Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Talk Derby to me.

Party Girls en route to the Roller Derby!

Bells are chiming and tears are falling
It creeps up on you without a warning

-Elvis Costello

ED came out to Chicago to celebrate my birthday with me. She flew in Friday night, and we got up bright and early for a trip to Pullman, the planned community created by George Pullman, the rail car tycoon. It's part of modern-day Chicago, in the deep South Side, a stone's throw from Indiana. Neither of us has been there, and I'd been intrigued for awhile.

The morning began with an early phone call from SP and AN, singing me 'Happy Birthday.' Those boys. I adore them so.

We drove (about 20 miles) and arrived in Pullman at the Florence Hotel, restored and beautiful. Unfortunately, the state bought the hotel not long ago, and doesn't keep it open for lunches and walk-in guests as the local historical society had done, so we had to content ourselves with peering in the windows.

We headed to the Visitors Center, where we paid our donation and were shown into a huge viewing room with a large projection screen. We were the only guests, and we were seated at the front. Turns out we were not going to see anything on the big screen, but were going to watch a video on a small TV in a cabinet.

There we sat, two people in a cavernous room, watching TV.

"I think we're officially old ladies," I whispered. "Dibs on 'Irene' as my geriatric identity."

After the video on the history of Pullman (rather pro-George), we took the self-guided tour pamphlet and wandered around. The buildings are lovely, the houses beautiful, but for the most part there were no people on the streets, no kids playing. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone. We decided this was because there was no business: no restaurants, no diners, no stores. We agreed the place was lovely, but it was dead and not very inviting.

My friend B-- had made herself totally at my disposal for my birthday, so I took advantage of Birthday Power to tell B and ED that what I wanted to do on my birthday was see local roller derby. I could tell they were dubious, but it was my birthday, so they had to humor me.

The plan was to drive to the Cobra Lounge, Windy City Rollers HQ, and ride the party bus to the arena in Cicero where the match was taking place.

The Cobra was a lot of fun, and we were all surprised at the crowd. We expected toughs and leather-types, but it was as if all the kids who took Latin in high school grew up and got tattoos. People were really nice and fun, and a little nerdy. The party bus was late, so they gave us each a free shot. Something pink and sweet with vodka.

Our hostesses were Miss Apocalypse and Karmageddon, of The Fury and the Double Crossers, respectively (tonight's rumble was with an all-star team.). They weren't playing, so they were organizing the evening. Karmageddon was dressed as a schoolmarm, the theme being Miss Karmageddon's school of S&M (We passed around the dunce caps).

Once on the bus, the three of us sat in front and chatted with them. Hearing it was my birthday, they led the bus in singing "Happy Birthday" to me, and we each got a sticker and pin for our first time out, and I got a temporary tattoo for my birthday. They instructed people to spank me for my birthday as they exited the bus.

The arena was a small neighborhood sports arena: the food was served at folding tables, and B and I got our EZ Cheez nachos, the cheez ladled out of a crock pot by hair-netted women who were straight from my high-school cafeteria memories, and the jalapenos in a big self-serve vat at the end of the table. I was in heaven.

We found seats at the top of the bleachers: the track is basically a basketball court with tape laid down for the track. The announcer came out, got the place riled, and let us know that Tequila Mockingbird is recovering from her spinal-cord injury as she predicted, and was now walking within a year of her accident.

"Holy shit," whispered B. "This is hard CORE."

The announcer went back to the booth, made some announcements... and wished me a happy birthday! Me! Right before the National Anthem! (sung by a non-playing league member named Sydney I'llstrangleya.)

We sang the National Anthem, and I got choked up as I always do, and the jam began. It was a blast, an absolute blast, and we had a great time.

We were amazed at the skating skills of the women (team members use pseudonyms like Hanna Belle Lector, Pain Gretzky, Beth Amphetamine). Roller derby is like football on skates. It's hugely demanding, and the women are incredible athletes. The crowd was a mix of men and women, all loyal fans, and it was all great fun.

Here's something I found remarkable: while the game is very physical, lots of body-checking, falls and pushing, at half time, just before the game resumed, the members of the two teams warmed up by skating around the rink, talking to each other. But here's the thing: team member skated with members of the opposite team, laughing and chatting.

When the game resumed, so did the tough play. The teams weren't really matched; the Windy City All Stars creamed the poor team from Minnesota, over 200 to like, 17.

Back on the bus, the Ladies led the bus in cheering the fans of the opposing team (a small gorup of women who also rode the bus. That's right: supporters of the opposing team rode the bus with us, and were treated like chums. I gotta say, the lack of frat-boy testosterone was fabulous.) We sat in front again, and it was announced that I had won the betting pool on the point spread (Karmageddon had coached me). We were encouraged to see the game taking place on 9/20 against Kansas, a team that's more evenly matched. I am so going.

It was a great birthday.

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