There are plenty of good reasons for women to be bitchy: the glass ceiling, social oppression, pantyhose, bad pick-up lines, double standards, uncomfortable shoes, and, of course, cramps. When I feel particularly picked on, I go for a long walk, make a cup of chai, and turn myself into a simmering little teapot of passive-aggressive anger. But Saturday I went to Gold Coast Roller Rink (2604 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale) to witness the Sunshine State Smackdown — three teams of roller derby girls duking it out in a bloodletting battle for roller rink dominance. Here it dawned on me that my stress-check methods are for sissies. You gotta get out there and let your muscles do your talking, girl. If I was serious about venting, I'd be wearing skates and knocking out teeth.
Ambience: Gold Coast is the roller rink from your childhood — flashing lights over the rink, "play till you win" candy machines, fatty food, festive carpeting. As I walked inside, I sniffed for that musky scent I associate with childhood skate parties. I found that Gold Coast's birthday party fragrance had been replaced by the reek of angry estrogen. The women had made this skating facility their bitch — two roller derby girls commandeered the men's restroom when they found the ladies' too crowded for their taste. A faux-hawked woman in a black leather skirt and boots un-self-consciously pulled a breast out of her top and proceeded to feed her baby. Woman power briefly engulfed my senses; I stifled the urge to strike a Rosie the Riveter arm-pump pose.
The place was packed. The line to the snack bar snaked across the green and purple tile of the sitting area as customers wearing "Girl Power" shirts edged slowly toward the counter for their requisite beer and slice of greasy pizza. Lime-green tape defined the game play area, and the part of the rink not used for the derby had been stocked with chairs to seat the raucous spectators. Between roller bouts, punk rock bands covered Misfits songs and, coupled with the buzz of kids screaming and people slurping beers, rendered conversation completely impossible.
But as soon as the band set ended, another roller derby bout began — broad-shouldered girls whipping around the rink, a blur of black cloth and green tattoos. The crowd screamed each time a jammer — the girl on each team who scores points by skating past members of the opposing team — turned out another lap.
Suddenly a girl going by the derby name Fulla Hate sprawled across the polished floor, as if somebody had hurled a piece of furniture out of the audience. Unable to pull herself up from her hard fall, she grimaced with pain as she was helped off the rink. Later I saw Fulla, her tall skate sock packed fulla ice, limping around the wings.
In its quest for my pampered attention, the Smackdown had violently earned it.
The Smackdown: Derby is about skating fast, scoring points, and blocking opponents from scoring — by whatever means necessary. The two-evening Sunshine State Smackdown consisted of three different teams — Indian River Derby Girls, Molly Rogers Roller Girls, and the Broward County Derby Grrls — catfighting it out, each team playing two bouts per night. But it's just as much about cute, quasi-intimidating nicknames ("Sister Spank," "Leetha N Fection," or "Sin D. Lap-Her"), high, striped socks, and sisterhood as it is about competition. Not to mention aggressive empowerment — you're just waiting for these girls to whip off their bras and set them on fire with their skull-shaped cigarette lighters.
Out on the rink, Broward County Derby Grrl Trauma Sutra is a blur of studs and kinky platinum blond hair. She's also got a bad habit of ending up in the "Skank Tank" — a cage skaters wind up in for using cheap tactics (like, say, placing your elbow deftly into your opponent's rib cage) in their quest to bring the enemy to her knees — or ass, if possible.
"You seem to be pretty comfortable in the penalty box," I said. "Any particular reason you spend so much time there?"
"I actually think the refs are picking on me, but sometimes you can't help but put out an elbow — a reflex," Trauma told me, her voice fast and excited from the adrenaline still pumping. "Even so, I'm a nurse, and it hurts me to see people hurt. I'll see a girl crying, holding her wrist or something, and I'll go over and say, 'Are you OK? I'm so sorry.'"
"Wow, that's very decent of you," I said.
"My coach yells at me when I do it," she said. "But I feel bad for hurting them, and can't help myself."
But Jack U Up, a teammate of Trauma's, isn't quite as apologetic in her quest for blood. Broad-shouldered and narrow-eyed, she towered over me in her roller skates.
"I work at Home Depot and manage to be calm there," she said. "I'm here to take out my aggression."
Drinks: You can go to a bar any night of the week and get drunk on cheap beer. But how often can you get drunk on cheap beer ($3 domestic, $4 import) while Amazons in mesh stockings and kneepads fly recklessly around a rink? Drinking at my favorite dive just won't be the same after the thrill of increasing inebriation set to the glorious cadence of brawling babes tit-punching each other. But because the rink doesn't serve alcohol every day, imbibers are asked to sign a liability form to absolve the rink of responsibility for the shit you get yourself into while boozed up (like picking a fight with one of them bad-ass roller chicks, perhaps?).
Spectators: The place was filled with an eclectic array of tattoos, patched jackets, pierced faces, fishnets, pleather, and fetish wear as people turned out to drink cold beer, slurp down cheese fries, and cheer shamelessly for their favorite roller girls. Even the kids came out: The young son of Ree King Havoc (number 506 on Indian River) wore a T-shirt printed with "My Mom Rocks" on the front and derby girls' signatures scrawled everywhere else.
Michael wore glasses, his hair in a messy ponytail, and a shirt that read: "a man of quality isn't threatened by women for equality." He told me he had come to work as a volunteer scoreboard technician and to root for his girlfriend, Dottie Gigglesmash.
"Do you like your girlfriend doing roller derby?" I asked.
"Yeah, it gives her a hobby," he said. "And something other than me to take her anger out on."
The games ended and the rink cleared out around 11 p.m. Neighboring Chrome Bar hosted a block party afterward — it consisted of roller girls and spectators drinking in the street and listening to loud music. Bruises, bumps, and snarls all melted away under the glorious haze of alcohol in a sweaty aftermath of feminine bonding. Girls on different teams mingled, nursed their wounds, and poured beer down their dehydrated throats. How's that for stress relief? Not a bad end to a night of organized and team-oriented catfighting.