It's been a while since the city's heard from me in large format and that's not accidental. When you think Carlos the Rollerblader, you might think of the Free Advice Hotline, my standup comedy, Magic Mondays or me getting annually sonned by the Unipiper in this paper's Best of Portland polls. I'm also hard to miss on the streets—skating jubilantly, clad in pink, with more groove than Bootsy. Lately though, I've been putting my efforts into opening Disco's Skate Shop, which will be Portland's sole rollerblading-centric shop. We'll have quad skates, classes and even strollers! But we'll talk about that more at a later date.
And if you've never heard of me at all before right now, that's completely OK—I just want to talk about rollerblading real quick.
It's not lost on me that we're coming up on a year of living and dying (and skating) with COVID-19, which makes writing this that much more salient. I actually attempted to submit this piece in the late summer—somewhere between federal occupation and the fires—but found myself distinctly unable to find the kind of peace I'd hope to describe because of how compromised my safety felt when I left my home. My life is already threatened in several ways without the pandemic, so in this new world, I go to even greater lengths to soothe and regulate myself.
There have been several moments in the past year, both personally and universally, that have felt like The End. But if the end is really nigh, then I'm not actually fighting it. I'm instead trying to experience as much joy as I can get my hands on, amidst the loudness of the world. Sometimes, that means just throwing it all in the street. Sometimes, you have to max out on the noise instead of trying to drown it out or ignore it.
And sometimes, you just need to leave the house with nothing in your pockets but a phone and an Allen wrench.
Skating is essentially a full-time, full-contact kind of activity that scratches all the main sensory itches in one fell swoop, all while inherently being a great aerobic exercise. I won't even lie to you: My ideal outing doesn't include pads, a helmet or even headphones. I won't recommend that you follow my example, but the point remains: When I go out, I want to be open to every single, accessible thing. The more I accept, the better my odds of survival.
Being that tuned in means my body is acting as a giant conduit—wheels on my literal feet, hyper-stimulated, aware of every moving and audible object nearby. Being that exposed to the cityscape means being optimally careful about who or what is around me, so that I don't get myself or anybody else hurt. Understanding body language and microexpression is an essential part of playing it safe. If anyone knows the risks of distracted movement, it's me: having to avoid your averted heads on the sidewalk, or drivers more interested in Facebook than the road.
Accommodating for the general human experience is a constant part of my ride, giving me great opportunities to practice compassion, patience and observation for my fellow Portlander. But also: kindly pay attention and please get the fuck out of my way—you're ruining my line.
At no point, though, does it feel overwhelming to be courted by that much stimuli. It's actually quite comforting! The most satisfying thing about rollerblading is the purity of city noise, the ever-present combination of everything happening at once all around me. The sounds of the city—sirens, voices, chimes, exhaust pipes, phone vibrations, construction, wheels on the asphalt, my own breathing, helicopters, fireworks, crosswalk indicators, children shouting, trucks reversing, bridges raising, car radios, bluetooth speakers, airpod yuppies, etc.—coalesce into a single hum, akin to mixing all colors to make black pigment. That becomes a unique soundtrack of pure kinetic energy that gives me all the information I need to enjoy my skate and make it home safely.
Of course, it's not just about listening, watching and making it home all hunky-dory. I still have to contend with varied human experiences on the street, navigating the quirks of the city, doing field repairs, documenting my rides, adjusting my facemask, deciding what to do with found items or deciding how I'll respond to being asked, "Have you ever seen Brink?" for the sixth time that day.
It's all worth it, though. The amount that I can learn about the city and it's people in a half-hour skate is absolutely incredible. The list of tiny dogs that absolutely hate my skates is ever growing. The pool of gratitude that I have to my wheely boots is absolutely endless.
Honestly, if there's one thing I think other people should learn, it's how to skate. Maybe you'd get a peace, too.
Carlos the Rollerblader
Carlos the Rollerblader’s Recommended Portland Skate Spots
Inner Southwest Portland
The combination the mini-city-grid, lower motorist count, pedestrian-only bridge and newly paved everything make for a scene where every kind of skater can get their kicks.
The Entire Rose City Golf Course Area
Great for full-stride, big-wheel and even casual group skates, complete with 72nd Drive's hidden, steep and thrillingly short hill leading into the course.
N Willamette and Greeley
Travel south from University of Portland down to Going and you will have a new appreciation for Inner North Portland. This is strictly for experts: The speed you catch will make you cry.