Every Wednesday night, in a dimly lit parking structure underneath Grand Central Bowl on Southeast Morrison Street, nearly 20 women strap on roller skates and headgear before unleashing their inner tigers. They whip around bare-bones asphalt, perfecting their skating--and maybe sharpening their elbows.
These women, the Rose City Rollers, are Portland's very own (and very new) roller-derby team.
The Rollers want to join a coast-to-coast revival of a showbiz sport that lost popularity after sex-goddess Raquel Welch starred in Kansas City Bomber back in 1972. In recent years, a new breed of derby devils--like Seattle's Rat City Rollergirls and New York's Gotham Girls--has breathed life into the sport.
Our own Rollers are still in their infancy. They, too, want to launch a series of raucous roller-derby shows, and perhaps take on squads from around the country. First, they need a collapsible rink--which means they need $5,000 in sponsorship money.
"It's all about the money, you know," says Evette Reyes, the 30-year-old barber-shop owner who conceived Portland's team. "We have a great idea, but it's about the money."
Reyes hatched the Rollers earlier this year while drunk at a bar with friends. Several meetings at Club 21 followed. After a newspaper ad attracted enough women to start practices, the Rollers started skating around family-oriented Mount Scott Community Center. The parking lot below a bowling alley, however, proved more cost-effective for a group that relies on benefit rock shows at local bars for money.
On a recent Wednesday night, the team geared up for practice by vacuuming the cement floor and hydrating with Pabst Blue Ribbon. They proceeded to line up single-file and roller skate around the lot, a drill that mimics the start of a roller-derby game.
The Rollers need the practice, and Reyes estimates it could be six months or a year before the team's debut. Last weekend, founding Roller Kim Stegemann ventured to Seattle to scout the Rollers' probable archrivals at an event staged by the Rat City Rollergirls.
"This wasn't choreographed like old roller derby," she says. "This was a knock-down, drag-out race."
Roller derby rules vary by league. In general, two teams of five or six--a "pivot," "blockers" and "jammers"--race around a track. Points are scored by lapping opponents. Violence is allowed--not to say encouraged.
The sport's roots lie in 1930s roller-skating marathons. By the '50s, it developed into a barnstorming spectacle with more than a little in common with pro wrestling. Today's new teams may be more "alternative" (the Gotham Girls host benefits at Greenwich Village's über-hip Knitting Factory), but the appeal of tough girls in racy outfits pushing each other around hasn't changed.
What kinds of women become Pabst-guzzling pivots and jammers? The Rose City Rollers are generally in their 20s and 30s; day jobs range from teaching to advertising. They seem united by a two-fisted desire to enjoy themselves.
"This is not a political statement," Reyes says. "It's about getting rough and dirty, and definitely about having fun."
The Rose City Rollers are holding an open call for skaters at 8 pm Wednesday, Oct. 6, under Grand Central Bowl, 808 SE Morrison St. For more info, call Kim Stegemann, 784-1444.