Friday, August 8, 2008

How We Wound up Watching Roller Derby on our Anniversary

Let me set the scene: it's our 21st wedding anniversary and Sheree and I have reservations at a great Las Vegas eatery called "The Bootlegger."

We've just finished photographing The Boneyard (I think it's two blogs back), I am recovering nicely from a minor heatstroke and we have decided to poke around Fremont Street.

Fremont is often called "Downtown." It's where Old Vegas is. Downtown was first -- the garish Strip came after. I like downtown. It's got a bunch of old stuff. It's got great signs. It's got a massive video screen on the ceiling that goes for three blocks.

But best of all it has interesting people.

"I want that one," says a girl off to my left. The voice is so loud and hard that I turn to look.

The woman has green and purple hair. She's dressed in black -- and it looks like she is wearing her underwear over top of her clothes. Not quite goth. Something tougher. There are many piercings: her nose, her lip and her eyebrows. I am wondering how she manages metal detectors at the airport and little things like blowing her nose. She wears a brightly colored shirt -- but when she moves I notice that it's not a shirt at all. She's got tattoos running up her arms and across her back. There are Japanese warriors and dragons. There are flowers and dates. There are names -- and it's all woven together in this symphony of color.

She's intent on looking at necklaces and earrings. The clerk is beside himself putting things into bags for her. You can tell he's willing to overlook a strange appearance in favor of a well equipped credit card.

She turns, sees me staring (something that probably isn't real unusual) then she smiles, waves and goes back to her shopping.

I look at Sheree and shrug. She shrugs too and we continue exploring Fremont.

A little further down the way a round little man (who looks a lot like the road manager from "Almost Famous") is painstakingly putting down tape on the cement floor in the direct middle of Fremont Street. He's being helped by another tattooed girl who is wearing a yellow shirt that is about two sizes too small. It is not not a good clothing choice.

"I wonder what they're doing," Sheree says.

I shrug and pretend I am not even remotely interested.

"Why don't you go ask them?" she asks.

I shrug again. Sheree sighs and walks over and talks to them. They are having an animated conversation and all three wind up laughing. She comes back to me and starts walking.

"Well?" I ask.

"Well what?" she says.

"What are they doing?" I ask.

"I thought you didn't care."

"Just curious," I say, unable to come up with a more witty rejoiner.

"It's flat track roller derby. There's a roller derby convention in town," she says. Then she laughs and says "We just keep walking into great stuff! We're going to get great pictures!"

Sheree charms some of the athletes to pose for pictures and before long one of the men, wearing a tutu and a flower in his hair, is mugging for the camera. How does she do it? I watch in wonder. My wife can get pretty much any stranger to do anything. I've seen it a hundred times and I have no idea how she manages. (You should have a look at her blog as well: )

We promptly cancel the Bootlegger and settle in to watch them set up a flat track roller derby. Before long the ladies of roller derby are taking the... ummm ... concrete.

It's a very challenging thing to shoot. We're under a canopy that runs the whole length the main Freemont area. The women move very fast and the only way to get any kind of half decent shot is to use my telephoto with a Continuous Focus sports mode. Even then it's tough to get.

These women are not pampered princesses. They're tougher than some of the bikers we've seen. And they have colorful names. There's Daddy's Girl and Cherry-licious and many more that I can't put here on the off chance children will read this.

But it's fascinating to watch. It smacks a little of WWF or a Monster Truck rally and, as I see them go past, I realize I have only a faint idea of what they are doing. My knowledge of roller derby is limited to watching Raquel Welch in "Kansas City Bomber" years ago...and I didn't understand it then either.

But apparently roller derby works like this: the people skate in circles. They knock against one another and eventually (and understandably) someone falls down. The crowd cheers. Two players wearing panties on their helmets (no...I don't get it either) skate very quickly and do things that make the crowd go "ooo" and "ahhh."

Occasionally a referee blows a whistle and everyone puts their hands on their hips and skates around trying to catch their breath.

How do you communicate this energy in a picture? You need to shoot a LOT of pictures.

Relax: it's digital. What doesn't work, you delete. No harm no foul. Besides -- this was so awfully entertaining to watch. These people were having fun...or as much fun as you can have skating in 100 degree heat in the middle of a sidewalk in Las Vegas.

And Sheree and I had a blast. We traded the formal Bootlegger in on a wonderful tropical buffet and played on slot machines until the wee hours. Then we took a walk around Fremont Street and took some more pictures, sipped a little beer, held hands and were just totally relaxed into enjoying the evening and each other.

So that's how I took my bride of 21 years to roller derby for our anniversary. We had a splendid time.

Am I a class guy or what?

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