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Thursday, March 10, 2016

FIGHTS: LOUDMOUTH - Chapter 3 - First Impressions and the first bout

At the end of my past life, I earned the right to be the first flat track derby announcer with the Texas Rollergirls.

What follows is a very old, very unauthorized, and very unedited version of the document I produced describing my experiences during the genesis of flat track derby.  It would be some of the last moments of my past life.

Enjoy.

LOUDMOUTH: Confessions of a Flat Track Derby Announcer

By

Bowie V. Ibarra


Copyright 2007  Bowie V. Ibarra

“It’s a madhouse!  A madhouse!”
- Charlton Heston, from the original “Planet of the Apes”

Chapter III:  First Impressions and the first bout

            The first bout with announcers was to take place within the week, and I had two practices to get familiar with the names of all the players as well as the game.  I was still very nervous about being a part of the league, as the crowd was not necessarily a group I made any efforts to hang out with.  Not that I was not willing to get to know everyone and understand where they were coming from, I was just wondering how receptive they were going to be to me.
            I pulled in early to the location that was to be the Mecca of flat track derby: Playland Skate Center.  Taking out a pencil and paper, I walked to the front doors of the arena.  Two ladies were standing by the doors.  A little anxious, but hoping to make a good impression, I approached the duo.
            Both of them were short, one was just a little taller than me.  They seemed formidable.
            “Hello, ladies.”
            “Hey, how’s it goin’?”  The two came across as very amicable, though their massive collection of tattoos across their upper bodies intimidated me.
            “I’m Vendetta von Dutch.”
Vendetta von Dutch, my first favorite rollergirl
            “I’m Kitty Kitty Bang Bang,” said the other.
            “Nice to meet you,” I said.  “I’m Bowie.”
            “You did really good at the audition.”
            “Yeah.  I voted for you.”
            The compliments were not artificial, and it was very apparent that the ladies were sincere.  I slowly began to feel at ease around them.  If the other girls were like these two, then I think we were going to get along just fine.
            Eventually, someone came by and unlocked the doors.  More and more girls slowly filed in.  I was amazed at the variety of girls that stepped in.  They were of all shapes and sizes and even all ages. 
            One of the first things I was thinking about was whether or not the action was going to be a ‘work’ or not.  A ‘work’ is a term traditionally used in professional wrestling, meaning that some event or action made out to be real is actually staged.  The roller derby I remembered from the ‘80’s seemed like professional wrestling to me.  To be honest, professional wrestling took itself very seriously in the early ‘80’s.  Roller Derby at the time was very phony to me,
Kitty Kitty Bang Bang,
helped ease me into derby culture
even from a mind that was willing to suspend belief.  The feeble attempt to renew interest in roller derby in the early 90’s with RollerGames was pretty bad as well.  I remember watching a guy grab another guy and give him a gut wrench suplex on the banked track.  For some reason, it turned it into pro-wrestling, but without the excitement for it.  I also remember some guy singing the theme song for the show and leading the crowd in a “Rock, Rock, Rockin’ and a’ RollerGames” sing along.  That was a little too stupid, even for me.
            I found The Wrench, the contact that had been communicating with me about the necessities.  She was an imposing figure, tall, stout, and to the point in her conversations.  She was a busy women who was always doing something, but with a smile.  I asked the questions I had.
            “Is this a work?”
            “A work?”
            “Is it staged?”
            “No.  Believe it or not, we’re actually playing the game out there.”
            “Is it going to be on one of those banked tracks?”
            “No, we’re going to do it flat.”
            My first impression was that it was not going to have the flair of the banked track league.  I was even afraid a flat track league would not catch on.  I also received vague information about a rival league across town that had a banked track.  I was curious, but tried to keep it to business.
            I had one more question.
            “Am I going to be paid.”
The Wrench
            “No.” 
            It was a resounding no at that.
            I admit, I was a little disappointed, knowing that the possibility of being paid brought me to the audition.  Don’t most announcers for a sport get compensated as being part of the announce crew?
            I slowly began to rationalize their reasoning.  It’s a start up organization.  It’s like performing in community theatre.  Hell, I was getting a chance to be a sport announcer. 
            I decided that it was best to overlook that small detail and prepare for my job on Sunday.
            The skaters started to warm up.  No one was really encouraging me to do anything.  Not necessarily because they were ignoring me, but there were so many other details they were taking care of.  It was soon to become abundantly clear that we were going to be working on our own here.
            I decided to take the initiative.  Watching the skaters in a warm up, I thought one particular warm up was a good chance to learn the names. 
Hot Wheels
            The penalty Princess was a lady named Hot Wheels.  She was a cute north eastern transplant to central Texas with an underbite and a keen sense of humor and conversational skill.  I asked her if she would help me learn the names of the girls and she was more than happy to help.  She led me over to the girls as they were skating from one side of the rink to the other. 
            “That’s Trouble.”
            “Trouble.”  I would look at them and repeat their names several times.  It was important to get to know their faces and helmets as they would look totally different in their gimmicks.
            “Barbie Crash.”
            “Barbie Crash.”
            Some were friendly and would wave back.  Others went about their business, which was fine.  We both had jobs to do.
            “Strawberry.”
            “Strawberry.”
Barbie Crash
            “Bloody Mary.”
            “Bloddy Mary.”
            By the end of the first evening, thanks to Hot Wheels, I was pretty familiar with most of the girls.  After the second meeting, I felt even better about it.  I was on my way, and with the first bout with announcers just around the corner, I was very excited to get a chance to announce.
            But first, I had to get my gimmick name.  Whiskey already had a name.  Chip also had his.  But what could mine be?
            I started simple, thinking about the position.  Mike Stand?  Justin Case?
            I then started thinking about a music star my fiancee Yedi the Leo liked:  Enrique Iglesias.  How could I play with that one?  I wore glasses.  Maybe Enrique E. Glasses.
Strawberry
            But, philosophically, I was an old schooler.  I used to tell Yedi how much Enrique looked and sounded like his dad, Julio.  I also remember my parents going to see Julio in San Antonio and how women were throwing their underwear on the stage for him.  It seems like that was the name I was going to use: Julio E. Glasses.
            Whiskey came to me and asked what my gimmick name would be.
            “Well, Whiskey, I was thinking Julio E. Glasses.”
            She briskly replied, “How about another one?”
            I was surprised.  Julio E. Glasses was pretty original.  “Um.  Mike Stand?”
            “I think you should be John Q. Public.  Since you will be the voice of the public.”
            John Q. Public?  It didn’t make sense and it wasn’t me.  Here was an Aries in Whiskey, forcing her opinion on me.  Just what I was afraid of.  It wasn’t the most pleasant way to get to know each other.  So someone suggested we take it to the girls.
            They were all stretching near the entrance to the venue while several of them took turns sharing news and information to the stretching roller girls.  I must admit, some of the stretches were quite appealing.  I had to be professional and avert my eyes.  It was kind of like when guys go to the restroom in non-partitioned urinals.  Its an unspoken law that while using a urinal, you keep your eye facing forward.  My preference is to look to the ceiling.  It was kind of one of those “look-to-the-ceiling” moments when the girls were stretching. 
Bloody Mary, One of the TXRG Legends
            Anyway, so Whiskey jumps in and grabs their attention.  I don’t think I had formally met more than ten girls at the time, so the moment would be interesting.
            She yelled out, “Hey girls, we’re coming up with Bowie’s name.  Don’t ya’ll think John Q. Public would be a great name.”
            The reaction was interesting.  I was reminded of the moment from “Animal House” in which Larry Kroeger’s face is shown on the slide projector.  The response was similar, apart from the suggestion that I pay dues.
            However, I took the awkward moment to jump in with my idea.  I projected, “I kind of liked Julio E. Glasses.”
            The response was stronger than the first, necessarily, and it was clear the girls liked Julio E. Glasses.”
            Whiskey feebly tried to suggest why John would be better, but the girls shot her down pretty quick.
            I was happy.  I was to be Julio E. Glasses.

/   /   /   /   /   /
    
Whiskey L'Amour,
First Lady of FTRD Announcing
        The day of the first bout was interesting.  I had to think of some kind of gimmick to go with my character.  I really did not want to blow a bunch of money on my gimmick, but I wanted something professional that wasn’t too stuffy.  I got the feeling that was the vibe of the group.
            So I decided to chose something that provided a cultural connection, something hip that expressed my Hispanic heritage.  A guayabera.  I had a closet full of guayaberas of all different colors that I could use.  I put one on.
            The idea was good, but it was still very plain compared to what Whiskey, Chip, and Les probably had.  I knew they would be ultra hip.  I needed something else.  Something to make it hip, and a little outlandish.
            My zarape.
            Believe it or not, I had taken to wearing this same zarape around town when I would go out drinking.  This was before I met my wife.  I was drawn to buy a zarape when I saw a picture of Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa stylin’ and profiling with a zarape in a picture I had bought.  I thought it was ultra cool how he was wearing it.  So I sought one out.
            I had also taken to wearing a black and white or brown and white poncho during the winter season.  People, especially on Sixth street in Austin, really liked it.  I would always get compliments on it.  When I would enter into a bar, I would throw it over my shoulder like a zarape.  I almost got into a fight over it one night.

            I was on the plaza in San Marcos drinking with friends.  The plaza, or square as it was called by the gringos of the town, was surrounded by bars.  Most of these bars were attended by the college types.  Several of them had an air of exclusivity to them, filled with “pretty people” as I liked to
Jim "Kool-Aid" Jones,
One of the greatest FTRD Announcers
Ever
call them.
            On this night, I was sitting with friends at the plaza sports bar.  A friend of mine, Edgar Arnall, had journeyed to one of the other bars.  Dressed in an undone red flannel, an APA Protection shirt, wranglers, and my black poncho, I left the establishment to find Eddie.  He said he was going to Rocky LaRue’s.  It was a “pretty people” bar.  I walked across the street towards the bar.  I showed the doorman my ID and entered the bar.
            You know those movies where the guy walks into a party and the record skips and everybody stops and stares.  Well, that’s exactly how I felt as I entered.  It was not too big of a deal as I have always thought that people should be looking at me anyway (yeah, Aries).  So I began to walk into the crowded bar, scanning the room for my friend.
            One guy came up to me and gave me a high five, telling me, “You’re cool, dude.”  Was it in sarcasm?  Perhaps.  So I blew it off and continued walking.  All eyes were on me as I moved forward through the bar.  I watched one girl at a table I was approaching look at me, then turn to her friend to tell him something.  As I approached their table, the guy looked at me.  When I got closer to their table, he did the unthinkable.
            He knocked my poncho off my shoulder.
            Adrenaline began to course through my veins.  Anger began to build in my heart.  It somehow felt like the bullies of my youth making a fool out of me.
            I glared at him and slowly put the poncho back on my shoulder.
            I decided I should find Edgar first.  And I tried to do that, but the anger that was building up in me had given me a kind of tunnel vision.  The mind was listening to the anger rattling my body, and was preparing itself for whatever may come, focusing my attention on only what was important: kicking the shit out of that guy.  At this point, it was useless trying to find Eddie.
            Let me make it known that I am far from a tough guy.  The only fights I’ve ever been in was a fraternity toughman that went to a decision.  They lined me up against some juiced up frat daddy as a patsy, and I took it to him.  I had spent the past three months training for the fight in an effort to be ready, and I was.  I remember approaching him as he was draped across a bench, patting him on the stomach and telling him it was a good fight.  As a big fan of the martial arts, I have trained informally in amateur style freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, and kickboxing, and formally in Capoeria, Krav Maga, and, of course, western boxing.
            The key there is “trained”.  I have never mixed it up outside of the ring, and hope I would never have to.
            Anyway, so I walked back to the guy.  Instinct told me the guy was drunk.  Very drunk.  His eyes were glazed and his posture was stereotypical.  I approached the guy, taking advantage of the element of surprise. 
            Still rational, I knew fighting would only get me in huge trouble.  So my first thought was to take the beer out of his hand, take a drink, and walk away with it.  But that was gross.  I have never been a drink-sharer.  It was a trait that my wife hated.  But I didn’t want to get germs.  Can you blame me?
            So I made a different choice.  I took the beer out of his hand, poured it on his pants and shoes, and walked away with it.
            I walked outside of the bar, resonating with anger and rage.  I was shaking, ready to fight. 
            It was not to be.  The guy or any of his friends did not pursue.  And fortunately my friends were outside as well.
            I told Edgar the story.  He was envious.  A self-reputed tough guy, Edgar could not believe I had done that.  I must be honest, I think at that point, the story became embellished by my friends.  By the time it got to him, I think I had poured a beer on the guys head and walked out with his woman.
            And so came the idea for a zarape to be a part of my gimmick.
           
            When the first bout came around, the announce team was pretty much left to figure out things on their own.
            I was to be paired with my new broadcast partner, Whiskey L’Amour.  Whiskey was actually a strikingly beautiful woman.  The buxom Cajun beauty had long brown hair, devilish brown eyes, and full lips that highlighted her great smile.  She was an Aries, like me, and I was curious how we were going to balance our unbalanced and outspoken natures on the microphones.  It was going to be a challenge.  I did, however, gain a lot of respect for her as I learned her story and how she ended up in the booth with me.
            For those that are unfamiliar with the story, an accident that occurred with Whiskey L’Amour was the spark that created the flat track derby revolution.  I had no idea about the story, and started to piece together the mystery that every girl in the league seemed to know, but had a bitter energy that compelled them to stray away from discussing it.
            I eventually pieced together my understanding of the event, and got the full story from Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan’s book“Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track”.  If you have not purchased that book yet, you are not a true derby fan.  Yeah, I said it.
            Here’s how I understood it:
            The leaders of the bank track league were on the take, calling themselves “She-E-O’s”.  They were more interested in making money off of the girls and not taking care of the more important aspects of their money making: taking care of the people making the money.  They went into an exhibition game with their charges uninsured, and Whiskey L’Amour blew out both her ankles.
            The issue of insurance, or the lack thereof, came to light that night.  All the girls realized they were playing a very dangerous game without the benefit of coverage in case of injury.  Fortunately, Whiskey was covered by her work insurance.  It was this revelation, however, that incited the mass exodus from the banked track league and the creation of the Texas Rollergirls.

/   /   /   /   /   /

            With all the activity going on before the first bout, Whiskey and I talked briefly before we got to work.  I mentioned my marriage plans and my engagement.  She asked me Yedi’s sign.  I told her she was a Leo.  Whiskey promptly made a face and provided glib insight, something that was to be a Whiskey L’Amour hallmark, by saying words to the effect of, “Leo’s and Aries don’t mix.  Run.”
            The Master of Ceremonies was the choice I assumed had been made:  Les McGehee.  He dubbed himself “Motormouth”, and it was a pleasure to work with him again.  As the man with the most experience between all of us, he took the initiative to make great suggestions about how our announcing should run.  He initially came up with the idea that the announcers should call during the game, and in between whistles, he could shill for sponsors and crack jokes.  Les was legitimately hilarious, thinking up extremely witty comments on the fly.  Giving Les time in between the whistlers was the best thing for us at the time, as Whiskey and I were still trying to figure out what we were doing.
            I was surprised to find a fourth addition to the organization.  Apparently, a new position had been created, or perhaps, I was unaware of.  I remember only being three positions open during the audition.  But this position was Crowd Wrangler, and it went to none other than Chip Queso.  I was surprised to see him, but could tell he could be a good addition to the group.  Chip was enthusiastic and ready to help.  Though the girls made the decision to add the position and bring him in, I couldn’t help but think they threw him a bone.  One of our first conversations revolved around the fact that I was totally unaware of the banked track league, the split, and any of the girls.  
            It was funny, at the time, to also find out his sign: Leo.
            DJ JJ was getting the turntables ready.  I thought he was really cool.  Months later, I wasn’t so sure.

/   /   /   /   /   /
           
            The first few bouts are a blur, and I remember many general things from the first few seasons and bouts.
            Whiskey talked a lot.  Granted, that was her job, but Jesus H. Christ, she would not shut up.  I remember being very frustrated at the beginning about that.  We stepped on each others toes a lot, announcing wise, in those early days.  I resigned myself to letting her speak as much as she wanted, as I was getting headaches from speaking too loud.  I recall one bout, sitting in frustration, almost wanting to quit.  Whiskey would not share, did not know how to keep comments short, and thought she had to call every single moment that was going on.  It was frustrating, but I had patience.  We eventually, through our experiences, began to have a more balanced announcing style and things began to work out better.
            I remember the league lost Les in the second season.  I was really sad about that because he was very funny and a very valuable, almost patriarchal, resource for the announcers.  I knew Les was a professional performer.  Though I never knew for sure, I get the feeling he chose to pass the role on to someone else for lack of pay.  His book also hinted that my conclusion was correct.  In his book he mentions that to for performers to be happy in life, you find something you love, you find someone who needs that service, then you get paid for it.  We were all sad to see him go.  A “come back, Les” e-mail campaign ensued from our announce team that was answered with silence from his end. 
            Les did, however, name a successor:  John Porter.
            John was another member of the successful Austin ComedySportz team, and another member I remember being very funny when my San Antonio team joined his Austin team to play.  I knew he would be a good fit.
            He joined us at a practice before the bout to come up with his gimmick name.  It was around this time the girls had an idea to have a theme for the bouts.  The idea of a Sunday tent revival type-theme was picked.  We were a little confused, thinking they wanted us to change our gimmicks.
            At any rate, the ideas for a gimmick change were already in my head for my character.  I was thinking I could be a religious cult leader: David Carash (a play on David Koresh of Waco Branch Davidian fame) or Jim “Kool-Aid” Jones.  I figured I could go out and rant and rave to the crowds before the bout about the grand scheme and how flat track was related to it.
            At any rate, I threw out the idea of Jim Jones to John.  He smirked that John Porter smirk before he started to laugh.  He said the name a few times and it stuck.  John Porter was to become Jim “Kool Aid” Jones.
            I remember Whiskey suggesting there should be announcer try outs before the next season started.  She was extremely drunk at the after party when she brought it up, and I thought it might be the alcohol talking.  Why would she want that?  What was wrong with us?  Perhaps she was unhappy for the same reasons I was, thinking I was a “mic hog”.  I let it go, knowing that we were doing a good job together.  However, it was still a comment that stuck with me for the following years, and it was not until the 2007 season that I began to trust her and realize she did have confidence in my work.
            This distrust of Whiskey actually led me to encourage Chip during the early bouts when Whiskey was away on work related business.  I remember Chip doing pretty good, telling me words to the effect of, “Man, I don’t know how ya’ll do it.  It’s pretty hard to keep up.”  I remember him doing alright when we worked together.
            Because it was a volunteer position at the time, the announcers were encouraged to be able to perform the duties of their collegues in case of their absence from a bout.  Typically, it meant only Whiskey, as Chip, Kool-Aid, and I were there every bout without fail.  Roles were taking a new form, and everyone was gaining a more active role at the time.  I felt there were definitive roles as set down by Les in the first season.  But the roles were beginning to change unchecked, shifting in a direction I believe they were not intended for.  I chose to let it go, realizing the informal nature of our announcing and the league itself, at the time.  This evolution was not the way I felt the announce team should be moving toward.  It was bad for the announce team, but at the time, I felt I had no say in it.  The only people at this point who had any say in the direction were the ‘girls.  When I look back, I think it was these recommendations from production and the time Whiskey spent away that planted seeds for strife that would rear its head in the future of the announce team.

            But before I get to the drama, no discussion about the birth, growth, and evolution of the roller girls would not be complete without a discussion of the Rollergirls themselves.

===========

More to come... stay tuned...

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