When my friend Mike told me that he was offered a gig to announce for a San Diego roller derby team, I responded, "San Diego has a roller derby team?" I had yet to see one of the derbies, but when the San Diego Derby Dolls had an after-game party near the rink in Clairemont, I was there.
I recognized a pizza chef bringing in a load of free pizzas and asked him what the deal was. "I sponsor this team. I have been a roller derby fan since the '60s. In Los Angeles, I used to watch the T-birds. I remember the Texas Outlaws. I think it's a big thing that they've brought this back."
Bonnie, the first player I talked to, told me she started with a team in L.A. She said that she lived in Oceanside at the time, and that it was a long drive to participate. I asked what her family thought of the sport. "I'm an ex-hockey player. I played semi-pro -- Long Beach, Canada, and all around San Diego. So, they don't mind this. Right now, I'm still in 'boot camp' paying my dues. I haven't played in a game yet."
"So, your parents haven't seen you in a game?"
"No. And we have closed practices. You can't have friends or boyfriends there."
Her brother is an English teacher in Japan, and he was amorous with a Japanese woman who he brought to the party.
I talked with another gal in boot camp, and she told me, "We have 40 in the program, but usually only 20 show up."
When I went to grab a piece of pizza, I got to talk with Mike. He'd never broadcast a sports event before and was nervous. He didn't seem nervous when he got up for karaoke and screamed out the lyrics rather than sing them.
I heard several people talking about Flo, so I sought her out for a chat. I asked her about injuries. "When I first started, I hit the concrete and got a concussion. I needed a new helmet, because when that happens, you compromise it. I have fake teeth, since all of my front ones were knocked out. I have scars. Oh, and parts of my hip have no feeling...and one has a permanent dimple."
As she showed me her teeth, she added, "Oh, yeah, I also have scars from fishnet-stocking burns."
I asked about her family, and "Aunt Flo" said, "My brother is at every game, but my parents don't want to see it. I was in a bad marriage, and this sport saved me."
I noticed a few girls who still had their skates on. While everyone else was on the dance floor grooving, a few were skating or, rather, dancing with skates on. I wondered if the bar would be liable if someone fell.
I talked with "Hurly Curly," who told me, "My dad saw his first game tonight. He told me he wasn't sure what was going on, but that I did good out there. He did mention I had a few too many penalties. I told him I got those especially for him."
I suggested that roller derby seemed similar to professional wrestling. Hurly Curly and her teammate told me that it's not like that anymore, that it's a sport, like any other, with rules and not rehearsed the way it was in the '70s.
I asked Curly if she was involved in any other sports. She told me she was into karate and that she ran marathons. "They're just not interactive," she said, "no camaraderie. And, there's no drinking afterwards." With her simple yin-yang tattoo, Curly was the least "inked" on her team.
Mike was sitting with one of the other announcers who wasn't scarfing down pizza like the rest of us. He told me that he was on a diet and that he'd lost over 100 pounds. As he sipped his Diet Coke, I suggested, "You should call Coca-Cola. You could do commercials the way Jared does for Subway."
A referee named Suzie Banshee joined us, and I asked her what a ref does in a roller derby. "We have to know the rules inside and out," she said in her thick Scottish accent. "You don't realize how refs have to follow everything. I can't take my eyes off the Dolls."
She told me that she was going back to Scotland in three weeks and that her fiancé was away in the service. When I mentioned the Derby Dolls who I'd talked to, she said, "If I could make a career out of this, I would. The girls are all great and real diverse. We have bartenders, accountants, city planners, someone in the Navy..."
I joked that it would be weird to have an accountant with missing teeth.
One of the Dolls approached me and suggested that I talk with Kel. When I asked why, she said because Kel was the crazy one. I found Kel and asked her about her injuries. "I separated my shoulder. And I had a boob put back in." I'm sure I looked confused because she explained that she had breast implants and that complications set in when she came back and skated too soon. As I was scribbling my notes, Kel pulled her top down. I wasn't sure if it was to show me the injury or what. "You aren't receptive when someone flirts with you, are you?" she asked. I wasn't sure how to answer, and she started to dance provocatively. She giggled, mentioned that her husband was at home with the kids, and skated off....
When I talked with Robin, I asked her, "Why don't you have a nickname like everyone else?"
"I'm still in the boot camp...learning the fundamentals and everything." I asked her about injuries and she said, "I caught a wheel in the stomach that caused a blood clot and hematoma. In boot camp, though, they teach you how to fall."
I talked to a woman named Pip who told me that when she's not skating, she's a wardrobe stylist, professional snowboarder, opera singer, tap dancer, and works on movies and TV shows. When I said to her that I was surprised that more women weren't falling down, since they were drinking with skates on, Bonnie overheard and said, "Hey, I've been having Shirley Temples."