by Tom Swift

It was always the coldest arena in the county. And none of the Ramsey County rinks were what any person living outside of Siberia would consider warm. The joint wasn’t yet named after the late St. Paulite creator of the Peanuts. It was just Highland then. In my memory, we always got the 6 a.m. ice time at Highland. Which only served to make the place seem colder. It didn’t help that, even if you were the first car to arrive for that first ice time of the day, you could not park anywhere close to the front door, the parking lot set back and the entrance accessed only after you skated (skated before putting on your skates, that is) down a not-short concrete walkway. Once inside, there was little temperature difference, outside air to indoor arena. You wonder now why they even bothered with walls. The parents who sacrificed their mornings would keep their toes by huddling in the small rectangular warming area, near the “office” a chair behind a window on which sat the Zamboni driver and skate sharpener — and by a vending machine that served “warm” and cold beverages. I would not so much as sip coffee myself for another three-plus decades but in my memory I see the paper cup sitting there, a button pressed, a loud grinding noise, and, some minutes later, black stuff the color of motor oil whiz out. Oh, my, that must have been awful. But cheap! Of course, the mothers would take turns bringing portable pots and sleeves of Styrofoam cups. They had this chauffeuring thing down and never stopped taking us to these arenas all over the county that at that time all looked pretty much the same; concrete slabs with metal bars over the roofs. Highland was the furthest away from us in the northern suburbs. It would have taken 30-plus minutes, not including carpool stops, to get there. These days, I pass by the Highland Park Tower, an aesthetically appealing structure that belies the building, Highland Arena, that is tucked just beyond and beneath it, not infrequently. The other night my little buddy and I pulled over. It was a balmy night on which to conjure frozen memories. We lingered on the lawn at the edge of the golf course behind the rink. The arena itself was closed. That was OK. The part of what is locked behind the front door that I already want already is, and will forever be, inside me.