Ever seen an episode of A&E’s Rollergirls? The (now off-air) reality series spotlighted the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls roller derby-league in Austin, following the players through a whole season. The few episodes I saw were riveting, so when my friend mentioned that the Texas Rollergirls (another Austin league) were playing, I jumped at the chance to go.
The Rock-n-Rollerderby (a two-match, four-team event) was held at Playland Skate Center, a giant barn that houses a skating rink, an antiques market, and who knows what else at various points during the week. We arrived to find a surprising number of cars jamming the streets and surrounding lots, but luckily, there was ample parking to be had.
The adventure started in the ticket line—a long line, but the people-watching was superb. We saw the emcee, bedecked in Colonel Sanders’ hand-me-downs, emerge from the most beat-up, dented pickup I’ve ever seen. We saw rollergirls from other teams, scantily clad and showing off legs mottled with bruises. The line itself was a hodgepodge of young and old, punks and Texas rednecks (simmer down—I’m from Texas). The wait went by in no time.
After paying our $15 entrance fee and venturing into the concession area for $3 Lone Stars (Shiner Bock was $4), we squeezed our way into the crowd surrounding the rink. The games began with a spirited welcome from the announcers, who gleefully chastised anyone who spilled a beer throughout the rest of the evening—a roller derby tradition. At first, it was difficult to get into the raucous spirit of the arena. I finally found a program, however, and skimmed through the basics of the game:
Each play is referred to as a "jam." As both teams skate around the rink, each team’s "jammer" tries to skate through the pack while a "pivot" and blockers from each team try to block the other jammer and facilitate their jammer’s passage. The first jammer to break through the pack is dubbed the "lead jammer" and earns the right to "call the jam" at any point. The jammers then skate all the way back around and through the pack again, earning a point for each member of the opposing team that they pass. Of course, this all happens with tons of pushing, shoving, hard falls (sometimes into the surrounding crowd) and, occasionally, fights. These girls could hold their own with the ice hockey crowd.
Once I got the hang of it, it was a blast to watch—loud, aggressive, and really exciting. The players’ roller-derby names only added to the entertainment value of the announcers’ play-by-play: my favorites were Lucille Brawl and Tinkerhell of the Hotrod Honeys and Misty Meaner and Bunny Rabid of the Hell Marys. Between halves, there was live music from the totally weird, cool, up-and-coming Ghostland Observatory. In all, it was the most memorable night of my trip. Turns out you can’t judge a book—or a barn—by its cover.