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


All the Skates I’ve Loved Before: 1970s Adidas Nash Cruisers

1970s Nash Cruisers

My dad and I have never been really close. Even now that I'm a grown-ass person living all the way across the country, conversations between us are really no different from a conversation that you would have with a co-worker. A co-worker with whom you don't particularly care to have an involved conversation. We only ever really bonded over three things: NPR, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and roller skating. And roller skating with my dad meant he would break out his blue 1970s Adidas Nash Cruiser skates.


Yet Another Reason Austin is Heaven: Roller Derby in Schools

Ann Richards Rollergirls

Meet the lovely ladies of A.R.R.G, the Ann Richards Roller Girls at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.  Founded last year by Alison Chains and mentored by the legendary Cherry Chainsaw and several teammates from the Cherry Bombs, these girls are part of the first-ever school athletic junior derby team. This team is the pride of TXRD Lonestar (cheering on their mentors to the big win of last year's Calvello Cup), and is featured front and center on the Ann Richards School website.


All the Skates I’ve Loved Before: Skateworld “Brownies”

old school brownies

You see brokeass skates, I see freedom.

The next set of skates I want to honor are not actually one pair of skates, but rather a whole slew of them. I want to raise a glass to the "brownie" rental skates from Skateworld in Austin. There's nothing intrinsically special about them; they're the exact same skates every other rink in America carries. I don't know who makes these, but I salute them--these skates were an integral part of my growing up.

You see, my parents were pretty strict. Not just pretty strict, ridiculously strict (by American standards). So when I was in elementary school, the highlight of my school semester was skate night. For three hours, I was free. I would put on those funky smelling brown skates and skate in circles to Madonna and Kajagoogoo. I'd skate on one foot, tuck into a little ball, limbo like a wiry little monkey. I was a champ at red light/green light. I would flirt furiously with my crush du jour, trying to make it clear what a great partner I would be for the couples skate. That only worked once, and that was at a skate party in high school -- the agenda was a little different, I guess.

I can still remember video games and pinball machines where the cool boys hung out, and the wood and formica tables at the snack bar, where the girls would crowd and whisper. I still remember the bathrooms that for some reason had no doors on the stalls; you always had to take a friend as a lookout. Even decades later, I register a tic of surprise when a bathroom at a skate rink has doors. Most of all I remember the smell of the place. I opened my skate bag this morning, and was hit with simultaneous waves of nausea and nostalgia. It's funk, but it's a familiar funk: sweat, feet, and leather. (It also means it's time to clean my elbow pads, ughhh).

Skate nights were over when sixth grade rolled around, but we'd still go back from time to time for birthday parties. At some point, there was gay skate night, which was the best party a kid could get into on a Wednesday night. No matter how we changed, there were some things that always seemed to stay the same: the music, the faded decor, the hokey pokey. Eventually the place was closed down -- not just closed -- was bulldozed. Yeah, Playland is still around, probably kept alive by roller derby and eighth birthdays. I even plan on going to practice with my baby sister when I visit home for the holidays. But Skateworld, and hundreds of pairs of those beloved skates, like so many of the things those of us who grew up there love about Austin, are gone.


The Beginning of the Road

Every road has a beginning. This one started on June 21, 2002. I know this because it is memorialized in print.

It was probably about 4PM, too late for the lunch crowd, and too early for the early birds. I was sitting at the bar of the restaurant where I was a waitress, shooting the shit with the busboys and making fake Orange Juliuses out of Bluebell vanilla ice cream, Sprite, and Goodflow orange juice (it's damned fine, trust me on this).  Even between semesters, I was in the habit of flipping through the Daily Texan from the stack of used newspapers left by customers. Usually I'd just do the crossword and read Creased Comics, maybe glance at the letters to the editor.

Rooooll Models

Can you tell what that is? It's roller derby history.

June 21, 2002 was different.

Mixed in there with all the AP wire pieces and editorials was an article, Rooooll Models by Stephen Palkot (PDF courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, text below), about something called "roller derby."

Even though I had never seen roller derby or RollerJam on TV, I think that I must have had some image in my head, some inkling of what roller derby was, because I immediately knew that this was totally rad. According to the article, some badass chick-types were practicing at Skate World, my childhood haunt, and they were going to be having an exhibition bout that weekend. The article got some of the details wrong (hint: "Patas de Fuego" means something very different from "Putas del Fuego" -- and look! it's my all time favorite skater! "Miss Conda" [Miss Conduct]!), but it got all the excitement spot-on. By the end, I felt like Ellie Dalton--she discovered roller derby by overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop. Afterwards, she strode over to the women talking and told them "I don't know what this is, but I want in." I was ready to put on my skates and knock some bitches down.

But roller derby giveth, and roller derby taketh away. The very next paragraph broke my heart as it explained that skaters had to be over 21. Derby dreams would have to wait.

There is a lot about the sport that ended up differently than originally planned. The fake fights and hair-pulling went the way of the 1970s rigged bouts. Spank Alley was turned into a line of audience members, and eventually retired when the penalty mistress tragically passed away. But you can definitely see the glimmer of the real, serious, athletic sport to come. I'm sure that you can also see the makings of a roller wannabe--I had no idea it would take 8 years, but I knew my turn would come.

Rooooll Models by Stephen Palkot, Daily Texan Staff (transcribed by yours truly, as-is)


Roller Review: Derby Girl

Watching Rollbounce last night and following the Twitter hashtag gave me an idea. I’m going to post reviews of derby-related books and movies.

For my first Roller Review, I’m going to talk about Derby Girl by Shauna Cross. I just gave this book to my baby sister for her birthday as I try to convince her to join the roller derby and make my dream a sister act.

This is almost exactly what I looked like when I was 20.

There’s something about good YA fiction that makes you want to be at that stage in your life again. You know the stage, where the world is full of possibility and you are the center of your own narration, and you just don’t believe it when your parents tell you that they listened to the Velvet Underground or that 20 years ago they dressed a lot like you do. This book had that in spades.

The novel tells the story of Bliss Cavendar, a sixteen-year-old stranded in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas (a fake town, by the way, seemingly based in part on Brenham, home of Bluebell Ice Cream). Bliss’ mom wants her to be a pageant princess, but it’s a poor fit for the blue-haired indie-rock-loving misfit.  One day, Bliss finds her bliss when she visits Austin and discovers the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls. She busts out her old Barbie skates and blows everyone’s socks off with her wheels of fire in tryouts, and the rest is history. Along the way she negotiates her relationship with her newfound crew, non-rollergirl best friend, fey band boy love interest, faded pageant glory mom, and sport-loving redneck dad.

There are two things that are obvious about the author when you read this book:

  1. She’s a derby insider. Even though there are some composites and switcheroos, the team names and skater names are real mostly drawn from LA and Austin teams. She even gives a little shoutout to her own derby alter ego, Maggie Mayhem. The book’s primary antagonist is Dinah Might, probably a nod to Dinah-Mite, one of the true bad motherfuckers of the Texas Rollergirls, widely credited with helping power the sport of flat-track derby into legit-ness.
  2. She is a homesick Texpat, and an Austinite specifically. Homegirl gets the details down to the last breakfast taco! I don’t know if this is something that would fall flat for other readers who aren’t from Austin, but her homesickness shines through and reflects on my own homesickness. It's like a love letter to my hometown, and I had a tiny squee moment when Bliss listens to my college roommate’s band. I had to put the book down every few chapters to pour out a drink for my “soul-mate city.” Oh, and from some of the references, I have a sneaking suspicion that the author went to my high school.


As someone with a few miles in the rearview mirror between me and my teenage self, I have to say a big fucking feminist thank you to Shauna for not making Bliss crawl back to that fucking lameass douche who cheats on her while he’s on tour. In fact, thank you for Malice’s advice to keep away from boys in bands. Boys come and go, but if you play your cards right, you’ll have a posse to circle the wagons around you when you need to break out the caution tape and quarantine off a grade-A d-bag. This is something that girls in Austin, my baby sister included, learn the hard way (a big part of why I’m bringing her the gospel of roller derby). I was 25 with a divorce under my studded belt before I fully learned this lesson. And even then, I guess I didn’t totally learn it because I married a second musician; this one turned out better though 🙂


All told, I give this book 8 wheels. (I totally need a graphic for that!) It’s not Proust, but it’s not supposed to be—it’s a book I wish had been around when I was 16, and a delicious little snack of a summer read. What it lacks in substance, it makes up for in “naustalgia” and quirky-teen empowerment.