the cassette single of the song the next day.
As I grew older, I continued my regular trips to Magic Wheels. The innocence of couple skating evolved into meeting my “girlfriend” there on Friday nights and having the owner tell us that she couldn’t sit in my lap. My first kiss was under a pinball machine in the arcade section of Magic Wheels.
Then, around the seventh grade, my friends and I found other things to do with our Friday nights.
Two summers ago, I took my daughter to Magic Wheels. She was in the third grade. She picked her skates up and put them down the same way I did, always afraid to fall. She clutched my hand as we slowly made our way around the rink. Her hand was sweaty just like mine and Abby’s were thirty years earlier. We ate nachos in the same snack bar where I would sit and watch couples and backwards skaters make their rounds. The arcade games and beginner’s rink were gone, but everything else was the same. The rink was still round and glossy. And time had matched it by coming full circle.
I read an article recently about the owners putting Magic Wheels up for sale. I wasn’t surprised. It’s been there a long time. Even a circle that goes around and around can’t last forever. I know the memories that it created for me, and I know that it created thousands more like mine in people who spent their Friday and Saturday nights rolling around in a circle in the most entertaining way you can imagine. I hope parents my age have been able to take their kids and awkwardly make a few laps around with them. If they haven’t, they should. The sign outside of Magic Wheels is still there and, yes, skating is still great.
Magic Wheels is located at 1112 US-45 Bypass and is open Thursday through Sunday. To learn more, visit their website or call them at 731.664.2069.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.
Photographer Cynthia Sipes is a native of Alabama who moved to Jackson in April of 2016. She works at Starbucks full-time while pursuing an MA in Art Therapy. She is happily married and enjoys photography along with other creative endeavors.