Reston, Virginia is what they call a planned community. If you've ever played SimCity, you'd recognize it instantly. Little clusters of multi-use areas -- residential, office, commercial -- all grouped close to each other, none dominating the others.
The city planners did this for a reason. You can get from pretty much any subdivision in Reston to the nearest, say, grocery store with just a short drive, or even a walk. But the density of the commercial and office spaces is low enough that traffic never gets that bad.
As with all general rules, though, there is one exception -- Reston Town Center. The sign boldly proclaims it to be "What Downtown Should Be." And, for the most part, it is. A ring of free garage parking surrounds about four square blocks of pleasant shops and restaurants, at the center of which lies a breathtaking fountain, topped by a winged Mercury statue, one that would look at home in any fountain of Rome.
But the best part -- the true gem -- is the ice skating rink directly across from the fountain. Roughly the shape of an oval -- 150 feet by 30 feet, with a clear canopy -- the rink resembles nothing so much as a large bandstand.
Which is what it is, during the summer. I've been to several big band concerts at the rink the past few years, which have each attracted probably hundreds of happy listeners. But, in the winter, the ice goes on and the zambonis come out. And the people come.
If life were a Hollywood movie, Reston would be called Pleasantville. The families here just have that look. And they're not all white, either, at least not so bad as in the movie. There are plenty of minorities -- mostly Asian and Hispanic -- out there on the ice, too.
But mostly, everyone is just fun to watch. During the weekend, there are dozens -- if not hundreds -- of people squeezed on the ice all day long.
There's the horde of little kids learning to skate for the first time. They use big white buckets to hold on to, some skating smoothly behind it, others, not so skilled, hanging on for dear life as their skates churn furiously on the ice.
Then there's the pee-wee hockey league players. You can tell these kids because they're wearing hockey skates, and usually the helmet and gloves, too. My favorite in the bunch was a kid -- he couldn't have been much older that 3 years old -- who I nicknamed "Dale Jr." That's because he had this bull-rushing, head-first style on the breakaway that made me think of Dale Hunter, the Washington Capital's former captain. Except on Hunter, it looked mean. On this kid, it was adorable.
There's also the usual assortment of couples holding hands, teenagers showing off, and people who -- like myself -- learned how to skate on rollerblades. You can always spot us because our primary method of stopping is to run into the wall.
But my favorite group would have to be what I call the "Suddenly Beautiful" skaters. It's a line from a Counting Crows song, and describes a dancer who becomes suddenly beautiful when doing what she loves. I like to think that everyone is suddenly beautiful at some point in their lives, and it feels like striking gold when I find it.
My wife's a good example. Now, she's a beautiful woman already, but there were lots of Beautiful People in the club where I first met her. But when my wife started telling me about donating a kidney to her mother -- something that was very meaningful and important to her -- her face just lit up and her beauty exploded in my heart forever. I was hooked.
Well, back at the rink there was this kid. About 13 or 14 years old, mildly androgynous, although I'm fairly certain he was male. A little chubby, a little awkward. He stood meekly a few paces to the outside of his friends as he duck-walked his way to the rink in his skates.
But, my goodness, was the boy something to see the second he hit the ice. No more hesitation, no more awkwardness. His graceful forward glide was just beautiful, and when he reversed to do that long, backwards arc, his skates just carved out these smooth, fluid back strokes. He even did a couple of jumps and spins for good measure.
And the whole time, this angelic smile graced his delicate features. It was enough to warm my heart on that sub-freezing day.