“This is not a game of manners.” —Derby Girl Announcer
Even though I am quite puny, I have always pretended to be tough. As a teenager, this meant diving into mosh pits, throwing forty-ounce bottles of beer through windows, and snowboarding down mountains at breakneck speeds to stay ahead of male counterparts. In my twenties, the daredevil antics became only slightly more refined: topless stunts in public, assaults on my liver, and those feats of endurance known as marathons. So, when my boyfriend and I headed out last Saturday night to watch the Bay Area Derby Girls, I was pumped. I had never seen an all-girl, flat-track, roller derby before, but I knew these women were going to be just my type.
We clambered into the dry ice rink and took our “suicide seats”—floor spots located right on the derby track. Since one of our companions had a friend skating for the San Francisco ShEvil Dead, we sat on the SF side, opposite the Richmond Wrecking Belles. As these names imply, the theatrical promotion of pain and death is a large part of roller derby, as are the not-so-subtle sexual undertones. Our programs described roller derby as “part sport, part spectacle, and just a touch of burlesque.”
Sex and death rolled past our eyes, as the ladies loosened their legs by skating the oblong track. The ShEvil Deads wore green camouflage skirts and shirts, accessorized by pink fringe and hair bands. The Richmond Wrecking Belles wore canary yellow baseball tees and short shorts. This may sound sporty, but the excessive cleavage, fishnet tights, and visible pink G-strings were more than enough to remind me that this event was only “part sport.”
Do not get me wrong, the girls looked tough. Some of them looked as if they could (and did) regularly put back a rack of ribs followed by a flat of Krispy Kremes. Others wore menacing looks as they adeptly sped around the rink. Judging by the number of tattoos and piercings on these ladies, they were not afraid of pain. But their painted-on blood, fangs, and ghoulish gaping wounds made us realize that these were true showwomen. Their fictitious names were what I loved the most: “Penny McSquish,” “Liza Machete,” and “Iva Vendetta.” Even the refs, skating around in the traditional black-and-white stripes, participated in the entertainment fun, with names like “Terra Nuone” (read: Tear-a-New-One), “John Diss,” and “Mathmortician” (the head “statistician”).
After warm-up, the two announcers came out. One was a potty-mouthed ex-roller girl and the other was Peaches. Peaches was a cross between RuPaul and a Power Ranger. He/She wore a skin-tight, neon green lycra jumpsuit with sequined sides, knee-high black boots, and a black bustier. Peaches’ neck looked as if it might snap under the weight of her ginormous blonde bouffant, which must have taken at least three cans of Aqua Net and hours of teasing to achieve its height. I do not recall Peaches doing much technical commentating on the sporting aspects of the event, but she was a great theatrical addition to the show.
The two announcers began by instructing us on the finer points of roller derby etiquette: “In the event a Derby Girl falls in your lap, you have to lift your beers. Do not spill. It is like ground owl shit if you get your wheels wet.” Describing the roller girls, the commentators intoned, “They’re punk, they’re immoral, and they’re rough.”
Then the game started. It was broken down into three twenty-minute periods, and I spent the first of these trying to figure out how the game is scored and played. At first, it just looked like a sea of roller girls pushing and skating, while five or so refs stood in the middle, pointing and whistling. Then I began to get the finer points. There are three types of players: pivots, blockers, and jammers. Five girls from each team line up on the track. For each team, one pivot is in front and sets the pace, three blockers are in the middle and try to thwart the opposing team’s jammer, while the jammer for each team starts in the back and tries to pass. The jammers are the only ones who can score points, one point being awarded for each opponent they lap.
Derby is a full contact sport, as the jammers try to pass through the blockers and pivots, leading to some exciting and competitive clashes, with numerous girls sliding across the waxed floors. Since we sat right on the rink, some of these girls came sliding toward us. This would have been all right, except many of them had chosen to wear little, bitty thongs underneath little, bitty skirts. Now, I am no prude, but when a thin sheet of fishnet and a G-string is the only thing separating you from a hefty derby girl’s crotch, well, you start to think twice about your choice of seats. I had to cover my eyes more than once.
The game was a fierce one. Although I was sitting on the SF side, my gut feeling was to root for the Richmond team. Sure, gals from SF may be able to climb hills in heels, but the Richmondettes had to live in one of the most dangerous cities in the Bay Area. They know how to survive. Standouts from the Richmond team included Liza Machete (team captain and blocker), who we all agreed played dirty, and La Femme Nikilla. As Liza knocked girls over and pushed them out of bounds, Nikilla would speed past and lap the others. SF also had their standouts: Sassy Slayer (captain and blocker), who was at constant odds with Liza, and Jilly the Kid, who would jam ahead and rack up the points.
When halftime rolled around, I was just about to get up and purchase another beer (PBR, two for $5!) when the entertainment made its entrance. I thought Peaches would come out and do a halftime show, because surely her costume warranted some sort of song and dance, but the producers had a much more sophisticated event planned: Jay Walker and the COCKivores. Their name was a bit deceiving, because none of these gender-bending women—half of them dressed in near nothing and half of them dressed as men—ate cock (as their name would imply) during the show. They did something even better: a choreographed, lip-synched version of Prince’s “Erotic City.”
It was very erotic, and certainly got the crowd’s panties in a bunch. I even saw an areola when the underdressed women got even more so by taking off their tops and dry humping each other on the floor. The flash was like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, only a little more intentional. What did one expect at Bay Area Roller Derby?
By the end of the second period, Richmond was leading, 38–20. San Francisco still had a shot at a comeback, since a particularly lucky and fast jammer can score a large number of points in a short period of time. Our cheerleaders, two large men dressed ridiculously in pink shirts and camouflaged pants, tried their best to enliven the crowd by jumping around frantically and leading us in poorly-constructed chants. But they proved no match for the Richmond Belles, who held their lead and continued to score, much to SF’s chagrin.
Even though our side lost, we were all in high spirits as we filed out of the auditorium. When the potty-mouthed announcer told us to go home and tell our absentee friends, “Motherfucker, you missed the best night of your life,” I had to agree. The night was inspiring and entertaining. I wanted to be a roller girl. I pondered the idea of going to the next round of tryouts, to “step to the cause and step some bitches down,” but when my beer buzz wore off, I thought better of it. I still think I am tough, but age has brought a measured caution to my daredevilness. This means snowboarding with a helmet and recycling my beer bottles, not chucking them through windows. It also means having a greater respect for my functioning joints and intact bones and teeth. I am happy to remain a spectator in a suicide seat, where the entertainment is high, and risks—derby girl crotch shot aside—low.
Photo by Boss Hogg