Evan Zippert has fallen and he can't get up.
Actually, he could rise to his feet if he wanted to, but for just a moment it seems like a splendid idea to lie here, belly down, in a Santa red jacket and matching hat. The 4-year-old from Reisterstown surrenders to the Rash Field ice rink, one double-bladed skate skittering away from him as he sprawls contentedly, indifferent to the skaters he has forced into arm-windmilling detours around him.
Hundreds have surrendered to Rash Field this week, drawn by the panoramic view of downtown and the Inner Harbor. It's as if you're inside one of those little snow globes, just waiting to be shaken. The view is even nice at ankle level, which is where a lot of novice skaters find themselves from time to time.
"It just isn't skating if it isn't outdoors," asserts Evan's mother, Kim, who grew up in Maine and never had to worry if winter would provide the temperatures necessary for outdoor skating.
Look, no one wants to slight the indoor rinks throughout the area, open and accommodating no matter the weather conditions, and minus the stinging winds. And no one wants to blight the memories of those old-timers who remember skating outside Memorial Stadium, or on the ponds along the Gwynn Falls and the "lakes" of Homeland.
But when was the last time the city had the kind of long, hard freeze necessary to make pond skating safe? And where else could you see the city's skyline as you circle endlessly in the shadow of Federal Hill? In the week between Christmas and New Year's, these elements are helping to make Rash Field a new holiday tradition.
"This is a beautiful place to skate," declares Mike Kelbaugh of Parkton, here with grandson Kirby. Once upon a time, Kirby's father taught Mr. Kelbaugh to skate. Now Kirby, just 6, is %J showing his grandfather a few moves.
"I tried skating at the stadium, about 100 years ago, but it was nothing like this. And now ponds don't seem to freeze," Mr. Kelbaugh says. "So we come here every Christmas."
Baltimore teacher Rolmarc A. Carter has come here with his fiancee, Howard County teacher Linda Jones, and one of her students, Daneeka Griffin.
"It's cheaper than a movie, and given the kind of movies they make these days, this is better," Mr. Carter says.
And you don't have to be an experienced skater, or even own a pair of skates, judging by the large number of brown rental boots on the ice. Look at Gabriel Vera, who moved to Baltimore from his native Mexico eight months ago. There he is, inching along the white railing with his wife, Denise, who's trying to remember the moves she practiced on the pond near her parents' Pennsylvania farm almost 20 years ago.
The couple has spent the last three years living in Cancun, so doing anything outside in the winter takes a certain amount of fortitude for them.
"It's cold enough for us," Ms. Vera says. "Cold enough," echoes her husband.
This year, the rink's November opening was actually delayed because of unseasonably warm weather. But that's not a problem this week. The wind is so strong it can blow an adult from one end of the rink to another. And when skaters head upwind, they need all the power their quadriceps can muster. (That's thigh muscles to the rest of you, those not likely to be found at the center of the ice, wearing only a sweater and leggings as you twirl in your own private Olympics.)
The day-time crowd is thickest at noon, says rink guard Brian Brune, and evenings are more popular still. Yet the ice doesn't seem crowded, and spectators -- who watch from the heated shelter of a tent -- say the lines at the concession stand are surprisingly short.
On the ice, the crowd is truly multicultural -- black, white, Asian, Latino, even a 6-foot penguin, the rink's costumed mascot. Tiny children skate alongside their grandparents, teen-agers dart in and out, young couples skate hand in hand. The skaters come from all over the metropolitan area -- Reisterstown, Catonsville, Curtis Bay, Patterson Park, Brooklyn, Southwest Baltimore, East Baltimore.
You can smash a few gender stereotypes here, too. Meet best friends Jessie Shedlock and Brittany Bauhaus, both of Catonsville, who started hockey lessons this year at Northwest Family Sports Center in Mount Washington. Avid sports fans -- Jessie is decked out in a Kansas City Chiefs jacket, Brittany is paying sartorial homage to the Charlotte Hornets -- they chase Jessie's cousins, Mike Shedlock and Kirk Leister, around the ice.
They like Rash Field, they explain in between sprints and pounding on the boys. Their only complaint is the music, with its emphasis on songs like "Son of a Preacher Man" and recent hits by the likes of Billy Joel and Celine Dion.
What would they play instead? "Oh, Offspring, Metallica, Green Day," offers Jessie, a fifth-grader. Meanwhile, sixth-grader Brittany confides her ambition to pilot the Zamboni -- right through the railing and into the Inner Harbor. Hmmm. You might want to give these girls a little space.
Devin Peckoo, 8, skating for the first time in his life, has quickly gotten the hang of things.
"At first, the penguin taught me," he says, referring to the rink's mascot. "He was holding my hand, and he just let go." Now Devin falls about as often as his father, Dave, a city homicide detective, whose day job suddenly looks much safer. Then again, Mr. Peckoo doesn't have Devin's extensive experience on in-line skates.
The skating penguin offers his flipper to Evan Zippert, but Evan doesn't need any help. "I'm a good skater," he says with great confidence, the kind of confidence born of having your mom a few steps behind you, ready to pick you up. Boom, he's down, and here comes Kim Zippert to the rescue. And he's up again, working across the ice in a dogged fashion that owes less to Brian Boitano than it does to the final leg of the Iditarod.
So maybe it's not "It's a Wonderful Life." But it's a pretty good one, at least for two hours. Especially if you get hot chocolate.