When a friend invited us to her husband’s 45th roller derby birthday party, of course I immediately accepted. I kept picturing Juliette Lewis in “Whip It” and scanned my closet for a mini-quilt and spandex. But then I got the jitters. Would we need not only a sitter but also mouth guards and helmets?
By the time we arrived at Temple’s Liacouras Center Saturday night, however, we’d realized our only exertion would be to swill beers and decide whether to cheer on the Broad Street Butchers or the Heavy Metal Hookers in the Philly Roller Girls’ Warrior Cup. But when we saw thickets of fans queuing to pick up their stubs, I wondered if the 13 of us were out of luck.
“Do roller derbies actually sell out?” fretted my husband, Jeff, who’d neglected to buy us advanced tickets. One couple in line wore pointy, green devil ears and “Skatin’ for Satan” T-shirts. Another couple divided their labor, the man shouldering a Diaper Dude bag and the woman jouncing what appeared to be an 8-month-old in a Baby Bjorn. I hardly thought women’s flat track roller derby to be appropriate family fare, but apparently it was far more popular than we’d ever imagined.
Nonetheless, we were able to nab last-minute seats and settled into place with our Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab Fries and Miller Lites. The Guinness keg was kicked. We know this because Jeff and Brian scoured the center, unrewarded in their quest for a hardier brew.
“I’m getting a very JV vibe about the whole production,” said one of our party as we watched a fellow in a baby pink “Official” T-shirt down on hands and knees, applying green tape to the circular track. Then the opening match, the Philthy Britches versus the Albany All Stars, took center stage. With names like Ginger Vitis and Savidge Booty, the Britches wore a patriotic garb of star-spangled spandex. The All Stars resembled bruises in black and blue butt-huggers. I guessed the torn fishnets were aerodynamic. Erin surmised that “big boobs” presented a liability. “I think it’s just more potential for injury,” she said.
Marveling at the camp, I still couldn’t figure out the technical side as I watched the Britches shove the All Stars around the track. By period 2, jam 7, the Britches were up 233 to 33 – clearly an unfair match. And I was getting a bit dizzy.
“They must go to bed at night and dream about going in circles,” a friend said.
“Kind of like life,” I added.
Finally we found a woman with an over-sized silver question mark sign reading, “Ask me about derby.” She armed us with crib sheets of rules, which described how a “bout” consisted of two, 30-minute periods of multiple “jams.” Brian, who had the misfortune of sitting on my left and paying attention, had to explain to me that the “jammer,” or woman in the starred helmet on each team, tried to lap the other skaters to score points. Her teammates acted as hitters and blockers in this full-contact sport. When the jammer got tired, she “called the jam” by slapping her thighs, and the teams reset. All this was fine and dandy but a bit too complex. And frankly, from where I was sitting, the derby just looked like hell on wheels.
“It’s kind of like ‘Mulholland Drive,’” Brian said. “You keep waiting for it to make sense.”
“I think they should turn down the lights, turn up the music, and make it a roller derby dance party,” Erin decided.
“Do you think the atmosphere will pick up with the main event?” another friend asked.
Indeed, it did. After the Britches skated off with a 337-74 victory, the lights dimmed. “Ladies and gentlemen!” cried the announcer. “Let’s make some noise for the Broad Street Butchers!” Smoke bloomed from a tunnel as the Butchers took the track, accompanied by the booming of their names. “247, Devoida Mercy,” shouted the announcer. “81, Eileen U. Scream!”
“The Bloody helmets are a nice touch,” Jenny noted.
“Very nice,” I agreed.
The Heavy Metal Hookers whooshed out in fluorescent green, zebra-striped spandex and tats. “No. 421, R2 D-Cup,” the MC roared. “No. 10, Helen of Gore… 527, Heavy Flo!” And the jam was on.
“The line is Hookers minus 58,” Jeff said, rubbing his palms.
“You get the Hookers by 58? Oh, I’ll take the Butchers!”
“Let’s go Butchers! Let’s go, let’s go!”
“This could be an upset,” Jeff cried. “Awwww! Great hit!”
“She’s tryin’ to skate right through her ass!” Brian yelled.
By the end of period 1, jam 8, the Hookers were up, 22-19. “This is not what the Butchers wanted,” Jeff said. “This is like the Eagles’ offensive line.” I couldn’t even understand the conversation around me, much less the spectacle in front of me.
But we did make enough noise that the man with the hand-held air cannon shot the birthday boy a “Voodoo Girls Go-Go Horror” shirt. “It’s not my size,” said John, dejected, handing it to Jenny.
And then the mascots emerged. One wore a bloodied apron and chased around a pre-teen waving a “Viva La Butcher” flag. “Is that the Butcher or Heavy Flo?” wondered Brian.
“Look at Bacon Boy!” Jeff exclaimed, pointing to a fellow dressed as a slab of pork. The man, apparently hot, soon shed his costume. “He’s taking it off!” Jeff yelled. “The bacon suit! Put the bacon suit back on!”
But even with all their props and fanfare, the Butchers couldn’t compete with the Hookers’ tricks. The Hookers were leading 146 to 94 when we left. We didn’t stick around for the end. At 9 p.m., Jenny called the jam.
We had to roll. After all, we had reservations at Alla Spina, an Italian gastropub, where the menu was heavy on beer and bacon – and where we toasted the derby and a fine man and his wife on his 45th birthday.