Less than two feet away from me, a pack of young ladies are shoving each other this way and that while they advance ’round a skating rink. Two women are trying to free themselves of the melee, and one careens out of play. She loses her footing, falls onto her back, and slides to a stop inches from my little concrete plot.
I wouldn’t have been able to move. I had been sitting cross-legged for probably longer than I had in my entire life combined up until now. My hips aren’t taking it well. After the bout, I scoot myself to an empty area, rise, and re-learn to walk.
Comfy cushions and ease of access are typical of expensive seats, but that isn’t the case with the Minnesota Rollergirls. Here at The Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium, trackside seats come with a free contortionist course and the risk of a skater falling into your lap. Just as it is on the track itself, “not being a wuss about it” is a cornerstone of the close-up experience.
It’s one of the best tickets money can buy.
While I was enduring an uncomfortable sitting position, the Rollergirls’ championship bout was settled in two edge-of-your-skate bouts nine days ago. One team, the Dagger Dolls, advanced after being down 19 points in the second half.
The Dolls look adorable with their pink and black outfits and their fuzzy pink mascot, but they live by a fittingly backyard-fight strategy. They all play jammer. They all push people. They’ve an arm-wrestling champion who goes by Jacked Pipes, who last Saturday moved through opposing lines the way I fantasize walking through mall traffic but don’t really because it’s illegal. Their primary point-banker is Shiver Me Kimbers, the league’s director of training, who turns almost every one of her shifts into the 25-on-1 hallway scene in the original Oldboy (watch the whole thing).
Victory was secured in the second bout by the Garda Belts. They entered the rink behind the Macalaster College pipe band, and left with a one-point victory after Second-Hand Smoke lined up for the final jam in a three-point stance and bashed everyone in her way.
Smoke appears to be the Belts’ powerhouse. She’s part-JJ Watt, part-my pet whippet (Did I mention another dog at the park recently puked from exhaustion while chasing him?). They’ve also an eight-wheeled nightmare in their employ, named Shiva Shank’n, who skates in denim and drinks from a wiper fluid jug between jams. She’s by far my favorite Rollergirl to imagine skating while smoking a cigarette, and I am keeping track.
Sitting in the balcony would save you a whopping $3 (trackside is $16), but why would you? The trackside view gives you the tattoos, the face paint, the numbers (The Belts have a skater whose number is “FU”), the names (My vote for most intimidating name goes to “Bi-polar Bear”), and the expressions to go with the action. And believe me, it’s action.
Do people even go? Hell yes, people go! My wife and I got to The Roy 30 minutes early to see if we could score the free T-shirts for the first 200 people; they could’ve had 500 and we’d have missed out. I don’t know how many seats are in The Roy but the Rollergirls just about sell it out. It’s an impressive, diverse crowd: Hipsters and metalheads take seats next to Brady Bunches and canoodling couples. The environment is far from exclusive.
Except maybe halftime. Fans crowd the rink to rock out to a family-friendly musical group — not exactly idyllic for a guy with only a Grain Belt to look after. Instead, my wife and I go into the front lobby and she gets a black eye painted onto her face. I spin the Luce wheel and win free desserts. The beer prices don’t sting, either. If you want to be creepy, you can even follow the skaters to a St. Paul bar after-party (which I totally do).
The final bout of the season is March 14. Belts vs. Dolls isn’t one you’ll want to miss. I can promise you at least one “Holy crap she’s fast,” a few “How does she get through people like that“s, and plenty of “Please don’t lose control and careen into my lap“s if you’re trackside.
I’ll even sweeten the deal and throw in a rickety old fudd who gets up at halftime and walks out on what appear to be the back legs of a newborn deer. I won’t even charge you for that.