The Line - Jay McCo
by Jay McCoy
I’m not from Breathitt County. I’m from Perry County, born and raised in Hazard. My people come from Pike County. Yes, I’m from those infamous feuding McCoys, sixth generation. Most folks from eastern Kentucky have a connection to one feud or another; it’s part of who we are. It’s part of the landscape. We made our homes somewhere in between, between the creeks, between the ridges. We find our place, find ourselves in these valleys, up the hollers, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
I said I’m not from Breathitt County, but there was a place on the border between Perry County and Breathitt County that had an integral part in my upbringing. Set back off 15, you would catch the glow of this heavenly spot just above the treeline after you cleared the big curve and made that right turn onto the side road. The bright orange building came into view, bathed in a neon halo emanating from the flowing cursive logo sign next to the entrance.
Before Fugate’s was a waterpark or an entertainment center or a cinema complex, it was a roller rink. That orange building off 15, unassuming enough in the daylight, came to life when the sun went down. In the 80’s, Fugate’s Roller Rink was a beacon for kids in the area. As the gravel lot filled with cars and trucks of high school students, the line of mom and dad cars dropping off loads of middle schoolers grew. At Fugate’s, my social circle expanded beyond Hazard High School; I soon had friends who attended Breathitt County, M. C. Napier, even Leslie County.
When you went through the double glass doors, as you adjusted to the inevitable temperature change, you would make your way to the lockers to stake out your space and find your friends or you would fall in line at the skate rental counter to get your wheels for the night.
When I first started skating, I didn’t have my own skates. I rented. I rented those worn brown high boot skates with the orange wheels and worn toe-stops. Some of my friends who didn’t own their skates tried to hide their rental status with skate covers. You could keep it simple and cheap with the black ones that sufficiently disguised the tell-tale brown boot and usually sat at the low end of the cost spectrum. Or you could go fancy with sequins or paisleys or some other pattern and distract judgement with glittery distraction.
Early on, I often arrived before the DJ even dropped the first record and stayed until he spun the final tune. These decisions were out of my control when my parents dropped me off or I caught a ride with a friend. By my senior year, I could arrive after the lights lowered and the music started, but not as late as the first call change. You needed to be seen.
The night always began with a free skate. Everyone entered from the platform area. You all went clockwise around the floor and kept pace with those around you. The refs and renegades would watch from the center, only entering the flow to help someone up or show off their skills.
Over the years, you made new friends and lost some old ones. Folks came and went. Who you were would evolve every weekend. You pair up and skate with someone new or skate with who brought you. It could get complicated, but, most often, it came down to who was dating whom at the time or just who drove that night.
During the winter of my sophomore year, I got a pair of speed skates. I don’t recall if they were a birthday or Christmas gift. I only remember my excitement opening that package: pulling back the wisps of tissue paper to reveal those black low-tops with white stripes that suggested a popular athletic brand. This was the 80’s, so they were the quad-style, not your inline skates of today. My parents made sure they included an extra set of wheels and toe-stop. The ones that came with the skates were red as M. C. Napier. The extras were blue, a bright blue, more Breathitt County than Hazard. They gave me options.
The call for reverse skate was polarizing. Some people just couldn’t make the switch to go counterclockwise. Those folks took an opportunity to take a break at the food counter. Grab a fountain Coke and nachos or some candy. Others made it an event. A group of us would try to skate backwards for the entire time. Sometimes you have to change your perspective.
The night always ended the same, as expected as the recessional hymn. The flow returned to clockwise and to free skate. You may have gone to a corner for some circle spins or just to chat. You might get up the courage to stop in the center and chat with the refs and renegades. Maybe you were a ref or renegade. You may have headed to the booths around the food counter and made plans with friends to meet at the upcoming basketball game or football game. Whatever you did for the first few songs after reverse skate, you knew that when you heard Donna Summers’ swirling vocals beginning “Last Dance,” you needed to get out there. It was your last chance, your last skate. At least for that night.
What did you enjoy doing when you were younger? What are some favorites places from your youth? How did those places help you define who you are today?
Jay McCoy is a Lexington-based poet and visual artist with deep roots in Eastern Kentucky. Currently, he fills his days as a contract editor, writer, bookseller, and writing instructor.
This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at www.ideasxlab.com/ourbreathitt.