The Road to Rollergirl How I Stopped Being a Roller Wannabe and Started Being a Rollergirl

30Nov/1011

NaBloPoMo: The Finish Line!

The NaBloPoMo Finish Line

Thirty days, thirty posts! Woo! (picture them on skates)

Well we can tick off two goals for 2010 completed: this post marks the last post of NaBloPoMo.

I feel like I learned a lot about perseverance this month. Between practicing for tryouts and posting for NaBloPoMo, I learned to push myself when I'd rather have a nap. I learned to always be doing something even if it's not perfect. Just like not every blog post is going to be perfect, not every skate practice is going to be perfect. It's just about waking up (or staying up in my case) and putting it out there as best I can. Once in a while, it totally comes together and you hit it out of the park, but that doesn't happen if you don't clock in.

So... I think I deserve presents for my accomplishment (and for my birthday, which is coming up in a couple of days, but I'll be off blogging because I have Fresh Meat training every day til then).  Most of my presents are things I'm going to buy for myself... new knee pads, knee gaskets, maaaaaaybe a new pair of Riedell boots. But there is one thing I want to ask of you.

De-lurk! Just this once, if you read, or I'm in your Google Reader, or whatever, leave me a little comment. Especially if I'm on your blogroll, because I want to return the link love! Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute!

29Nov/107

When to Spend on Skate Gear

When I was visiting with my little sister last week, I had an opportunity to look at her skates. She's rolling Chicago Bullet skates, pictured on the right.

Chicago Bullet Skates

Look familiar?

If you look at the picture on the right, you'll see that it looks a whole lot like the picture that I use as my user image on Twitter on the like. That's about where the similarity ends. Holding her skate and my skate in each hand, it was like holding a toy gun and a real gun: my skate was at least a pound heavier. I didn't get a chance to pull her skates apart, but some of the differences that I could tell just by handling them were that the plates were made of a really flimsy-looking plastic, the bearings had pretty much no roll out on them, and the wheels were made of a much less grippy plastic. The stopper is a hunk of hard plastic that is already wearing down and is permanently affixed to the skate.

When she was looking for skates and asked me what kind of skates to get and what they would cause, I told her that she shouldn't get "toy" skates, because they end up costing more in the end when she has to get rid of them and upgrade to beginner skates. I didn't really know whether or not that's true, it's just what they told me when I bought my skates. But after looking at her skates, I realize that it's true. It seems like the $40 difference between a pair of Bullets and a pair of Riedell R3s buys you a big difference in skates.

The other place that I feel like you have to spend is on your knees. Just skating, even in the absence of injuries, is pretty hard on the knees. It took just one practice of knee falls for me to realize that I needed more than the dinky Rollerblade pads that I was wearing. It wasn't cheap to upgrade to a pair of 187 knee pads, but having well-padded, well-fitting pads has been totally worth it. I'm even looking into some knee gaskets.

What do you tell people when they ask you about what gear is worth splurging on? Have you tried knee gaskets? Any advice?

28Nov/102

Dispatches from the ATX: Goodbye Austin

I only have a little moment to update because I am traveling today. This means that I'm packing and stuffing my bag with as many bags of Limon Lays potato chips as possible. We'll be back to your regularly scheduled derby programming in a moment.

Lays Limon Potato Chips

Y'all come back now, you hear!

If only there were a way to bring home Kerbey Queso...

27Nov/100

Dispatches from the ATX: Reunited and it Feels So… Weird

Part of the reason for my trip to Austin was to attend my high school reunion. I've opted out of prior ones, so I really had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I didn't have high hopes.

As you've no doubt gathered, I'm a little nerdly. I like NPR and musical theater. I am very, very good at coming up with puns. High school--and mine was no exception--was tough on anybody with a personality. At the time I think that I enjoyed school much more than my home life. Nevertheless, in the intervening years, I have created a narrative for myself in which I was a lonely friendless dork. I've mentally styled myself as a loser who made good, and from the sound of it, a lot of my high school friends felt the same way. I polled my friends on Facebook, and many of them were like "puh! you couldn't PAY me to come near that place, it was AWFUL!" I figured that it would be a great opportunity to flaunt my success to the preppies and jocks that made us feel like crap (I mean, are they playing roller derby?!). I'm sure there are a lot of them for whom high school was the best years of their lives ("just babies and memories"), and that would feel pretty damned good.

In short, I was expecting Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

As gratifying as it would have been to return to the reunion totally sparkly and blowing all the haters away, the reality was very different. Actually, there were a lot of really awesome folks there -- people I had somehow forgotten made the experience of high school bearable. I was genuinely happy to catch up with them, and glad that I went. I'd like to think that I was sparkly in a way that may have surprised some, but it was more about catching up than showing off, which is as it should be. The only thing that could have made it better was roller skates!

26Nov/100

Dispatches from the ATX: Middlebrow Wonderland

After all of yesterday's cooking (and EATING!) I decided to hit the town. I tried to go ice skating at Whole Foods first, to see if I'm any good at ice skating, and second, for the sheer novelty of ice skating on top of a supermarket in 70-degree weather. Unfortunately, the rink wasn't open yet, so I decided to catch Harry Potter at the Alamo Drafthouse.

To kill a little time, I walked over to the Arthouse at Jones Center, a free (!!!) art space. Even though I've been to major galleries and museums in various cities, I'm not a huge visual art appreciator in the same way I love narrative media like film or theatre. It's not too surprising, then, that the exhibit that I found the most remarkable was a short film "Cities of Gold and Mirrors" by Cyprien Gaillard (description/review here). The film is mostly static shots of Cancún in all its hedonistic glory: lights of a discotheque, American college students binge drinking and vomiting, dolphins swimming lazily in a hotel pool. These scenes are set to the soundtrack from Mysterious Cities of Gold, a 1980s animated TV show about Spanish conquistadors (that I used to watch as a kid!). As the brochure pointed out, the specific synth riff used is the one that signified contact with pre-Columbian culture, so it creates a really interesting conflict in the juxtaposition of the grotesque glitziness and the crumbling decay.

The scene that was the most striking to me is one where we watch a gang member clad in red from head to toe dancing and flashing gang signs at the El Rey ruins. He's standing alone, and the dance is in slow motion that makes it look like some sort of ancient ritual dance. I found myself wondering for a moment whether he knew anyone was watching, and how the film maker avoided getting killed. The movie also inspired me to drunkenly tweet what I think will be my new mantra:

Dance like nobody is looking, live like there's no tomorrow, and lean like a cholo.

25Nov/102

Dispatches from the ATX: Giving Thanks

One of my traits that I play close to the vest is sentimentality. This probably comes as no surprise because it is such close kin to nostalgia. What can I say? I'm a softie, I've got a lot of love to give!

Anyhow, I just got done cooking a whole mess of food (a bird stuffed in another bird! pies from scratch! Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish!) and as I digest I think it's worth taking a moment to give thanks.

I am absolutely serious when I say that roller derby has changed my life in ways that I could not have anticipated. I knew that it would test my limits, I was vaguely aware that it would make one butt cheek firmer than the other, but I had no idea that it would transform me into a different person altogether. I went from someone who loathed working out to someone who voluntarily gets up in the morning to get my ass kicked at practice. I go to the gym! I work hard and regularly feel sweat dripping into my eyes and down the small of my back. I feel capable.

I went from someone who really doesn't get that close to other people to someone that has five thick-as-thieves friends and about 10 more girls I'm totally down with. I have a sisterhood that crosses state and national lines -- I went to another state and instantly was able to commiserate with a Fresh Meat from another league about our knee injuries. I have made more connections in my city in the past six months than I have in the prior three years since I left Austin.

I am thankful beyond words. I am thankful for this little piece of the internet, and for all the people who come here. I'm especially thankful when they leave comments (ahem!). When I tweeted about tryouts and had about a dozen people from around the country and the world wishing me luck, I was thrilled. When it was time to announce the results of tryouts and my page hits spiked from people coming to see how it went, I was overwhelmed. The internet can be a lonely and awful place, bringing out the worst in people, but it can also bring a community together.

So there you have it. I have more than any one girl deserves. I hope that you all have had lots of wonderful things to be thankful for this year, and good folks to spend the holiday with.

Skating = Joy

Happy Thanksgiving from a Grateful, Joyful Roller Wannabe!

24Nov/100

Dispatches from the ATX: Texas is the Reason

Just a quick thought:

An underlying question this entire trip has been why? Why did the roller derby revival start here and not someplace else. The totally viral way that it caught on makes it clear that there was plenty of tinder waiting for the spark. But why Texas? Why Austin?

Apart from the coincidence of Devil Dan rolling into town, I think the answer is in the special blend of Texas and not-Texas that is Austin. I'm pretty sure that we have more underemployed rock 'n' roll 20- and 30-somethings, and more tattoos per capita than anyplace else in the state. We also are smack in the middle of a state that is fanatical about team sports in a way all its own. You've got a bunch of body-modded, hard-partying women who were probably forced to play some sort of sport during their adolescence, you've basically got Ann Calvello. The rest of us (likely) grew up watching football and gathering for sporting events a la "Friday Night Lights," so you have an audience primed for a violent, fast-paced sport.

Since the start, when you say "roller derby" in Austin, even the unitiated say "fuck yeah." Not everyone thinks that way; more often than not they ask "but don't people get hurt?!" Whatever it is that made this place fertile ground for roller derby, it's the Texan in us that makes us physically unable to stop reminding people that TEXAS IS THE REASON.

23Nov/100

Dispatches from the ATX: Playland Skate Center

Tonight I grabbed my skates and headed down to Playland Skate Center. I worried that it might have gone the way of so many of the other places in Austin that I have loved before.

Playland in Full Disco Mode

Thankfully, it was just as I left it. For those of you who are not from Austin, Playland is a humongous warehouse with a 27,500 sq. ft. skating rink, various arcade games, your snack bar, and the crown jewel: a 4-foot-tall sparkly rollerskate disco ball hanging over the center of the floor. The floor is concrete painted over with some sort of acrylic, and possibly glazed over with something that makes it grippy. Very grippy.

When I first looked at the floor, my stomach sank a little bit because I had my indoor wheels on (Suregrip Blue Fugitives); they're great, but the floor was so shiny it looked like marble. Once I had taken a couple of laps without skidding to oblivion, I realized that whatever treatment they used is probably made specifically for skate surfaces. In fact, I think that there is a quad speed team that practices at Playland. Nevertheless,  I shudder to think about going full speed on that floor. Apparently it doesn't get stripped and repainted, because there are a lot of spots where they have clearly painted over areas where the paint peeled off. This gives the floor Manuel Noriega-caliber pockmarks in some areas.

I took my baby sister into a corner and tried to help her get a little more comfortable on her skates. I showed her how to stride, how to keep her balance by bending in the knees, and how to stop with her toe stopper. I know, I know, toe stoppers are for anything but stopping, but she is really starting from scratch, and if you don't have a t-stop yet, you need something!

Nothing much has changed since I was here - the only discernible difference was a huge ball pit in the back, and that the last dance song of the evening was Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies." There was one other thing - there is now a regulation-sized roller derby track permanently painted onto the center of the rink. When they called for "ladies' fast skate" (Metallica's "Enter Sandman," heh, like I said, not much has changed), I worked on crossover form and skated the track.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

The crowd was pretty much the same as it ever was, although there are more women who are obviously rollergirls. Rollerdancing never really took off in Austin, so there are relatively few people busting a move on the skating rink. More so than other places that I've been, most of the people out on the floor were just skating around in happy circles. There was one exception: there was a couple gliding across the floor like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They weren't wearing wheels on their feet, they were wearing clouds. And with good reason - I'm pretty sure I've seen them (or at least the man) every time I've been there since I was a kid! They're such fixtures at the place that when I googled pictures of Playland, they coincidentally appeared in one of the first pictures to come up (above).

All told, it was $7.50 (plus another $10 for tacos as Taco Cabana --the "street tacos" do not taste like street tacos-- and a scoop of Amy's Ice Cream), but it was the sort of evening you can't put a price tag on. Playland definitely ranks among the places that I wish I could magically transport to my current town.