Leave me alone, I’m on vacation

by Amy Kingsley

So I’m sitting in an Austin, Texas coffee shop drinking creamy coffee from one of those massive vessels you could float a bath toy in. Rain clouds are moving in – they have been all week.

I’ve been in Austin – well Texas, at least – for more than a week. I’m still getting my bearings. Take this coffee shop for instance: The half-and-half is in a weird place, and indistinguishable from the skim milk. And there are babies everywhere in my sister’s neighborhood, Crestview, a cluster of ’50s-era cottages. Babies in fancy strollers make the hot coffee-toting trip back to my computer adorably obstacle strewn.

Still, so far my sojourn in Austin has been remarkably uneventful. Unlike the beach, where my boyfriend and I got caught breaking into the office of our mom-and-pop motel after we lost our room key to a riptide. And the bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg, where I injured my knee after a drunken tumble off a 4-foot high poster bed.

Why, just last night my family and I gathered for a multigenerational outing to witness my older sister ride into the roller derby sunset.

Mark, my boyfriend and companion on this trip, was with me. He was tired – earlier that evening we’d rushed from the tattoo shop where he covered an earlier inking, one I’d always thought resembled fishing tackle, with a bloody hammer (it’s a Roky Erickson reference).

After the tattoo we’d trawled downtown for a parking spot, which, in Austin, is about as close to a modern holy grail quest as it gets. Having given up and conceded our $7 to the parking deck, we rushed into the convention center just in time for the national anthem.

Now, I’ve never seen my sister skate even though she’s been in the roller derby for three years. And I’ve only seen the roller derby in Raleigh, where it’s a spirited but fledgling affair.

Austin roller derby, on the other hand, is practically an institution. A bizarre one, maybe, but an institution nonetheless. The town boasts two leagues – one banked track, the other flat – and nearly a dozen teams of women willing to strap wheels onto their feet and muscle each other around the oval.

We’re at the championship bout, the Calvello Cup, for Texas Roller Derby, the banked track league. My sister is a Holy Roller and her skate name is Helena Handbasket. Her team is facing off against the Putas del Fuego. My mom is here, as is my grandmother, my sister’s husband and a squad of fans.

Putas fans outnumber those cheering on the Holy Rollers. They pack this place up to the rafters, and can be distinguished from their counterparts on the other side by their red/black color scheme and gold rattles. Puta cheerleaders circle the ring, made up in team colors, sporting pom-poms and evil fairy wings.

On the Holy Roller side, they bring out a faux priest and a tattooed cardinal of about 25 who blesses the team before the bout. Their boosters float homemade flags with the Holy Rollers crests over the crowd on the floor.

Roller derby is awesome, by the way. I don’t really have the space to explain it to you here. Let’s just say it involves lots of skin, shoving and the occasional wrestling match.

Mark, my brother-in-law Jason and the rest of the Handbasket cheering section take up a post on the near turn, just behind the spot where the jammers take off.

Mark is screaming, yelling with the verve he usually saves for drivers who cut him off on the highway, only nicer, and I can tell he’s having fun because he hasn’t complained once about the $5 Lone Star beers. He’s not the only one enjoying the spectacle. I nearly fall out of my chair when my sister, playing the jammer, sweeps up three points.

The Holy Rollers win, beating the defending champions, and Mark and I beat it toward the Mohawk, a club near 10th and Red River where my friend Brandi is playing with her band, This Dog’s a Lion. After a detour for mediocre 6th Street pizza, we arrive in time to see most of their set. The Mohawk is a big place divided into several smaller chambers and set, like every bar on this block, against limestone cliffs. We relax just long enough to hear the music and to consume a beer.

Then we meet up with Helena and a handful of other Holy Rollers at an after-party at the Jackalope, a 6th Street bar that sprung up after I moved to North Carolina.

Speaking of North Carolina, and Greensboro in particular, it’s a different place than Austin. A lot different. And I needed to get away for a while. In 12 hours I’ll be on the plane back home, massaging a sore knee and maybe even eyeing the odd roller skate.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at