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Thursday, November 25, 2010

I heart Long Beach!

“All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental and should not be construed.  No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.” 
–Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 
...(I love you)

I <3 Long Beach!

(Okay, I rollerskate Long Beach)

I went down south last weekend by to catch a Long Beach game. It was their inaugural season Championship bout. At the game, league owners and founders Estro Jen and Diesel had a surprise announcement, revealing that Long Beach Roller Derby would be getting a banked track, and that their second season would be played on it. The crowd went wild.

All week I struggled thinking about what I was going to write. Usually I just let inspiration come to me, but there was no doubt I had to write something about this LBC trip. It didn’t help that I was being introduced to everyone as “Auntie, the blogger”. Jesus. You might as well introduce me as “the douche”. It just sounds so pretentious. I hate the word blog. Late Saturday night, sitting in a stranger’s living room, drunk and with skates on my feet- I belligerently yelled at an unsuspecting gentleman that, “bloggers and writers are most certainly NOT the same thing!”. Poor fella.

xoxo <3 Diesel and Estro <3 xoxo
My apprehension about writing stemmed from the fact that both Estro and Diesel were such gracious hosts and lovely ladies. How could I criticize anything they did? And lets face it- it’s in my nature. I wasn’t NOT going to see anything wrong. No offense to anyone, but I just look at something and want to improve it. It’s how my brain works. So naturally the instant I made friends and liked the gals, I had reservations about what I was going to think and feel and ultimately end up wanting to write.

I do remember saying to Estro after the game though that I felt like I couldn’t breathe a word of criticism because their production, game, whole entire event, kicked the ass of anything I have pulled off to date. It’s like a mother telling you your opinion doesn’t matter because you yourself are not a mom.  What the heck does my opinion on what they’re doing matter, if I have no candle to hold to their flame? –You know?

But I thought about it, and I ended up concluding that Estro and Diesel liked me in the first place because I say what I think, and they wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t. And I think it would be worse to lose their respect than lose their friendship, (though I hope not to lose either). So sorry ladies, but I’m going to say what I think and just lay it all out there.

What they did right:
(Might as well say this first, you know, to soften the blow of my outrageously out of line remarks to follow).

The Queen Mary Dome was absolutely incredible. It’s sort of funny because for years my gal Kutthroat Kandie and I have been dreaming of the day when we could have our “derby dome” and that is pretty much what the LBRD ladies have got goin’ on, their own derby dome. And it’s fucking phenomenal. Estro told me I was going to be jealous and she sure called that one. Who wouldn't want their own Dome?

The Moxi storeowner has a knack for business like no other. Things come so natural to her she doesn’t get why it’s not clear to others. It’s kind of amazing to watch her work. When we walked into the dome on Friday there were big globs of concrete stuck to the ground and 3-inch rods of rebar sticking up out of the floor. The track was just taped down around it like this was normal. My first reaction was “Shit, we skate on concrete but this makes our league look like pansies! You skate on this?!” Estro however, had already launched into fix-it mode.  While dialing her ‘floor guy’ she briefly explained to me that the October Haunted House had left the floor that way, and then got on the line to get someone to the dome ASAP to resurface it.  Her floor guy ended up scooting around the track on a skateboard hand sanding the entire track himself all night long. Everything moved so fluidly. After the main event Estro uttered something about worrying they might have to cancel the game. If not for her words, I would NEVER had known it. She worked so effortlessly and seemingly without any concern I had no clue she was stressed. She is obviously just one of those people who excels under pressure. While rambling on about getting paperwork into Riedell my head was swirling with all the things she was saying and all the responsibilities she has and I just interrupted her and said, “Um.. What’s your business background?” To which she simply laughed and said curtly “None! Gal, I’m a horrible business owner”. Ha!! Ya, right. Like I said, she doesn’t GET why it’s not clear to others. It’s just the way her brain works.

Their uniforms! Aw man you shoulda seen em. Oh wait, you can...

This is Diesel, co-founder of LBRD and captain of the
Terminal Island Tootsies, and her little sister Bio-Diesel,
(the cleaner alternative) of the Bixsby Rollerettes.  
Don’t they look snazzy?

All the uniforms looked sharp and clean and HAWT! The teams fighting for the Championship that night were the Bixby Rollerettes and the Terminal Island Tootsies, (not skating in the championship that night were the Long Beach league’s Retro Rollers). While some have argued that the “costumey” uniform look, (as opposed to the jersey style of say, the Santa Cruz league) is not athletic, and some even say, unprofessional- these ladies were all of those things, and more. They were certainly athletes playing a real sport, and they looked damn good doing it. Classy even.

[Just for reference: here is    Santa Cruz and their 
“jersey style” uniforms]

While I liked the team theme and uniforms of the Tootsies more than the Rollerettes, (come on, pin up sailor chicks? Misnomer in my opinion) my favorite part of the uniforms was still the Rollerettes’ cute white mock go-go boots. I was partial to them because I have always wanted to make patent leather skate covers that looked like boots! I have made all my fur leg warmers so I thought making some fake boot skate covers would be simple. Apparently I was not the only one with this idea. Upon further investigation I think I discovered that they were in fact a homemade creation.  Brilliant! Here are a couple more shots from that night.

Check out those skate covers!

  Pin Up Calendar,

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Retro Rollers. Now THAT’S the team I would want to skate for if I were a Long Beach Roller Girl. I can’t help it. I'm a flower child at heart. Check out how they roll.

Retro Estro (Restro?) coaching her team
from the sidelines!

And here is
Anita Bonghit #420 modeling her jersey
for some adoring fans

While listening to some teammates discuss the future of our league the other day, I couldn’t help sketch down some key quotes that stuck out to me on this very subject. Obviously there is some contention in the roller derby world regarding this- I have my opinions, but it’s kind of funny to sit back and listen to others talk about it. One skater argued against the jersey style uniforms, stating that one of the reasons roller derby is cool is because of the glitz and glam. She said, “I’m going to kick your ass, but I’m going to look good while I’m doing it.” Another skater interjected thoughtfully, “that takes away from why I joined roller derby. These are things to consider when going forward- how commercialized is it going to get? I mean, I don’t want to commercialize the shit out of it.” Haha. I couldn’t have said it better myself Nellz. The jury is still out on which direction derby is headed. Honestly, I like both. I’m drawn to the themes, theatrics and boutfits as much as I see the appeal of clean, athletic looking jerseys.  Time will tell what the future holds and what fans want but for now, it’s safe to say the Long Beach girls look damn good. Regardless, they played a great (and real) game of roller derby, and in my eyes- that’s all that really matters.

Auntie’s suggestions for improvement:

Now, these things aren’t necessarily Long Beach specific. These are just criticisms I have about roller derby on a larger scale, so- don’t take it personal.

Mix, Mix, Mix it Up!
I was sitting in the grandstands, which were considered the premium seats, but the jams started on the opposite side of the track all night long. Why not after half time, switch it up and start the jams from the other side? It doesn’t affect the game in any way and it gives the other half of the audience a new perspective. It just makes sense.  If you’re not going to try this, maybe start the jams from the grandstand side in the first place. $10 more a ticket should equal more action. While you can see more of the game from the stands anyway, it is still exciting to see those girls take off and run on their toe stops up close when that whistle blows!

Half time was SO long…! I have said this before and I will say it again! The whole time all I could think was “Jesus Christ if I were a skater I would have a hard time keeping my momentum going right now”. I know they are in their locker rooms and talking strategy but still, let’s get this show on the road. I don’t care how cool fire dancers and hot guys with motorcycles are, (and all that was cool)- I came here for roller derby. And like I said, as a skater- all I could think was, “Gee, I’d want to take my skates off and hit the after party right about now”.

My opinion? You only need enough time for the girls to pee and the team to re-group. 15 minutes is plenty!

BELTS! I do not need to go into any more detail about my feelings and opinions on belts. I think they should be barred from the sport, period. Sorry LBRD, but you are no exception. Read my blog about it here, and a better more detailed anti-belt article was also featured in issue 9 of five on five magazine If that is not enough to convince you belts are bad, consider the fact that the NFL has banned the horse collar tackle, a method of grabbing an opponent’s collar, or inside of their shoulder pads, to take them down. In addition to causing injury to the one being tackled, (or let’s say- the one whose belt or uniform is getting pulled on by the whippee) the one doing the tackling (taking the whip) can also break a finger or get their digits stuck in the other’s gear, (or belt). ESPECIALLY if the belt is hard, leather, studded or just doesn’t give in general. I’m telling you, don’t wear belts.

Introduce a “Slaughter-Clause” or use of the “Mercy Rule”! A friend of mine who plays softball and myself were recently talking about this. For those who don’t know, “A mercy rule, also well known by the slightly less polite term slaughter rule, brings a sports event to an early end when one team has a very large and presumably insurmountable lead over the other team.”  Okay, I don’t remember what the point spread was by half time- maybe it was still possible to recover from the gap going into the second half, but I do remember it was large enough to make me think about introducing the mercy rule into this sport. One completely valid reason is this is still an amateur sport, and it is often times difficult to know what type of competition you are going up against if you have never seen your opponents in game play. And since there are no real universal standards in determining or assessing another team’s skating ability before you go up against them, a mercy rule seems perfectly reasonable. While one reason “it is called the mercy rule is because it spares the losing team the humiliation of suffering a more formal loss, and denies the winning team the satisfaction thereof” I think there are better reasons for calling off the game when there is a huge point spread, like safety. I know when I’m on the team that’s losing by 70+ points I start playing cutthroat. Not dirty, just out to fucking win. And let’s see, when I’m on the other team that is leading by 70+ points that cutthroat ruthlessness for winning can and is construed as playing dirty. Limbs flail and rules go out the window. Fights break out and girls stop caring if they get sent to the box. Why should they? They’re trying anything they can to gain the advantage. Solution? Mercy rule. 

Now I can see some legitimate exceptions to this rule. For instance, you are playing an inner league game and you know how your skaters play. The Long Beach game was between skaters of the same league. Those girls only play each other. So arguably, as big as the point spread got- they knew how bad it was going to get, and how willing skaters would be to commit penalties and skate recklessly. The more of a bond and sisterhood you have, the less you want to break someone’s neck, no matter how competitive you are or how big the point spread is. Secondly, you have 1,500 paying spectators who want to see a game. You don’t really have this problem when calling off an amateur softball game. I might argue here that likewise, an audience will get bored and leave before the game is over if the outcome seems clear, (at least they all do at the high school football games in my town) but the audience in Long Beach didn’t. In fact, everyone seemed pretty engaged the entire team, despite the painfully long half time. Maybe I’m just really critical? …Nah.
Trading Cards- and Autograph Tables: Now I might get some heat for this but hear me out. During my NorCal days, the after party would be announced immediately upon the game’s end, as the audience was filing out the doors. Then all us skaters would haul ass over to the after party. We might even call out “Buy us a drink!!” over the announcer as we booked it to our cars. When we arrived at the after party, people were waiting to congratulate us. –To buy us drinks. We were still riding the enthusiasm and excitement of the game.

[cause I told you you do]
This past weekend, the audience was practically encouraged to wait around while staff started breaking down the event before heading over to the after party. The momentum was allowed to die. Sure a band was playing, and skaters were sitting outside prepared to sign autographs and sell trading cards, but it’s not what the people wanted. The audience wants to go to a bar and be loud and party and drink and maybe get a chance to hit on a roller girl. Let’s get a move on. Let’s do this. But the more time that passes before it looks like people are heading to the bar, the more chance you have of someone just deciding to go home. Look, if someone wants your autograph and to buy your trading card, they will seek you out and FIND YOU AT THE AFTER PARTY. If they see all the skaters bee-line out of the facility like they are too important to speak with anyone, and the announcer is telling them that if they want a chance to talk to one of those girls, they are going to have to go to the after party- guess what- they go to the after party. It creates mystery! That girl’s autograph and trading card instantly become more desirable, more of a commodity, because you have to seek it out to get it.

Food for Thought:

I must admit I found myself hearing people out last weekend who tried to justify $80 a month dues, (not LBRD btw) and (what I consider) exorbitant ticket prices and I actually, for a second, found myself starting to see their big picture and understand what they were saying. Then I came home and quickly snatched myself back down from those clouds and told myself “that’s how people sell out Auntie, be careful”.  The minute I start justifying $80 dues and $25 ticket prices I’ve become one of them. And I’m not going to do it. I refuse. I told my team I will step down before I start watching people pay $80 a month.  (I don’t see how a team can fundraise so much and still have such high dues! You know who you are, make your case!)

It’s about money, honey
I find myself justifying and hearing out and seeing other people’s big pictures because women are really passionate about roller derby. It’s convincing. I listened in on two slightly inebriated, really emotionally invested skaters engage in a conversation about whether or not $16-$25 ticket prices are reasonable. I heard accusatory statements like, “what other sporting events have a band, and a half time show with belly/fire dancers!?” Well ya sure, but the bottom line is people aren’t paying for bands and fire dancers, they’re paying for a sporting event, and I am simply suggesting that maybe, possibly- some patrons are willing to forgo those things for a cheaper ticket. And my point is, you can still get tickets to an A’s game for 2 bucks on Tuesdays. Okay, I’m not stupid. Other defenses of ticket prices are the amazing facility, and overhead- i.e. the Queen Mary Dome, and the fact that 1) patrons can see the A’s on TV and 2 buck Tuesdays are an incentive to get fans to the game that would not otherwise come, and you can’t see roller derby on TV and 2) professional sports make money off of ALL SORTS OF THINGS besides ticket prices. Hey, I get that. But paying customers who like sports don’t. They aren’t thinking about overhead and marketing. They’re looking at their budget and discretionary income for the month, and weighing 2 bucks against 16.That is just how it works. 

I also had the pleasure, or at least was intrigued, to overhear two (different) skaters get into it about the game poster.

Summary: The issue at hand was, well, punches aren’t thrown in roller derby- and was the sport being falsely represented by the imagery on the poster. One girl was arguing vehemently that the poster was art, (which no doubt it is, the picture is beautiful, I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s not art)- but she seemed convinced that no one would think that punching is what happens at a roller derby game anyway. She seemed certain that fans would understand it was just poster art, and the sport was separate. “The girls in the picture aren’t even wearing pads,” she explained. But the girl arguing with her nonetheless insisted the public still doesn’t know exactly what roller derby is yet and that the poster could indeed misconstrue the sport. 

I had heard that some guys who saw the poster traveled more than an hour to see the game. Just from the poster-… do you think they were disappointed they did not end up seeing girls actually punch each other? No, of course not. But does that mean that they understood that the picture was art when they saw it? –Not so sure. Now does it MATTER?  That is the question. If the games are selling out and the girls are not actually throwing punches when the game happens, does it matter what the poster depicts? Well, of course it matters, but what is okay and what is not okay to sell tickets? In my opinion, what matters is those guys didn’t leave at half time like the girls I saw at the Bombers game this summer, who walked out stating in disappointed disgust “THAT’S not what I thought roller derby was!” What matters is they were not disappointed, and they will be back for more.

But the fact is- those guys actually went to the game. What about the people who saw the poster who didn’t go to the game? I’m not inferring anything. I just think it is an important point to mention because there are people who saw the poster, who didn’t go to the game, and who also know nothing about roller derby, and there were clearly people on the other side who could not fathom that someone might formulate an opinion on the sport solely on that image alone. Go forth and pursue your visions and dreams and do things your way. Just understand what and how you’re putting yourself out there. I admit the first time I saw the poster, as a skater, the image made me apprehensive, I’m not going to lie. But I also thought it was a phenomenal poster, and I liked the uniforms, (!) and it made me excited to see the game. Basically, it got me interested. I think that was the point.

One thing is for sure- I introduced some friends of mine to roller derby at the Long Beach game. They were blown away. With me yelling the rules at them and also simultaneously screaming at the refs from the sidelines, not to mention front row seats complete with falling skaters directly in front of our cameras, coupled with the bad ass uniforms and beneath the lights of the Queen Mary dome, it was hard for them not to fall in love.  It will be certainly hard to live up to their expectations when my team hosts our first home game come August 2011, and they show up to see what we’ve created. Not to mention I’ve got this blog to force me into action. So I guess the only vindication for anything negative I’ve said would be our failure come summer. I guess you will all have to come out and see.

While I was in LA I also attended Blade’s weekly Saturday morning skate class just to get a taste of his coaching style and ability. I met Blade at the 75th Anniversary event in October. He is an accomplished skater who has coached over 1,000 women in the sport of roller derby and owns the California Skate School in Southern California. I actually wasn’t going to go because it was an hour drive from Long Beach, but Estro who used to skate with him scolded me exclaiming, “Are you kidding me!? Blade is the best coach I know!” So I had to go. And let me tell you, East Bay Roller Derby [or any league] would be lucky to have him coach for any amount of time- even a weekend. Though he'll tell you he needs months, or even years with you to get you really up to par, don't listen to him. You can still benefit from an hour of his time.

As a skater, the weekend was really exciting for me. It felt great to get a chance to skate with people who actually had something to teach me and something constructive to say for once. I don’t say that because I think I am a really phenomenal skater. I say that because being a good skater and having the ability to break it down and teach it is rare and very hard to come by. How many professional skaters do you know? Ya, exactly.

Estro wanted to know if I could shoot the duck and do a 360, and I wasn’t sure. Of course- the first things I had to try the second I got home and had skates on my feet was to shoot the duck and land a 360. Estro is wild on skates and it’s inspiring. She just looks like she is having so much fun. In addition to boring old ramps, Estro will pop a jump off a bush, chain link fence and fire hydrant. At least, that’s what I saw.

There are a lot of things that stuck out about working with Blade, like skating like a housefly and learning how to position your core so you can leap in all directions. But what I remember most was the opportunity to laugh at myself when shown that leaning back in the turns isn’t cool looking or fancy, just lazy. (Okay, maybe it’s cool looking AND lazy). I’m a pretty firm believer in the concept that the harder route is usually the best route- most of the time. And I guess if pushing through and forcing myself to crossover in the turns is harder, it probably is better. After all, if I’m not crossing over in the turns because I’m tired, the blockers probably aren’t either. Way to make me think, B. Touché.

As a league president, the weekend was…confusing. 
I left with lots to think about…
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Derby Love,

Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of some of this drunken weekend of derby debauchery by reading my last blog!

And if you’d like to read more about the LBRD game, check out these links!




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