Adult ice skaters enjoy child-free nights at rink As many as 500 turn out for events

March 30, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Two nights a month this winter at the Columbia Ice Rink, kid-sized rental skates sat idle and scarcely a soul under 5 feet tall hit the ice.

In the sometimes child-obsessed planned community, adult night at the rink has been one of the most popular grown-up entertainment venues -- precisely because everyone under age 21 was stopped at the door.

"We're a very youth-oriented town," says Bob Eckhoff, manager. "This is a little different. You don't have the little guys scooting around every which way. This gives folks a chance to get out and not have kiddies underfoot."

Columbia may be the region's most family-friendly community; the town's symbol is a People Tree -- as in raising people. But for more than 10 years, hundreds of adults have been showing up for the child-free zone of adult nights -- parents fleeing their children and singles looking for a wholesome place to hang out.

"We just left them home and said, 'Fend for yourselves,' " Susan Gorham, a Columbia accountant, said of her teen-age son and daughter one night this month at the rink.

"Sometimes it's nice just to get away and be with grown-ups and have a real conversation, you know? Around here, that's a major accomplishment."

On the ice, couples skate slowly hand in hand and solo skaters cruise by gracefully, their hands clasped behind their backs. The fast-moving, agile children who often bob and weave through ice rinks or hotshot in the middle of the ice are nowhere to be seen -- much to the relief of some grown-ups.

"Frankly, there aren't that many places to go if you want to get out and do more than just have dinner and a movie," says Susan Gorham's husband, Donald Gorham, a 41-year-old engineer. "This is good, clean, cheap fun."

Skaters come from all over the Baltimore area, Eckhoff says, and turnout sometimes tops 500.

At the ice rink in Columbia's Oakland Mills village, adult night occurs the first and third Saturdays of each month from September through March. The last one of the season was March 15. Keg beer and wine are sold near the skate rental counter, and the doors stay open until 1 a.m.

The ice rink is mostly used for children's figure skating and ice hockey leagues. "Adult night came out of the fact that parents were here all the time with their kids but never got to skate," Eckhoff says.

At one adult night this month, a half-dozen members of the Baltimore Tall Club turned up. They stand at least 5 feet, 10 inches tall and say it's a great relief to hit the ice without having to worry about skirting tiny skaters.

Another night, the Gorhams skated, their arms entwined, to the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and other examples of what they consider real music -- i.e., few 1990s tunes. Normally, skaters say, the ice rink's music is dictated by the tastes of the very young -- hip hop, rap and new-style rock.

Frequent requests during adult night include Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" and "Hotel California" by the Eagles.

Theresa and Paul Murphy of Catonsville admit with a blush that the evening constitutes an actual date for them -- something for which they don't often have time, they say.

The couple left two children at home with a baby sitter -- another spent the evening at a friend's house -- so they could join three neighborhood friends for adult night this month.

"This is lots of fun," says Theresa Murphy, a Columbia office manager. "I like watching people, and it's great to have the ice all to ourselves."

Although married couples turn out in big numbers, they share the ice with a good number of singles, who say they like the chance to meet new people in an easygoing atmosphere.

"My daughter's at home with my mom, so here I am," says Dawn Eckes-Warner of Ellicott City, an insurance adjuster and single mother who has been going for three years. "It's active, there's no smoke and it's a good way to meet people without going to a bar. I'm here every time."

While ice rink employees brushed the ice halfway through a recent adult night, Eckes-Warner shared a beer with friends and extolled the virtues of skating without youngsters.

"No kids -- no whining kids," says her friend, Danny Mahoney. "It's great.

"Plus," says the heating and air-conditioning repairman from Gaithersburg, "there's no other place around where you can drink beer and skate."

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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