Southern Life

For a redneck boy born at home, I’ve seen a lot. Sang at the Junior Talent Show, caught the last out, been carried off the field by a victorious football team, and flown solo. I’ve watched auto racing on Friday night at Freeman’s Short track, Saturday afternoon at Holiday Beach drag strip, and Sunday at Talladega. I have been a spectator for minor league baseball, low rent rodeo, ice hockey in three different southern states, and boxing.

(Photo by Gomisan / Creative Commons)

My list of happenings includes the New Orleans Jazzfest, West Alabama State Fair, the Okra Strut, a spelling bee, quilting bee, hog killing, and a chicken fight. A few Saturday nights ago I checked off another momentous accomplishment; roller derby. I can now die happy; be promoted to glory with nary a whimper.

I expected roller derby people to be different; imagined a collection of characters similar to a tractor pull or monster truck rally. Lots of John Deere caps, overalls, and Confederate flags; sort of like a Jim DeMint fundraiser. Instead I was exposed to black shirts, day-glo hair, and tattoos, lots of tattoos. More like the prelude to a Korn concert, or possibly a flash mob of southern Hipsters in training all mixed together with a lot of upstanding American folks.

The veteran derby spectators exhibited passion; not quite as much as the average SEC football fan, but much more than an Ivy League alumnus. The awaiting crowd was even tailgating, seriously tailgating. I saw one trailer-based cooker that was bigger than my bathroom.

Actual participants were obviously minor league, just like beginning baseball and hockey players. Young in appearance but hardened in the eyes, these ladies came to do their best, and pursue the same dream all young athletes, singers, and actors chase after.

Everyone had an assumed name, even the referees and coaches. And they could all skate, which is a prerequisite for this sport. Maybe this is where Sonic waitresses go when they become proficient.

In the prelim, two local groups battled back and forth until the Spawn of Skatin’ ran away with the match at the end. Anyone sporting that name should be declared a winner regardless of the sport. The Columbia Quad Squad battled the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers from Texas in the raucous main event and the talent difference was obvious from the first whistle. The pace was faster and the performers were more athletic and more experienced.

Like pro wrestling, roller derby supposedly has a script and a pre-determined ending well before anyone gets hot enough to break a sweat, even in Famously Hot Columbia. Few spectators understood the rules enough to verify that, but no one seemed to care.

The folks paid their hard earned money to see young girls skate against each other, knock one another down, and work together for a common purpose. That several of the skaters looked rather appealing while competing didn’t hurt anything. No one was asked to declare their reason for attending. Price of admission and enthusiasm were the only requirements for entry. The spectators saw something else very familiar; impressionable young folks dreaming big and starting small, going full bore while ignoring the odds against ultimate success.

I enjoyed the show for the most part although unflinchingly hard bleachers and an insufficient cooling system chased me away just as the home team in the main event built an insurmountable lead that everyone knew would be surmounted. A good time was had by all.

We live in confrontational times. People try to convert others to their religion for no other reason than it is what they are comfortable with, scream at one another because they think the whole world will explode into oblivion unless everyone accepts their version of how things should operate, and banish loved ones simply because they won’t live up to unfair expectations.

It is refreshing and increasingly rare to see a group of people gather in unison without requirement or argument, regardless of the occasion. No rules, no dogma, and no unreasonable expectations to deal with. Just young girls with assumed names skating their pretty little butts off and a roaring crowd enjoying the spectacle.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.