Adventures in Journalism: Let’s Go to the Roller Derby!

When the dust finally settled after last Saturday’s (Dec. 2) important flat-track Roller Derby match between the hometown Texas Rollergirls Texecutioners and the skating Saddletramps from Tucson, Ariz., a few things were abundantly clear.
First, if I am to really bite into this sporting press gig, I am going to need Full Access. We’re talking press passes and gear. Much gear. So much gear, in fact, that I’ll need to enlist the aid of at least two friends to handle it all. Microphones, recorders, cameras, lenses … perhaps some lighting. But more about this foul angle later. I’ll have to talk to my editor first.
The important lesson of Saturday night was that these gals are having way more fun than the rest of us. I’ll confess, up until Saturday, when I was handed the prestigious Roller Derby assignment (a sure sign that my work for the Chronicle is at least noticed) I had not attended a Roller Derby bout. I had tried a couple of times, only to find the events either sold out or lacking proper parking. And, as a proud and loyal Southerner, I make a point to avoid crossing the river whenever possible. When was the last time I was in North Austin anyway? And why?

I’ve got to hand it to these women. They put on a helluva show. It is first-class entertainment from the moment you enter the skating rink. Live music greets you loudly as you walk in. Ice cold Lone Star beer cans fill the hands of most patrons. The smells of cheap carnival food drifts through the air, strangely appealing, much in the same way as is the spectacle of watching women savagely beat on each other in the name of Sport.
Roller Derby is, at its core, a violent game and we Americans do love our violence. Throw in the sex appeal – everyone loves a nice pair of legs, yes? – and you’ve got a winner. And adding announcers like Whisky L’amour, Julio E. Glasses, Jim “Kool-Aid” Jones, and Jim Queso to the mix is a surefire recipe for a smash hit.
I believe it was the great Jim Queso who said, prior to the start of the derby, something along the lines of “we’ve got a matchup of biblical proportions tonight.” Now, I’m not sure how the baby Jesus would feel about this, but I do know that I wish there were a great many more events happening at such epic scale.
And Saturday night was epic. Unfortunately for the home team, defeat was the ultimate outcome, as Tucson posted a three-point sudden-death overtime victory in the match between the No. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the land. The Texecutioners played well, and there was no reason for any of the girls to hang their heads.
The night was not without controversy. Someone – most likely a deranged fan from Tucson – was blowing an air horn, a horrendous violation of various regulations, code, and general protocol. The referees were confused, more confused than even I was, hurriedly trying to digest the rules of a game I knew precious little of. Play was halted – which is simply no good in a sport like Roller Derby – and an appeal was made to the crowd to cease with the air horn.
It was during the first intermission, while some of the Texecutioners took turns fronting a punk rock karaoke band, that my friends and I went in search of some of the carnival food that we’d been seeing in the hands and happy mouths of so many patrons. Kevin went for the pretzel. I went for a Lone Star. John Williams, after downing a Frito pie and seeing Kevin go back for nachos, proclaimed, “Now partner, when I want nachos that is what I want. No beans, no sour cream, no nothing.” Pointing at Kevin’s plastic tray piled high with tortilla chips, melted nacho cheese, and jalapenos, it was, at the moment, hard to argue.
All this before hot dog prices were reduced toward the end of the night. In an effort to dump inventory, the price of a hot dog was slashed to an improbable $1.50. It was too much for poor Williams to resist, and after seeing him so thoroughly enjoying his dog, I, too, gave in, and ate my first hot dog in at least two years.
And it was delicious.
Back at our rink-side seats, we, along with a crowd of hundreds, were allowed a glimpse of real drama as an injury brought out the paramedics, who wasted no time in preparing the stretcher. A hushed silence fell over the crowd until the paramedics were waved off. Toughness and grit are the true marks of champions, and even though on this night the Texecutioners came out on the losing end, something tells me that next season, when the theme will no doubt be “Vengeance,” the championship will return to Austin.
And so, too, will $1.50 Hot Dog Night.

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More by John Razook
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