Driving down Ninth Street in Salina Saturday it was a joy to see the parking lot of the Starlite Skate Center packed and a line at the door to get in.
As kids, we didn’t have smart phones on which about everything is done these days: watching videos, viewing pictures, playing games, using the calculator, checking the weather, getting directions on a compass, texting friends, watching television, listening to music and, oh yeah, maybe reading a newspaper.
Starlite Skate Center and Abilene’s Plaza Theater were hot spots on our list of places to go when we were growing up.. Unfortunately the Plaza, which according to Cinema Treasures opened in 1879 as the Bonebrake Opera House, is now a vacant lot.
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Unlike youth today who gather around the television set to play games and communicate with their opponents via the Internet, we gathered every Friday night at the Plaza Theater.
It was there one Friday night that I sat with this cute girl with long hair and big blue eyes. We may have held hands. I’ll have to ask her sometime.
Who would have thought then that that girl would be sitting next to me last Saturday in the Jeep as we drove by Starlite?
Chapman readers might recall that there was a theater there, as well, where I once watched a matinee.
Going to the skating rink was a special treat.
Sometimes Ella Jo Callahan, the mother of one of my best friends in grade school and junior high, Pat, would take a group of us boys to the rink.
Pat, who later became one of Kathy’s study buddies in high school, died of cancer two years ago.
Three things came to mind when I drove by the Starlite on Saturday.
• The fight
At the end of the evening skating, we would stop by the Pixie Pancake House on the way home to eat.
If my memory serves (which readers know sometimes is a little off but which we in the business call poetic license), the restaurant was located at the intersection of Interstate 70 and Ohio Street.
One evening two gentlemen, who obviously had been indulging in alcoholic beverages, got into a fight. One slammed down his water glass as parts of it went flying through the air right next to our table. This left an impression on us junior high boys.
• Just breathe
Another evening we didn’t make it to the skating rink as one of our classmates had an asthma attack on the way there.
We discovered that he had left his inhaler at home. I have never seen anyone gasping for air as he did that evening.
Ella Jo hit the gas pedal, rushing him to the emergency room at St. John’s Hospital.
This was before the viaduct existed over the railroad tracks on Ohio Street.
Readers may recall that when driving to Salina one always left at least 30 minutes early as there was usually a train blocking the tracks on North Ohio.
Sure enough, that evening a train was heading down the tracks. Ella Jo beat that train, something ill-advised but probably life-saving for my friend.
(How far does it take a train to stop? About a mile.)
Seriously, I thought my friend was going to die.
Getting to the emergency room didn’t help and I am not sure why. He was treated with oxygen and breathing techniques. He survived.
I learned to skate backwards to the sound of Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline.”
“Good times never seemed so good.”