My Date with The Derby Demons – Part Two: Battle Born Again

Part One: Reno’s Derby Little Secret

 

Putting It All Together

bbdd_jambayouIt is Saturday morning and players, family and friends work putting together the metal fence needed to gate in the otherwise open concrete park. Gnarly Nailer works by the south side of the park, bolting fence pieces together and draping it with sponsor advertising.

“We,” she says referring to the Battle Born Derby Demons, “have to put all of this together, skate for 90 minutes and then take it all down again.” No hint of irritation or resentment exists in her statement. Rather, she expresses excitement about the coming game.

I return to the park at 4 p.m. and receive my instructions from Whiskey Ginger. My job as an outside board penalty tracker is to write down any fouls the outside referees call and relay the penalty and the degree of violation to the record keepers in the middle of the track. I am also told that I am to remain neutral at all times, not cheering for the Derby Demons or expressing disapproval of any call.

Dark clouds roll over the park 30 minutes before game time. The players express concern. Like baseball, roller derby can get rained out. Meanwhile spectators begin arriving, paying $10 each to see the game.

With a clap of thunder, drops of rain start falling. Even if it stops, the track has to be dry to play the game. Mama Whiskey, mother of Whiskey Ginger, says that last year the same thing happened and the Cal-Neva, a casino next to city hall, loaned the team squeegees to clear the track.

Local band The Shames played for the crowd before the beginning of the game.

Local band The Shames played for the crowd before the beginning of the game.

Fifteen minutes before game time the falling rain increases, baptizing the track in water. Protected by a covered stage, The Shames, a local band, play a selection of audience-friendly rock music. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a booth at the event, promoting breast cancer awareness. On the other side of the track, GourMelt’s food truck appears, selling grilled-cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

And then, as if by an act of Providence, the rain stops, the clouds part and the track dries. The game starts on time. Michelle Calhoun, the Derby Demons’ announcer, welcomes spectators and describes the rules of flat track roller derby.

The Gourmelt food truck arrived, selling a variety of snacks including grilled-cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

The Gourmelt food truck arrived, selling a variety of snacks including grilled-cheese sandwiches and sweet potato fries.

The game, according to the official Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rulebook, allows four blockers and one jammer from each team on the track during play. The blockers of both sides form “the pack.” Behind the pack, each team’s jammer tries to work her way through the pack. Once she breaks through, she must skate around the track and try to break through the pack again. She scores a point for every blocker she passes. Once the jammer scores, she can end the jam. The players return to the starting line and start another jam.

Roller derby is a contact sport, but the belief that it is a brawl without rules is a myth. The WFTDA has rules – no elbows for example – and the referee will penalize players for misconduct.

Derby Demon Anita Jambayou prepares for the day's game.

Derby Demon Anita Jambayou prepares for the day’s game.

Calhoun announces the end of the first half of the game. The Wild West Outlaws are ahead of the Derby Demons. The Derby Demon’s coach gathers the team, telling them to keep focused on the game and not on the score. The team returns to the track for the second half of the game.

The game ends. The Outlaws defeat the Derby Demons 87 – 152. With the game over, the crowd leaves and the Derby Demons shed their gear and turn to the task of breaking down the fences and cleaning the park.

“This Makes Me Feel Like I’m A Rock Star”

Although the season is over, derby is still on the mind of the players. Schmidt and Maulher still have the sport on their minds. Practice continues weekly until they return to competition in May and fresh meat arrives weekly to try out for the team.

With the season behind her, Schmidt takes some time to reflect on what being a Derby Demon means to her.

Anita Jambayou and Eat Schmidt prepare for their bout against the Wild West Outlaws.

Anita Jambayou and Eat Schmidt prepare for their bout against the Wild West Outlaws.

“If you take away the fishnets and the glamorized version of it that people perceive and start to look at it like we all do, it’s a sisterhood of women that are like-minded. I typically don’t get along with the average woman. This is a sport that brings together women that are like-minded, independent, strong willed and willing to take the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone.”

Schmidt adds that she spends more time with the derby girls than she does with her friends and family.

“It’s a very positive co-dependence,” Maulher says with a laugh.

Both skaters say that derby has increased their self-confidence and given them a positive outlook on life.

Since she spent most of her time on the bench in high school sports, Schmidt finds roller derby to be special. This is the only sport she’s done that she feels like she actually benefits the team.

“I fell in love with it,” Schmidt says. “And it’s unlike anything I’ve every felt before because it is such a close-knit family that fill a void I never knew I had.”

Schmidt, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, is not a petite girl. She has spent her life being self-critical because of her size and height. But being a part of the Derby Demons has given her a new outlook and added meaning to her life.

“This makes me feel like I’m a rock star; that I am beautiful; that my body is beautiful. I’ve always been so hard on myself. But now, I can look in the mirror and be proud of myself.”

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Every Other Sunday: The Little Waldorf Saloon

The games selection is small, but there is still enough to keep you busy while you wait for your meal.

The games selection is small, but there is still enough to keep you busy while you wait for your meal.

My youngest son, Lucas, visits me every other weekend. It is a time to focus on having fun and enjoying our time together. All other obligations get put aside for a few days. At 13, he is tall, lanky and wears his hair long. Sunday is our day to go out for lunch and on most Sundays we go to the Little Waldorf Saloon in Reno, Nev. But the journey involves a few other stops.

Neither of us has Internet on our home computers, so we stop at the University of Nevada, and share time on the computers. For an hour, we watch the trailers to the latest movies and check YouTube for the latest video of a teenage skateboarder castrating himself on the rails of a park stairway.

Then we cross the street and go to the Little Waldorf Saloon. The restaurant, styled in rustic wood and a cannon sitting on its roof, has our favorite special on Sundays: buy one hamburger; get a second for a penny. The cannon came to Reno with the restaurants founder, Red Waldorf, when he left his uncle’s hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, and travel to Reno to start a restaurant in 1922. The Little Waldorf would fire the cannon when the UNR Wolf Pack won a game. However, the Reno police put an end to that due to noise.  We sit down at a booth and watch a bit of whatever game is on the television. Today it’s football. The inside is dark, with stained hardwood beams, seats and, well, just about everything in the restaurant is covered in wood or Old West antiques.

Lucas is still the reigning champion of Dragon Punch!

Lucas is still the reigning champion of Dragon Punch!

After Lucas orders the Great Bacon Burger and I go for the Sourdough Burger, we play video games. The Little Waldorf has a limited selection of games, but we enjoy ourselves. “Street Fighter II” and pinball are always on our agenda. But Lucas loves “Dragon Punch,” which isn’t even a video game. It is a larger-than-average boxing speed bag attached to a machine. Punch the bag, and the machine gives you a score.  Lucas got the highest score, 8648, a few months ago and he takes pride that no one has yet to beat his score.

To my chagrin, I have yet to beat him on this game. I know how to throw a punch and, at three times the boy’s weight, I should be able to beat him easily. Yet every other week I get served.

Bottlecaps ($5.49) are green and red jalapenos battered, fried and served with ranch dressing. The batter is light and almost reminds me of tempura. This is a great appetizer with a little heat and the addition of red peppers adds a little variety to the look of the dish. This got a thumbs up from Lucas.

Bottlecaps ($5.49) are green and red jalapenos battered, fried and served with ranch dressing. The batter is light and almost reminds me of tempura. This is a great appetizer with a little heat and the addition of red peppers adds a little variety to the look of the dish. This got a thumbs up from Lucas.

We take our time at the Little Waldorf. We enjoy our appetizer of Bottlecaps, red and green jalapenos deep fried in a very light batter, and drinks while waiting for our meal. I am always fascinated by the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy. He can switch from talking about why is there still racism to fart jokes to his desire to learn to play Paganini on his violin to why he thinks the Dodge Viper is the best car in the world to why he thinks mechanical webbing is a better idea than organic webbing in the “Spider-Man” films in the span of a few sentences. He talks about what he is learning in history class; the Second Industrial Revolution. I mention that I am studying the same subject in my economic history of the United States class, but with a focus on the economics of the era. Our Sunday lunch is an open forum.

After lunch, we usually go shopping. Sometimes he needs new clothes, which he is surprisingly good a choosing for a boy his age. But usually we travel to the Barnes & Noble and Best Buy on South Virginia Street. We take time looking at books. He looks at historical fiction. I look at comic books.

At five o’clock, it is time for the good times to end. We go back to my apartment. He picks up his things and I take him back to his mother’s. Our Sunday travel is not elaborate and hardly exciting, but it is our time together.

It is an opportunity for Lucas to act a little more like an adult and for me to act a little less like one. I know my time is short. Another year or two and he will be more interested in girls, sports and whatever the hell kids are into these days. The writing is on the wall. I will be irrelevant, at least for a while. And the Little Waldorf will just be a restaurant on Virginia Street that I used to go to with my teenage son.

Text and photos Copyright © Paul George 2012

The Sourdough Burger ($9.49) includes a spicy mustard and grilled onions. Another great choice at the Little Waldorf!

The Sourdough Burger ($9.49) includes a spicy mustard and grilled onions. Another great choice at the Little Waldorf!

The Great Bacon Burger ($9.79) featured, well, you guessed it, bacon. Lucas loved it.

The Great Bacon Burger ($9.79) featured, well, you guessed it, bacon. Lucas loved it.

My Date with The Derby Demons – Part One: Reno’s Derby Little Secret

“This makes me feel like I’m a rock star,” says blocker Eat Schmidt.

Veronica Schmidt, 31, 6-foot-2, full-figured woman, works as a baker for Whole Foods Market in Reno, Nev. During her workday, she prepares breads and bakes Star Wars-themed cakes for children’s birthdays while wearing a white baker’s apron. On this Sunday, however, she sheds her mild-mannered secret identity, arriving at the downtown Reno concrete park dressed in a camouflage sports tank, black shorts and fishnets.

Her hair, dyed bright red, sits atop a face covered in black, white and blood red. Her eyes are covered in gunmetal black makeup with streaks of black running down her cheeks.  Her lips, colored bright red, emote a devilish grin over her pale white face. She puts on her helmet, with the name fans of roller derby know her by written on the side: Eat Schmidt.

As she laces up her black roller skates with red wheels, she talks about how she became a part of the Battle Born Derby Demons, Reno’s only flat track roller derby team.

While working at her baking job at the market, two other employees cornered her in the back of the store.

“You have to join our derby team,” they told her with the zeal of religious converts seeking to proselytize a new member into their church. Schmidt had played, in her words, the “big girl sports” in high school like volleyball and basketball, spending most of her time on the bench.  Worse, she had no idea how to roller-skate.

She began attending training sessions as “fresh meat,” a term applied by the team to new members, learning to skate and play the game.

Today, 18 months later, she is a blocker for the Derby Demons. Her job is twofold – prevent the other team’s jammers from getting through and create space so the Derby Demon’s jammer can break through the pack and score.  Her shoes laced and helmet secured, she rolls out to the derby arena for the team’s final game of the season.

A Close-Knit Family

“Okay beauties, gear up!” hollers Mary Maulher (real name Jessica Ebbe) to the team as the sun sets in Reno, back-dropping the buildings with a blue curtain. The twilight sky grows darker as the park’s lights turn on, providing just enough light to see the track. Maulher, like a sergeant in boot camp, orders two players to move laterally from the inside line to the outside line of the track, drawn out in white tape and chalk.

“Inside line! Outside line! Now sprint!” she orders. The two skaters waste no time following her commands, skating around the track.

Once a woman becomes a derby girl, she sheds her identity as a teacher, social worker, housewife, psychologist, or nurse. She adopts a derby name, one that reflects her personality in the rink. During practice or games, the Derby Demons never use the names given to them for their ordinary lives. Desiree Williams, Amanda Buell and Kirsten Malen are no more. They become Gnarly Nailer, Spacey Lords and Anita Jambayou.

The Reno streets are saturated with the sounds of motorcycle engines. This week is Street Vibrations, an event drawing bikers from all over the country. As the dusk darkens, the sound of bikers riding Harley Davidsons and visitors congregating down Virginia Street, the city’s main street, which has been closed off to car traffic for the event.

Tonight’s practice is the last of the season. Sunday the Derby Demons will play against the Wild West Outlaws, a confederacy of players from the Southwest United States.

On the other side of the track, team members practice the whip, a move in which a blocker grabs the jammer and throws her in front of the pack. As they practice, the move fails about half of the time and the jammer gets thrown too hard, slamming into the unforgiving concrete. But after each failure, the jammer arises, dusts off her clothes and tries again. The move is practiced in static formation. But in a few days, it will be applied while the players dynamically skate with speed and aggression around a crowded track.

“Around the world guys!” yells Maulher as she skates the track with the two pivot blockers of the team.  The pivot travels around during the jam, providing an overview to the players of what is going on during a jam using signals both verbal and by hand gesture to direct the team.

“These people out here,” Maulher says as she stops at the edge of the track, pointing to the women skating, “are not people I would normally spend time with. We all come from different backgrounds.” Having just skated around the track many laps, her voice labored from the workout, she talks about her time with the team. These people now are her closest friends and she says she would do anything for them. Her voice at the end of that statement sounds more choked-up by emotion than by the stress of exercise.

A Growing Sport

Roller derby has developed into a worldwide sport, with leagues in Europe, Australia and Asia. According to the 2012 documentary Derby Baby, more than 16,000 women in the United States participate in roller derby. Junior leagues have started surfacing in cities, allowing young girls to play the sport. A February 2012 Yahoo article reported that roller derby is being considered as an event in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Everyone, from the fresh meat to Sweet Ruin participate in all levels of the club. No one is given a free pass to simply skate. All members promote the sport. The club survives financially by sponsorships, donations, paying spectators and the Derby Demons, who donate much of their free time running the organization. Others volunteer to be referees and non-skating officials (NSO).

“Skating’s easy. It’s the fun part,” Maulher says.

As the practice session winds down, skaters move to the side of the park, sit down and begin removing their skates. Gnarly Nailer, one of the team’s pivots, approaches me and invites me to Noble Pie, a pizza restaurant a few blocks away to celebrate the end of the season.

Nailer skates to three other players, hands them postcard-sized flyers for Saturday’s bout and orders them to hand them out to people on the street to “earn their pizza and beer.” As the ladies skate off into the crowd of bikers on the streets of downtown Reno, catcalls and whistles echo back to the park.

Walking west on Second Street to the pizza parlor, we pass large crowds on the street, some dressed in leather from head to toe and others in jeans and t-shirts.

Approaching the parlor, techno music from a nearby nightclub fills the air with beats and the odor of beer and wine saturate the street.

The players and their families and friends pack the narrow-spaced pizza parlor. Some children sit at the front of the restaurant, watching a large-screen television, while skaters Spacey Lords and Anita Jambayou sit on the floor talking about guys.

Two men, one the brother of a player and the other, the husband of one, talk about what to order at the counter. They decide that they must try “The White Boy,” a pizza featuring a white garlic sauce, rotisserie chicken, fresh basil, red onion, asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes. For the next 30 minutes, the two men can be heard blurting “Hey, where’s my ‘White Boy?’” while drinking beer and laughing.

Everyone talks at the same time, tossing bits of information around about their kids, work, music, movies, skating, sports and jokes. It is like Facebook turned up to 11, audible real-time statuses posted by shouting. The cacophony is sometimes overwhelming, but the tone is consistent: jubilant!

Whiskey Ginger, an NSO who coordinates much of the logistics of getting everything and everyone in the right place at the right time for the games approaches me with a glass of beer in her hand and a smile on her face.

“How would you like to be an NSO and officiate Saturday’s game?” she asks.

I wash down my mouth full of White Boy with my beer and respond “sure.”

Note: Sweet Ruin and Whiskey Ginger are stage names.

Go to Part Two!