Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On the Subject of Roller Derby, Neil Gaiman, and The Case of the Catastrophic Equipment Failure

Well, I am back home and on to my second attempt at this blog post... the first one went all Harry Houdini on me and escaped into the ether of my new tablet. One day I may find it lurking in there, but for now I have decided that a rewrite is in order...

What a weekend it was! There was a WHOLE lot of good with a sprinkling of bad (as I write this, the rain is hammering the metal roof of my porch and creating an overall roar in my ears). Some of the bad happened to be my back being lousy to me and enduring a four hour-or-so car ride didn't really help. I had to shift all around in order to get rid of general numbness, pain, and stabby sensations I was getting along the way and many stops were made just to get feeling back into my legs (Yes, yes... I am making an appointment in the morning...). I was invited along to my first ever derby bout in Eau Claire to watch the Chippewa Valley Roller Girls at their season opener and, being a fan of a hell of a good time, I said HELL to the YES. Saturday morning started out well, with plenty of scenic Wisconsin to check out on the way and because we arrived a bit too early to check in to the hotel we decided to drive around Eau Claire and take in the sights.

I'm not sure that I would call Eau Claire ugly so much as just not really making strides toward pretty. It's laid out much like my town in that it is spread all over the place, and pretends to be bigger than it actually is because of it. The downtown area was a bit strange because there's not really a main street that downtown consists of. You'd have a block of downtown on your right that would disappear and then reappear a couple of blocks ahead on the left. There were a couple of very lovely bridges in the downtown area that carried you over the Chippewa River which, unlike the bridge over the Rock River in my town, every bridge over this river seemed to be really high off the water. Maybe flooding is a big issue there? I suppose it's possible... It just seemed to me that not a lot of money has been spent on revitalizing any core part of the city, and I can definitely sympathize with that as it seems to be the same around my neck of the woods.

Sight-seeing done, we decided that it was time to check in the hotel a bit early, if possible. This is where my world got strange because things started looking painfully familiar... You know, the expression "painfully familiar" is a strange one. One is to assume that the pain is either coming from the current experience or the pain of the memory and for me it was the latter. As we are taking our left turn onto the byway I notice a familiar McDonald's. Silly right? Because almost all McDonald's look about the same when you think about it. This particular McDonald's (that sat right next to our hotel) had a Greyhound Bus Line sign out in front of it. That's where the painful memory comes in... This was the very same McDonald's that I spent stranded at for SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS. To make a long story incredibly short; I was on a bus trip to a journalism convention in winter a couple of years back when our bus' brake lines froze solid. (For those of you not familiar with Midwestern winters, first of all, you suck, and second of all, this kind of crap happens in Northernish Wisconsin all the time.) After three hours of attempted repairs, they exhausted all of their options except to call another bus in from Milwaukee. That's four and a half hours from Eau Claire, which led to the seven and a half hour strandification (I am going to go ahead and OWN that non-word). Needless to say, I flew my finger-bird high every time we passed the cursed place.

Thankfully we were able to check in early, but at the front desk I notice a sign regarding the pool (or non-pool, as was the case here). *DUE TO CATASTROPHIC EQUIPMENT FAILURE OUR POOL IS CLOSED INDEFINITELY. WE ARE SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.* Of course, I am left boggled as to what kind of catastrophic equipment event you can have in a pool (and eventually I did find out but that is for later) but didn't want to embarrass the people I was with by asking. I wanted to get a picture of the sign, but by the time I came back to do some serious investigative reporting on this supposed "catastrophic failure", the sign had been removed. Le sigh.

After checking in and dropping off our stuff, we decided that some food was in order before going to the bout location to help with setup. After a resounding NO to the McDonald's next door (I am giving them the finger right now in my head) we decided just to make a quick stop at the Taco Bell. Many of you have eaten at a Taco Bell so I don't really need to get into specifics about my food, but I did find it rather odd and strangely hilarious that this particular Taco Bell was playing hip-hop music over their PA system. I suppose I had been so used to the typical Kenny G coma I had been lulled into while eating that I never considered that there could be another way of eating in a restaurant.

We ended up at the Indoor Sports Center in Eau Claire where the bout was set to happen to help with general setup. There are a few things about setting up for roller derby that I didn't know; it requires a lot of Stuff. I would estimate that there were about 45 bins that needed carrying, 15 plastic folding banquet tables, 100 folding plastic chairs, and a 3M/ Duct tape wet dream of (and this is only a guess) about 137,632 rolls of tape. And it only took roughly 30 of us to get all the lines taped off on the floor.

The Harbor City Roller Dames practicing on our freshly taped floor.

The theme of the evening was "Will Skate For Brains" so Krix and I had fun making up Matt's face like a zombie, then she wanted only half of her face painted which of course, I shuddered the whole time I was painting for her. *shudder* Zombies. *shudder*

If you listen closely, you can almost hear a quip about to happen...

When Krix and I finished with our taping job, we went to set up our blanket in front of the announcer's table, but found that there was already a blanket there. As it turned out, Neil Gaiman was actually going to make it like he told me he was going to (which was why I brought the stained glass piece that was intended for him as a Yule gift last year that I was too darned nervous to send via post) and it was their blanket that was taking up our space so we settled with putting our blanket down next to theirs. Unfortunately it was addressed with me that there were some Rules about how to talk to Neil (or how NOT to talk to him, as the case may be) but I found out that according to Neil, those rules do not apply to me. In trying to obey the Rules, I sort of avoided contact with Neil even though he was two seats over until I felt a tug on my shirt and heard "OY! NAOMI! I have been talking to you for the last two minutes!" I explained that I was trying to respect him by not bothering him while he was here with friends and he told me to "stop being ridiculous" then shared some popcorn with me. I felt horrible for having ignored him like that, but was only trying to do as was asked of me. More on Neil later, because I want to talk about derby, which was what I was there for.

The Chippewa Valley Roller Girls were taking on the Harbor City Roller Dames at home for their season opener. This was my first ever derby bout, and even now I am extremely fuzzy on the rules. Watching the first few "jams" I started to understand how things worked a little better. There are something like five or six girls from each team out for each jam. One of each from the teams wear a stripe on their helmets and they set the pace for the "pack" (the blocker chicks), one from each team have stars on their helmets and they are known as "jammers". The jammers are the ones who score points for each team by breaking through the pack first and getting out ahead and around the pack as many times in a row as they can. I am pretty sure that when they do this five times in a row it is called a Grand Slam. The team's jammer who makes it out first is the lead jammer, and  the other team's jammer can still earn points, just not as many. Only the lead jammer can call off the jam. I know that this sounds like a really bad hair metal video but the bare shoulder blades rubbing in this show aren't so much rubbing as they are slamming into one another, knocking each other to the floor. Derby bouts are more metal than metal. I had more than a blast. CVRG's jammer, Stunt Double, was definitely one of the major stars of the evening. She was sliding in and out of the pack like a greased snake, taking being knocked to the ground like a boxing legend; She got back to her feet and kicked some asses. Some more of the skaters' names that I remember are Jenetic Defect, Devil Mama, Whoremione Granger, Hell'o Dolly, Pitbull Scarrier, and Calla Doctor (just to name a few). All in all, the first half was one of the most entertaining things I have ever watched.

Stunt Double goes so fast her feets are blurry!!

When half time rolled around, we were all ready to stretch our legs a bit so when we all stood up, Neil asked where his hug was and if he was chopped liver. How can I turn that down?! After one of the most snuggly hugs I have ever gotten, we chatted a bit more about a project that has yet to be fully announced yet and I decided to go get some air before the second half started back up.

After some SPECTACULAR moves by Stunt Double that brought the team up some fifty points, in the second to last jam, she took lead jammer and busted tail to try and get the points needed to scrape a win. With the crowd on their feet and roaring, Stunt did the best she could at scoring for the team but it was just not enough. The Chippewa Valley Roller Girls lost 115 to 202 but I have to say that it was a very well played, entertaining game by both teams and I would go and see derby again in an instant. In fact, there's a game coming up in February near my town that I will definitely be going to see.

After the game got over, I handed the stained glass over to Neil to open and he said he loved it. Then I was gifted with a three minute hug including being picked up off my feet, spun a little and a smacker on the cheek. I just friggin' love that man. Authoring amazing works and having the Midas touch aside, I feel extremely privileged to call Neil a friend. He is an extremely kind and caring man who would do just about anything within his power to help a friend.

This is the piece that now lives with Neil, which I have found out will most likely reside in The Tower. "She'd go down in my writing gazebo, but it was just winterised."

You'll never be chopped liver to me.

After a spectacular derby bout, a quick ride in Neil's car around the parking lot, and loading copious amounts of beer into vehicles for later use, we headed to the after-party. I was tired out pretty quickly on that, unfortunately, because I was having a blast talking derby with the girls. They all tried their best to convince me to join their team and move to Eau Claire (and believe me, I would love to!) and then settled on suggesting that I either try to start a team or join Beloit's girls. Before long we decided to head back to the hotel, and after our long and sad good byes we left the after-party. I had a mystery to solve that night, after all.

I had vowed that when we got back to the hotel I was going to get a picture of that sign because it had made me laugh so hard, but as I said before, it was gone... so I asked the girl behind the desk what had happened to the sign. She explained that they hadn't had a pool in over a year because of this "accident". She had taken it upon herself to tape off all the pool signs in the hotel because she said people would see the arrows to the pool, go back to their rooms and change into their swimsuits and then find out that due to some "catastrophe" there was no pool. "What constitutes as a 'catastrophic equipment failure'?" I ask. She explained that about a year ago, they found out that the thirty thousand dollar ventilation system they had installed in order to have a pool and hot tub were not up to the task of handling all the steam from the room and the ceilings in the hotel started coming down. Ummmm... yeah. I'd call that a "catastrophic equipment failure". Indeed. Well, we were feeling adventurous so Krix and I decided to go find the elusive pool room to see what we could see, but the windows had been painted over. We press our eyes to a tiny corner at the bottom of a pane and see that the pool is, in fact, still there but it is dark and empty. Our assumptions of a catastrophic zombie event happening in the pool dashed, we turn to head back to the room. Krix starts laughing hysterically and pointing as I tell her we have been spotted. The front desk girl rounded the corner to find us giggling and sneaking around looking for the pool. The sign Krix had pointed at was an arrow pointing us toward the pool... so like the smartass I am, I let the receptionist know that she missed one.

I would go into the very fun and friendly, grilling Mexicans I met that night, but the fact is that you are probably bored and this blog post is already insanely long.

Needless to say, it was a fantastical weekend, and thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who made it possible. You know who you are. You know what you did. Love to all and sweet dreams.


  1. You have more in your life in one weekend than I have in a month! Extremely envious!