When the Weather Gets Tough

Throw away the Sorels, wipe the Vaseline off your face, and get the hell inside

Rollerdome. The name sounds far sexier than what it is: church youth groups cruising the perimeter of the Metrodome on inline skates. Scout leaders hastily stow discarded sneakers, as solicitous parents affix helmets to prepubescent speed demons on the cordoned-off strip of folding chairs that serves as a chaotic home base for these impatient souls.

Separated by gender, packs of rugrats sail past the closed concessions and barricaded bathrooms, giggles rising and falling as they jockey for position. There are exceptions: a gangly gentleman swaddled in protective equipment teetering proudly in the slow lane, the hems of his jeans skimming clunky rental skates; a skilled young couple who periodically move to the side for make-out breaks; a more seasoned pair who exchange saliva in motion. A Ricky Martin hit emanating from shoddy speakers heightens the self-conscious vibe. While a cluster of sixth-grade girls flaunt their Bonnie Blair moves, arms flawlessly extended and scrunchies bobbing rhythmically, a diminutive Webelo in full regalia hugs the outer wall, determined to master the sport before the spring thaw.

Hipster attitude is in short supply, but those who skate competitively--easily identified by their Nike leggings and T-shirts touting inline-skate tournaments--aren't above a little trash talk. "The first year I trained," a young woman brags to a future opponent as they inhale the contents of their sports bottles, "they paired me with a guy in his sixties. We shaved ten seconds off our best times within a week."

 

THERE'S NOTHING like the caustic vapors of chlorine to conjure up memories of summer. As the chemical begins its assault on the mucous membranes, the crowded community pool, the lifeguard's whistle, the disturbingly warm water, all come into sensual focus. The locker room at Shoreview, home of Tropics Indoor Waterpark, harbors the dank, seasonal aroma of chlorinated hair and swimsuits. Five grade-school girls frolic in the showers, debating the merits of the (babyish) one-piece versus the (preteenish) bikini. "She's got the urge," they shriek in unison as they pass the shampoo, "the urrrrrrge to herbal!"

Though the three-story waterslide is the park's most impressive feature, the shallow end of the pool is the place to see and be seen, for it's here that the pasty-skinned parents, while patiently applauding their progeny's underwater handstands and backward somersaults, silently compare their post-holiday thighs with those of their peers.

Elsewhere, pent-up hyperactivity is brutally released on an inflatable dolphin, as a pert young Baywatch wannabe separates the vinyl mammal from its two small torturers seconds before the surrounding water becomes frothy chowder. The cool dads congregate in the "deep" end, engaging in a rousing round of Marco Polo as lanky boys in last year's trunks attempt a variety of contorted waterslide-riding positions, testing the laws of physics.

The scene at the 18-and-over-only "sun deck" is quiet and mysterious. Even at 8:00 p.m., with several inches of glass skylight separating mature parkgoers from UV radiation, a few bodies repose on plastic chaise longues. A couple of toned twentysomethings gaze infrequently out at the water, making sure their charges are still breathing. One slowly adjusts her maillot, angling herself toward a hirsute man in the cloverleaf-shape hot tub. Interrupting the adults-only placidity, a stocky matriarch marches out to the pool, extracting children by their elbows and bellowing the dreaded phrase: "It's bedtime!"

 

A SURPRISING NUMBER of Minnesotans spend half a century banally laboring in the hope that they'll be able to live out their dotage playing golf. The Xanadu for these hardworking linksters: the Braemar Golf Dome in Edina. Even in midafternoon the Golf Dome's parking lot is nearly full of BMWs and Land Cruisers, disgorging impatient men in Polartec vests and dress shirts, cell phones in one hand, Titleists in the other. Their slightly unkempt coevals--between jobs, perhaps?--take their time, leaning against Tauruses and Cavaliers, finishing cigarettes.

Inside the air is intoxicatingly thick--a byproduct of filling an enclosed space with an excess of people who are "in the zone." This is pure fun for grownups, dispensed at a price of less than ten bucks a bucket. Senior citizens, Sansabelt slacks hoisted chest-high, exhibit the same smile of pleasure/furrowed brow you see in preschoolers who've mastered the art of simultaneously patting the head and rubbing the belly. Two gentlemen in warm-up suits straight out of The Sopranos snag nonadjacent spaces, then run back and forth like schoolchildren, teasing one another about their mutual wicked slices. Nearly everyone takes a covert glance or two down the row, hoping to pick up pointers or boost self-esteem, but everyone, the retired and the self-employed alike, savors each stroke.

A teenage boy in a letter jacket stumbles in, Edina's answer to Earl Woods close behind. Other students follow. The median age begins to drop, the population becomes more diverse as daylight wanes. Amid the passion for indoor pursuits, the passing of winter almost seems crueler than any meteorological punishment.

 
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