My answer is simple: yes.
I don’t care what league you belong to or watch or even if you just follow Derby on a streaming basis, you must make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, skip Disneyland and all that crap, and get out to 1910 W. Temple Street on game night.
From the outside it is a huge white warehouse, except there is writing on the wall that tells you what it is. And once you enter you know that somehow in your mind you know this is the perfect Roller Derby dojo.
On game night there seem to be at least 100 people who are getting you into an immense courtyard with a food truck and more, and finally into the temple itself, where about a dozen people get you through security, the ticket place, and into the perfect place for the sacred game.
If you go to the hall on the left (if you are in the know you can tell there is a training flat track beneath all the food, clothing, Derby odds and ends and various beverages that are purveyed). And to the very rear of the hall, there is a high energy rock band (Laszlo…no relation to Margie) shaking the walls, with tables in front of them.
And if you could have access to the doors in back (as I was privileged to) you would enter a hallway with offshoots of a make up room, officials room, dressing rooms etc, and in the very back, the office of the amazing Demolicious Ladd who I now can attest really exists: A strikingly beautiful woman, reminding me of the Hollywood women I saw in the days when Roller Derby played at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in LA and all the stars came out, and she dresses accordingly.
Demolicious and Thora Zeen founded the league in 2003. To get all of the correct information, go to Los Angeles Derby Dolls in wikipedia, and see why they have been designated as a Treasure of Los Angeles by the Central City organization. Demolicious skated her first three and a half years with the Dolls, but then has overseen the transformation of the huge space in to what it is today, with the modern Derby tradition of volunteer help. There are very few paid employees, and no paid skaters or officials or medical staff.
Demolicious then escorted me into the banked track arena. First I had to stop by the announcers’ turret, and say hello to Evil E and the others. Dumptruck was on the road somewhere. I then walked into a darkened Kezar Pavilion (original home of the SF Bay Bombers, seen every week in 15 million homes on the Roller Derby network). It is about a three-quarters version, with seating (and standing) surrounding the first Kitt Track.
The game on Saturday featured the Dolls travel team, the Ri-ettes against the San Diego Dolls. Prior to the game, you could watch the four large video screens and hear clearly (unlike many Derby venues) the announcements over the PA. I was soon joined by my nephew David Gurian (the Founder’s grandson), his lovely companion, and his daughter (i.e. Leo Seltzer’s great-granddaughter) Sarah. Sarah has a beautiful trained voice and I hope she is invited to sing the national anthem at some point.
The crowd was a great, non-rowdy but vociferous bunch, that had obviously looked forward to this Saturday night for some time. They had come before, they would come again, and this was probably the umpteenth sellout with I estimate about 2000 lucky attendees on hand. (Go to you tube under LA Derby Dolls to see 112 videos…..)
I was able to meet so many of my “friends” that I knew from facebook, twitter, blog,etc, and I felt like I was at home. And then I was joined by the lovely Lottie Dah and Kristi Ryan. And please, other leagues, don’t get offended, but I could not believe how beautiful, fit, and in condition the skaters from both leagues were, and I soon saw why they had to be (fit, that is, the beauty was all theirs).
San Diego was terribly outwomanned, but you couldn’t tell if from the constant effort they put out all game long. They were skating against the LA travel team, one of the best in the world. There are also 4 home teams in the league. The Ri-ettes skate the games from the start of the year until July, usually against leagues from out of the area, and then from August on the home teams skate each other in their league, ending with playoffs and a champion; the perfect format for any league.
The Derby Dolls had invited members of the Angel City, Tampa, Houston and other leagues who were in town (more friends to meet!) to attend, and once again, their attitude that everyone who skates Derby, regardless of the style, is joined in the common effort to move the game forward.
And boy (girl?) have they moved the game forward. They are part of a new banked track coalition of leagues, and I could tell right away when the game started, that the rules had been changed. There are four 15-minute periods and 60-second (hallelujah!) jams.
The jams start from the starting line with the jammers behind, but then all hell breaks loose; these are well-conditioned athletes who know the game, and immediately the jammers try to bully through the MOVING pack and the pack skaters (and that is where the real game takes place) are in formation blocking the opponent, and helping their own jammer, and that effort never stops the whole jam.
The Ri-ettes pretty much had their own way, but San Diego never stopped trying, and the crowd cheered whenever they scored (not often). But the score wasn’t important to the fans; it was the constant motion, blinding speed of jammers and the athleticism shown by the players, which is sometimes lacking in games that I have seen elsewhere, which is primarily a conditioning and training issue, as well as an understanding of the game they are playing.
Although LA won by a tremendous margin, virtually none of the audience left before the end because each jam was an exciting play with the beautiful essence of The Game. And the informal after party was right there in this safe and secure facility. Please, other leagues (and this is not entirely fair, because I have not seen so many of them play ) make the pilgrimage to the Doll Factory to see what I am talking about. And the feeling you are at something special when you walk into the space.
This surely portends the game of the future, and almost (well, you would have expected that) satisfied me. And unfortunately they don’t use Brown Paper Tickets. Admission is $18 GA, $40 VIP, and is so much worth it.
This was an event, and THAT is what I am talking about. I wish you were in my neighborhood, Derby Dolls. And it was the day after Leo’s 110th birthday, and damn, I know he enjoyed. The next game is against Rose City (Portland, my home town), and I advise them to be in the very best shape. Get your tickets early!
After my tour