Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Red Hot and Rollin'...

It's almost midnight and I just got back from work. Just. Having started work at four this morning.

Summer can get a bit hectic in this business.

But I didn't actually post this to talk about that.

What I wanted to talk about was two weekends ago and the Rose City Rollers' Season 7 Championships. Because it was my very first time as a volunteer for the gals from The Hangar.

I think I've mentioned before that I love our Rollers in particular and the flat-track rollergirls in general. I love that they play their sport for themselves, and for those who love it and not for money or glory. I love the "do-it-yourself" ethic that is steeped into the Derby, and the oddball combination of rockers, hipsters, working janes and their joes, jockettes, and wild women that make up the four teams that make up the Derby scene here in Portland.

(By the way - I want to apologize for how this post and the preceding ones look. For some reason the fucking photo uploader at Blogger is now left-justifying all the photos. I've repeatedly told it to put them in the center, or on the right margin, but no. Left, ever to the left, never to the right, forever to the left. Thanks, Blogger; you screwed that pooch. Again)
Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

Anyway, so the way the Derby here works - and, I assume, it works the same way in most big cities - is that we have a local Derby "season" that involves the four teams in our Rose City league. The Guns n' Rollers, Breakneck Betties, Heartless Heathers, and High Rollers play each other through the winter and spring to determine the local bragging rights.

But...we also have am all-star/travel team composed of the best skaters in all four local teams (well, actually, we have TWO travel teams, a "B" team - the Axles of Annihilation - and the "A" team, the Wheels of Justice). The Wheels represent Portland in derby across the country and were good enough to go to nationals this past season. These gals kick ass like crazy monkeys.

But this wasn't about clobbering the soggy wenches from Rat City (boooo!) but local pride and the honor of the Rollers' seventh season title.

And to make it more fun, the bouts were at the old Memorial Coliseum down in Albina. The Mem is a real white elephant from the days before naming rights and luxury boxes. It's basically a ginormous concrete bowl inside a ginormouser glass box. It has all the charm of a 170-pound blocker elbowing you in the face, and all the elegance of a San Diego Emergency Room on a busy Saturday night when the Fleet is in town.

What can I say? I like the old barn.

So it was in mid-afternoon on Saturday when about thirty of us slipped, stumbled, stumped, or wandered into the windowless room down in the lower level of the Coliseum to meet with the volunteer organizers. As a group we were distinctive as individuals.

Some of the volunteers were very obviously skaters, retired skaters, or young women skating for the junior team (the Rosebuds). A handful were older guys ranging from some rakish pirates who had clearly spent years keeping Portland weird to whitebred me, a guy who clearly had a day job and wore deck shoes to the Derby. One youngish guy with a shaved head and less than half his left arm was introduced as a derby official whose derby name was "Bandit".

These two were the Cute Couple, but in derby fashion. They were both painfully skinny, quiet, and introverted. He looked about fifteen and was beyond quiet - he may have possibly said eight words I could actually hear, and she spent most of the evening doing everything but talking to him. They weren't "couply" most of the night in most of the conventional ways that people are. But during the pre-bout briefing when she thought nobody was watching she skootched up next to him and gently rested her bare feet on his legs.

The coordinators made it clear that we were NOT bouncers; any trouble was to be handled by the Coliseum guys. Most of us would just help people find their seats, run the front door, or help with the grunt work of moving and lifting. I drew the front, and so got a great view of the evening's progress.

Even though the doors didn't officially open until nearly six, fans, friends of the skaters, and various people involved in the various parts of the event started showing up well before then.

I loved these two; I have no idea who they were fans of, or what, but they were there ready to cheer something, by God.

One of the most interesting surprises for me was getting a really close look at the skaters "offstage", as it were. The elevator between the lower level, where the dressing rooms are, and the various team booths and merch stands on the main floor was located just to the right of our tables. So rollergirls from all the teams glided to and fro in front of us, often stopping to talk to friends or rivals or, as in this skater's case, have a pre-match feed.

I guess I always figured that the "tough girl/bad girl" personas were just that - a sort of homage to the old-school banked-track roller derby where the skaters would perform exaggerated pro-wrestling-style hits and mime theatrical ferocity to work up the crowd.

But watching the skaters that night I was strongly reminded of experienced troops at rest; a sort of businesslike toughness, a casual and undramatic physical power that had as much to do with their confidence in their skill as their muscle mass. Some of the costumes and part of the fierce derby names are for show, but these women are genuinely hard. Their cheerful brutality is not an act.

So the gates opened and the crowd streamed in; hipster couples looking for irony and PBR. Gresham yobs looking for PBR who wouldn't have known irony if it bit them on the ass. Derby moms and dads, boyfriends, and pals. A pretty fair number of people like me; regular Joe and Mary Lunchpails who love the game and enjoy the honest love of the sport that shines from the skaters themselves. But my favorites were the girls like the young lady in red here, who by her bright eyes is clearly impatient for the day when she, too, can wear purple; not to be old but to skate the flat track and dump some skivvy on her bony ass.

The Coliseum was rocking by the time the anthem was sung and the first skaters to the track, and as the door we were able to break away and look in on the bouts. I wasn't all that curious about the Guns v Heathers; they were playing for third place and pride alone. Although looking through my photos I realize that while taking crowd shots I seem to have caught a moment in film in the making;

Turns out that the woman in the picture above - she's in the black wifebeater in left center (look for the white number 419) is Diana Federoff, a.k.a. "Juvie Hall", who is (and, presumably that night, was) making a movie about derby around the world.

It IS a frigging small world after all...

I took a turn around the main floor of the Coliseum; it really is quite beautiful in a grim, industrial sort of way.

And then the featured bout of the evening began; High Rollers against the Breakneck Betties for all the marbles. I'm a Rollers fan because my kids' beloved aftercare teacher skates as a blocker for the Rollers under the derby name Kickassidy. So I made one last check on the door and put up everything but the very essentials, and went to watch the bout.

I won't give you the whole breakdown but let's just say that with nineteen seconds left the match was tied 110-110. You can read all about it at the first link, though. It was a great bout and...

And then it was over, and we had a 2012 champion.

The crowd stomped and cheered, the teams cheered, hell, everybody cheered. They cheered for the winners but, really, everyone who skated that night was a winner. They won the love of their friends and families, they won the awe and hopes of the little girls, they won the respect of their teammates and their rivals, they won the pride of the derby lovers of our great city for the Rose City Rollers.

And they won my heart all over again. They're terrific, our Rollers, and you can say I said so.

So the happy crowd decanted from the old glass box, and we turned in our yellow T-shirts and boxed up the remaining programs, and nodded goodbyes and headed out into the cool night. As I scuffed up the dark steps towards the lights of the Broadway Bridge I realized that I was smiling and humming a familiar tune under my breath.

There's a party in Portland...

No one's sleeping tonight.


rangeragainstwar said...

Listen to -ROLLER DERBY QUEEN by Jim Croce. Written in the 70's.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to get my Minotaur husband to take me to Seattle to see the Roller Derby for ages....now I will up the ante....

FDChief said...

jim; I used to listen to it on the FM radio when it was actually on the Top 40; dude I am older than dirt.

Labrys: Yes, very much, though I'd hate for you to become a Rat City fan booo!) but all derby kicks ass! I think if it had been around when you were a young troop you would have been an awesome skater. What would have been a great derby name for you...ooh! How about "Pallaskicker"? Who better to skate for the Grey-eyed One?

Labrys said...

LOL, Chief...you know I never owned skates. But I thought it looked like such fun.....and hey, I've got nobody to fan EXCEPT the Rat City girls, do I?

And now...mental images of my Lady Athena ON skates.....oh, and that spear is gonna leave a mark! She strikes me as the type who would think that quite amusing!