Almost like winter

Unfamiliar sights and experiences thrill and chill the kids.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2007

YBOR CITY - It's a wintry 80 degrees, so there's no ice on the ice rink. Instead the children skate on plastic, staggering in ragged circles under a tent while a loudspeaker blares Winter Wonderland.

Most of them have never been on skates before. Even the older kids are unsteady as toddlers, and afraid of the humiliation of falling.

There's no pity here at Santa Fest.

"If you fall, get up quickly please," a man says over the loudspeaker. "Get up and keep moving."

Adrianna Munch is 8, and her mother isn't holding her hand. Mom is outside the rink, taking pictures.

But Adrianna is not on her own. Her hand is enclosed in the hand of a stranger, and she's holding on to him for dear life.

This is Michael Newman, a tall, broad man with a gap-toothed smile. He works for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, and was tapped to be one of the faux-ice rink's escorts.

Some of the other escorts look bored, fed up, but not Newman. He's a lifeline for the little ones, the timid and the scared, wobbling on their unfamiliar blades.

He tries to talk to them, tells them his name, asks them about themselves. He wants them to feel safe with him.

With Adrianna, he's solemn, courtly. They could be at a cotillion.

She doesn't look at him. She looks down at her skates. Tiny steps. They circle the rink. Once, twice ... her grip loosens. Her head comes up.

There's a tiny bit of glide to her steps.

"Five minutes are up," the man says over the loudspeaker. Newman walks Adrianna over to the edge of the rink, and she lets go his hand with barely a glance, squirming past the other kids into the sunny afternoon, into the winter wonderland.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com 661-2442.