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11 Things You Might Not Know About Roller Skates

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ThinkStock

It’s summertime, and at many points over the past few centuries, that was the only reason necessary to strap on some roller skates. Though it’s a sport and leisure activity that in this century has largely been replaced by other pastimes, roller skating has enjoyed some notable moments in history.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A VERY DRAMATIC ENTRANCE

The first recorded roller skate inventor, John Joseph Merlin, originally of Belgium, decided to debut his metal-wheeled roller skates at a fancy masquerade party in London in 1760. Merlin’s plan was to suavely skate into the salon while simultaneously playing a violin. Unfortunately, Merlin hadn’t practiced skating much prior to the soiree, nor were his skates engineered for turning. Merlin ended up crashing into a large mirror and suffering serious physical injuries, though his pride might have been the part of him most severely bruised.

2. “TRUCKS” CHANGED EVERYTHING

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Roller Skating

Though many more inventors would create their own versions of the roller skate over the next century, it wasn’t until 1863, when James Plimpton tried his hand at this whole roller-skate-inventing thing, that there came into existence a skate actually capable of turning. Plimpton’s four-wheeled skate made use of springy carriages called trucks that allowed the skater to turn by leaning in the direction of travel. Plimpton built a roller rink in his New York furniture-business office, and he also established the New York Roller Skating Association to promote skating.

3. ROLLER SKATING’S POPULARITY IS LIKE A ROLLER COASTER

Roller skating tends to have its heydays and its fallow eras. Though the 1970s may be thought of as the most famous roller skating decade, the early 1900s experienced its own roller skating craze. In 1905, roller skating rinks opened in cities on the East Coast, and skating was often chosen over dancing and other types of entertainment. The craze then snaked its way across the Heartland and to major cities on the West Coast. By 1906, newspapers were running trend pieces about roller skating fashions. Then, in 1916, Charlie Chaplin starred in The Rink, the first movie about roller skating (above).

4. PEOPLE GOT MARRIED ON ROLLER SKATES

The first recorded marriage on roller skates took place in 1912 in Milwaukee between a Miss Hattie Baldwin and a Mr. W. McGrath, according to the National Museum of Roller Skating. And, yes, there is a National Museum of Roller Skating. It’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, and it recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

5. SKATES MADE SERVING FOOD EASIER—OR AT LEAST MORE FUN

In the 1950s and early ‘60s, the roller skating carhop was a ubiquitous sight at drive-ins. Movies like American Graffiti and TV shows like Happy Days further solidified the carhop’s place in American pop culture. Roller skating carhops still exist today, and the Sonic restaurant chain hosts an annual event called the Sonic Skate-Off, a competition to find the most skillful skating carhop from its 3,500 drive-ins nationwide.

6. SWAGGER WAS OFTEN INVOLVED

At the height of the 1970s roller revolution, each major American city developed its own skate style, though some styles were more distinctive than others. Chicago especially became known as a roller skating city and became famous for JB skating, which borrowed many of its intricate moves from the Godfather of Soul (“JB” is said to be an abbreviation for “James Brown.”) Fancy footwork and standing dance routines are hallmarks of the JB style, and a well-known move is aptly called the “Crazy Leg.” The JB style is still practiced on Chicago skating rinks today.

7. CHER WAS HIP TO THE ROLLER CRAZE

In 1979, Cher released a song called “Hell on Wheels.” The accompanying video was one of the very first modern, MTV-style music videos. It features an interesting mix of truck drivers, bikers, and Cher on roller skates wearing a zebra-print jumpsuit.

8. AND SO WAS PATRICK SWAYZE

Before he was Johnny of nobody-puts-Baby-in-a-corner fame, Patrick Swayze made his big-screen debut as Ace in 1979’s Skatetown USA. Dubbed “The Rock and Roller Disco Movie of the Year,” the film also starred Scott Baio and The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick. In the clip above, you can see Swayze as Ace, using his belt as an imaginative prop in a roller disco contest.

9. SOMEWHAT SURPRISINGLY, EVEN THE AMISH ROLLER SKATE

The Amish typically eschew technology and complicated machinery in favor of a very simple life. Cars, motorcycles, and even bikes are forbidden modes of transportation, but roller skates have been used for decades in Amish communities. In the 1990s, however, in the middle of the Rollerblade craze, the New York Times reported that though the Amish youth had adopted inline skates as transportation, only a third of Amish congregations had approved their use. Some of the elders were concerned that Rollerblades, which were able to achieve greater speeds than roller skates, could dilute the Amish no-frills lifestyle.

10. THE ROLLER SKATE STILL INSPIRES PARADES

The largest parade of roller skaters took place in Paris on June 15, 2008, according to Guinness World Records. The parade consisted of 1188 participants who skated for 12.68 miles.

11. AND IT WEATHERS NATURAL DISASTERS

Once a mecca of roller skating, New York City now has only one remaining indoor roller rink, RollerJam USA on Staten Island (though another makeshift rink operates out of a gym in Brooklyn). RollerJam USA was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy, and for a while it looked as though New York’s rink count would be reduced to zero.

It took $750,000 and six months of extensive repairs to finally reopen the rink this past spring, according to RollerJam USA’s owner Joe Costa. “It was worth it,” Costa says. “There’s still this whole underground skating community that you wouldn’t even know exists—people from the ‘70s who are still doing it. And there’s a new generation that’s definitely getting interested in roller skating. Gliding on skates to the music—there’s no feeling like it.”

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ
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20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer
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They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]

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