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A normal Wednesday night in NYC: Hundreds of inline skaters hit the streets weekly

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

On a hot and humid night in New York City, reporter Austin Cope caught up with a mass of people gathered at one edge of Central Park. They were partway through a 10-mile trip through Manhattan and were wearing flashing lights, bright colors and roller blades.

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL GREBINSKY: All right, skaters, follow your leader. Let's go. This way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FANTASY")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) ...Fantasy...

AUSTIN COPE, BYLINE: The group spreads out along Fifth Avenue like a giant amoeba. Around 250 skaters are weaving between cars, jumping on and off sidewalks, and leaping over utility pole covers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKATER LANDING)

COPE: Drivers slow down as they're briefly engulfed. Pedestrians stare while the group flies past. Volunteer Michael Grebinsky is holding a megaphone.

GREBINSKY: Today, I'm the sweep, so I make sure that nobody left behind. And when people cannot get by, I politely suggest to them that they stay back and go to Union Square, where we're going to come back. People tend to listen.

All right, guys, let's go, let's go.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR BRAKING)

GREBINSKY: Go.

COPE: I skate up alongside Alizarin Waissberg. She has on a bright purple helmet with pink silicone spikes. LEDs run down her arms and legs, and her skates' wheels are glowing, too.

ALIZARIN WAISSBERG: There is a massive group of sweaty skaters riding down by Central Park in New York City. And now we're going downhill, so it's the best moment of skating when you don't need to do nothing with your feet. Just let the incline take you further. It's great.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREBINSKY: Get away from the...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR TIRES SCREECHING, PEOPLE CHEERING)

COPE: Going under an overpass. There's a car coming the opposite way. The people - it's slowing down - people are moving into the right lane.

My name's Austin. Sorry.

NAOMI ADAMS: All good.

COPE: I'm...

(SOUNDBITE OF SKATERS COLLIDING)

COPE: Oh, jeez. You OK?

ADAMS: No, it's fine.

COPE: Sorry, go ahead. It's kind of dark.

ADAMS: If you're, like...

COPE: Naomi Adams and I have just gotten squeezed between a couple moving cars. After we catch our balance, she says she found out about this group on Instagram and is here for the first time.

ADAMS: I go to rinks and I skate in the street, but never anything like this. This is, like, different experience for New York City. It's insane. I love the dodging in between cars, making sure we're jumping over the cracks in the hard streets of New York City, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SKATE WHEELS SPINNING)

COPE: Each Wednesday in the summer, this group takes a new route. Organizer Arnav Shah says these meetings have been happening since the late '90s, but attendance dropped in the 2000s. He says it's been coming back steadily over the past decade, but COVID-19 has gotten more people into it.

ARNAV SHAH: This pandemic - people had nothing better to do, and they're like, you know what? That thing I've been putting off that actually might be the best thing you might do for yourself - skating? That's what I'm going to do now.

COPE: For NPR News, I'm Austin Cope in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEN SONG, "STEAL MY SUNSHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Austin Cope