National Sculpture Garden: Skate At Your Own Risk


I thought ice skating on the National Mall was supposed to be fun. Funny is more like it. Real funny. Why? Because everything that could’ve gone wrong did.

My friend had entrusted me with the plan making for the evening. It was Saturday night. During the winter. “What could be better than ice skating in the National Sculpture Garden?” I thought. I quickly learned — anything else is apparently BETTER — but I wouldn’t have traded the night for anything else.

Overall, I’d say the evening was an epic failure. We stood in line for 40 minutes only to find out that the Pavilion Café was out of hot chocolate. (Who runs out of hot chocolate when you know that’s pretty much ALL you sell from November to March?) Then, in the grand attempt to find hot chocolate via the iPhone map app, we were led to a McDonald’s that was nowhere to be found. After a bit of research,I now know it exists. Sadly, it’s inside the Air & Space Museum and not on the corner of 7th and Independence like the iPhone said it was. Bah humbug I say! Shame on you, iPhone, for killing any holiday spirit we had left.

And then we met the “Skate Master.” Yes, that’s right, the Skate Master.


We returned to the ice rink with no hot chocolate in hand only to find that a new line had formed. This was no ordinary line. It was a melting-pot mosh-pit of people gazing up at the self-proclaimed Skate Master holding out for a chance to grab their pair of skates. The guy was offering up pairs as if he were an auctioneer, yelling out sizes and handing them out on a “first yell, first serve” basis as folks came off the ice from the previous session.

At least we didn’t have to pay the additional $3 skate rental fee (and if we had to, we definitely didn’t). I’ve only skated at the National Mall three times in the four and a half years I’ve lived in DC. And two of those three times, I’ve paid $10 to rent skates and slide around the oval rink for two-hours a pop. This time, I only dropped $7. Not too shabby.


Once the two-hour skating session began, the night was looking up a bit. A few laps here, a few laps there — we were semi-content with our evening’s choice of entertainment. But of course, we spoke too soon.

Three songs into the night, the music stopped. This left the following sounds: “grumble grumble”, “mumble mumble”, “shreeeeky shreek”, and “THUD” for our ears to consume. I felt trapped inside a fish bowl while several hundred people on the outside were starting at me with a prodding finger.

If the session before 9 pm can have 50′s rock, why the hell couldn’t we? Several thuds, shreeks, and mumble-grumble’s later, it was time for the session break. Now usually I love watching the Zamboni. I can’t explain why — though I think it has something to do with my family going ice skating almost every Sunday night when I was a kid. Feels like home somehow. But this time I watched with a dropped jaw. The Zamboni man rushed the job while one of the rink workers decided to pull a Michael J. Fox circa Back to the Future by holding onto the Zamboni’s backside, skating around the freshly smoothed ice. If you ask me (and anyone else who was standing near me at the time), that defeats the purpose.

That’s not to mention that my friend’s skate laces broke while he tried to retie them. I assure you this was not a man-strength mishap, but rather cheap laces failing on us.


Alas — the night wasn’t all bad. Sure, there was no hot chocolate and the place was packed full of high schoolers who were pushing each other down every two minutes. I went into the night thinking, “Gee, shucks, this’ll be some good-ol’,clichéd, wholesome American fun.” I didn’t get my cliché. I got something better. A night full of mishaps to look back on and laugh.

You win some, you lose some — but Saturday night … I’d say victory was ours … and that’s despite the fact my activity planning privileges are now revoked.

All photos by Rachel Levitin.

Rachel moved to DC in the fall of 2005 to study Journalism and Music at American University. When she’s not keeping up with the latest Major League Baseball news, she works on making music as an accomplished singer-songwriter and was even a featured performer/speaker at TEDxDupont Circle in 2012. Rachel has also contributed to The Washington Examiner and MASN Sports’ Nationals Buzz as a guest blogger. See why she loves DC. E-Mail:

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4 thoughts on “National Sculpture Garden: Skate At Your Own Risk

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