At The Roller Derby

The moon was full and the waves slipped softly against the stones of the seawall. The air was full of anticipation and longing as people thronged to the center of the hangar, eyes bright at the thought of the spectacle to come, the ancient drama of the thrill of triumph and the agony of defeat. It was a perfect night for roller derby.

“Come see the roller derby,” said the email. I didn’t have Saturday night plans and I always like hanging out with Amy and Erik, but I was a little trepidatious. I wasn’t really sure what roller derby entailed, for one thing, and reading the website didn’t really help me understand it very well. Okay, so there’s girls on skates, and obviously that’s great, and I guess they throw each other to the ground a lot? And they go around the rink real fast and they’re in teams and somehow they get points off one another and it’s the semifinals this weekend so let’s go! You know, sometimes you don’t need to know what something is to know it’s cool, right?

Roller derby turns out to have taken place in the same humungo hangar as the Thriller Dance last Halloween. I have to say the demographics of the audience were pretty similar as to that time, too. While there were definitely moms and grandparents and kids out to support their teams, the majority of the other people letting their butts fall asleep on the hard bleachers or the hard ground were just what you’d expect: tattooed hipsters with healthy senses of irony who are not usually into spectator sports as such. For this very reason I had worried about what to wear. I don’t really have anything cool enough to wear to the roller derby so I just wore a sleeveless shirt that I hoped would look sort of like a muscle tee and make me look tough. I’m not sure how that worked out, but of course I would have to be sitting next to a photographer for a national magazine looking like a dork. But more on that later.

Amy and Erik had got there super early to save seats for the rest of their friends, such is their enthusiasm for the roller derby, so I ended up sitting, seriously, right in the front row. As in, cross-legged on the floor by some bumper-type things that said “CRASH ZONE” or something. We got to see everything really clearly…which, uh, perhaps was wasted on us because even after an informational video we still didn’t get how exactly roller derby is played. We did get that there are three positions: blocker, jammer, and…uh, one more. Point, I think? I know some of them wore special helmets at certain points, but to be completely honest, I wasn’t too concerned with understanding the finer points of the game. I was primarily concerned with watching awesome girls skate around in cool costumes and kick some roller derby ass.

There were four teams playing: the Sockit Wenches vs. the Derby Liberation Front and then the Throttle Rockets vs. Grave Danger. We didn’t know anyone on any of the teams so first we rooted for the DLF (see, how cool were we with our team acronyms!) because they gave us shakers to shake and little flags to wave. We did sort of like the other team’s mascot (some sort of monkey dressed as Elvis, or something) better than our mascot, but that’s okay because our team was so awesome. Neither of the other two teams gave us anything so we decided to support the Throttle Rockets based on their cooler name and cooler costumes. Say what you will about our method of choosing teams, but obviously we were doing something right because both our picks won their…jams? I think? Their things where they compete against each other and there are referees blowing whistles and they score points. Look, if I got how scoring or whatever works in general I’d be a football fan, okay? All you have to know is that the Derby Liberation Front and the Throttle Rockets won their…things…and that they’ll be playing each other in the finals, for which I absolutely cannot wait.

These girls were so cool, and so tough. They all had badass names like Bruise Lee, Lady Die, Darth Skater, L’il Hateful, Ann Munition, and Astro Glide (my personal favorite) and they were all really fast and strong. I mean, obviously roller derby isn’t for shrinking violets of any description, but I was so impressed when they’d get knocked to the ground and eat it in a spectacularly thorough fashion and just get right back up, spit out a couple of teeth, let out a roar of fury, and get right back into it. They were hardcore. They were, simply, amazing athletes, and what’s more they almost all of them had really cool decoration on their helmets (my favorite was the one that had glued a Mohawk to hers) and fishnet stockings and cute little ruffly panties under their badass roller derby outfits. Even if you didn’t exactly understand what they were doing (again: not a fan of spectator sports! I make other people do the scoring at bowling! Leave me alone!) you could appreciate how hard they must train and how dedicated they are to their sport because several of them got neck and knee injuries in front of our eyes and all of them were covered in bruises, which is, I guess, one reason they all wear fancy stockings as they zoom around the rink and hip check each other illegally.

Roller derby brought some deeply hidden sides of Amy and myself out in the open…Erik and Scott and Not Martha were all having a good time too, clapping and cheering and throwing devil signs at each other and making “Can you believe how much this RULES?” faces at one another…but for Amy and I, I think, it was a little different. I mean, normally she’s a very sweet and gentle purse-maker by trade, and we all know that I’m very much a wuss who’s, like, trained in conflict mediation. All that was thrown aside during roller derby, where we found ourselves screaming “FINISH IT!” when the mascots started wrestling, and howling “BRING IT, ASTRO GLIDE!” whenever she scored a point or whatever. We waved our DLF bomb-shaped flags and shook our shakers for all we were worth. We did the wave and clapped really hard and booed the refs and just made complete fools of ourselves, so deep was our zeal.

The really weird part was that we sort of seemed to be the only ones going so insane. Every time we looked around at the rest of the audience, only we had mussed hair and red faces. I guess this is why the dude sitting next to us on the hard concrete floor, who just happened to be a photographer from ESPN Magazine, of all random things, got up and started taking all these pictures of us screaming our heads off. We talked to him for a while and told him how awesome the whole thing was and how probably no one either playing or watching had probably participated in any organized sports, in any way, ever, but that we appreciated that everyone was wearing funny costumes and that a drag queen sang (or, well, lip-synced) the national anthem. He was very nice and took our names and everything. I cannot imagine that there is any overlap between my readers and the readers of ESPN Magazine, but if by some miracle the Venn diagram thereof works out somehow, and you see a picture of a girl in a gray sleeveless top wearing stripey socks and hoop earrings with her mouth open real wide because she’s yelling so hard, would you let me know?

We had some thoughts about going to the afterparty, although we thought it would have been much better if they’d just made the rink into a dance floor afterwards, but of course we were tired after all that spectation, so we settled for a picture with one of our favorite skaters, Astro Glide, who was the nicest girl ever and gave us hugs and shrieked, in the midst of the exhilaration of winning her…uh, round?.. “THIS IS SO AWESOME! THIS IS WHAT HIGH SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE!” And really, I couldn’t agree more. I wish more things in general were like roller derby.

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