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.


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)


To All the Skates I’ve Loved Before: Fisher Price 1-2-3

As I have mentioned before, I have never been an athlete, and never played organized sports as a kid. This has put me at a disadvantage for a lot of things: missing algebra questions that assumed you know how many people are on a baseball team, getting really confused about golf and the idiom "under par," and I'm about 25 years too late for a career in gymnastics.  In fact, as roller derby becomes more competitive as a sport, you see less people whose only team experience was on the beer pong league and more who have been on skates since before Johnny Weir was born. But while you would never, ever catch me holding a volleyball outside the state-mandated torture of team sport-centric PE, I always loved to skate.

I was four years old when I got my first pair of skates. You know the ones - the Fisher Price 1-2-3 skates. The ones that they make today look like flimsy plastic rollerblades, but the 1-2-3's of yesteryear were plastic bricks. There's a picture of me from the Christmas I got the skates. I'm holding them in the air triumphantly and grinning into the camera. In the next picture, I'm standing in the skates, in my pajamas, still on the carpet in the living room next to the Christmas tree. I look like a badass.

The Fisher Price 1-2-3

Rollin' down memory lane.

They went on over your shoes, and were adjustable. They also featured a lock that would prevent the wheels from rolling or from rolling backward so that you could practice just stomping around in them. When the lock was on, the wheels would make this sort of ringing sound.  I was too little to do very much by myself, but I would skate back and forth on the concrete slab in our backyard. Before I learned how to skate, you'd hear the ringing of the wheels echoing off the houses in the neighborhood in a chorus with the cicadas. I'd skate until it got dark, and then turn take the brake off in hopes that I could keep skating quietly without my mom hearing me. I would sneak off to pee by a tree because I was terrified that I'd have to stay in if I went in. I taught myself how to skate by clinging to cars, walls, cats, anything that would hold still. How I didn't kill myself on those hard plastic little wheels is totally beyond me.

Eventually, the 1-2-3's were too small and gave way to a slightly fancier pair of over-the-shoe skates. Unfortunately I can't find a picture of those, but they were metal. This was already far past the days of the skate key, but metal skates are still pretty retro. Yeah, nicer skates were great and all, but I definitely regretted when I had to put away my first skates after logging probably hundreds of hours on them.
Do you remember your first pair of skates? Were they "real" or "toy" skates?