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Niki at Nite: Exploring the depths of "fan-archy" with Roller Derby superfans

"Seriously, it's like soft porn on wheels!"

That is how my friend Joker describes roller derby to me before a recent AZ Derby Dames doubleheader bout at Castle Mega Sports. It's the first live roller derby event I've attended, and Joker — so-named because of her huge, mischievous, toothy grin — is thrilled that she's accompanying a "derby virgin."

Joker is a huge roller derby fan. If levels of fandom were comparable to the size of vehicles, Joker would be the 18-wheeler Mack truck of roller derby fans. She's been to dozens of bouts, both for the Derby Dames and the other local league, the Arizona Roller Derby (AZRD). She has cameos in all the Derby Dames' video footage (often with her face painted and always screaming so loud you can almost see her tonsils), and she's even had coffee with a couple of the skaters.

I'm all hyped up, because Joker's been going on and on about roller derby all day. "Roller derby is so intense," she tells me, as we take a seat behind one of the team's benches. "These girls skate hard. There was this one derby girl in Arizona Roller Derby named Denise Lightning, and she used to throw up right on the rink because of all the exertion.

"You know what I miss?" Joker continues. "The Arizona Roller Derby girls used to do this thing called 'The Wheel of Misfortune,' and whenever one of the girls got a penalty, they had to spin the wheel. And one of the things on the wheel was a spanking from the audience. So you know I got my own custom paddle made for this. I just loved whacking them on the ass. I wish Derby Dames would do something like that."

The audience for the bouts tonight consists of about 300 people, and it's one of the most diverse, mixed-gender crowds I've seen anywhere. Tickets cost just $8 in advance and $10 at the door, and children age 12 and younger are admitted free, so there are a lot of families with kids here. But there are also a lot of 20-something punk-types and 30-something yuppie-types, as well as a handful of middle-aged people and senior citizens.

And then there's Joker. Once the first bout starts, she presses against the wall behind the bench for the Schoolyard Scrappers team, red-faced and screaming.

"Whooooo! C'mon, Ed Ible!" she yells, thumping her fist on the wall ledge. Then she turns to me. "Hey, did you see what Ed Ible had written on her ass? It says 'EAT ME.'"

As tempted as I am to study Ed Ible's butt, I can't tear my eyes away from the carnage coming around every corner. The women are whizzing around the track in torn fishnets, neon green tops decorated with skulls and crossbones, blue plaid miniskirts, multicolored ruffle-butt underwear, and ghoulie-punk makeup. I wasn't sure what to expect at my first roller derby bout, but this sure as hell ain't Xanadu.

While Joker continues her spiel about how hot the derby girls are, I survey the homemade jerseys on the skaters. Some of these names crack me up — Gwen Steponya, Tara Limzov, Necro Ophilia, Fawn Del Mee, Dirty Martini. Hell, even the refs have names like Howie Feltersnatch.

I agree with Joker — most of these derby girls are hot. There's just something about tattooed women with fit figures and firm breasts rolling around on the floor together that never loses its appeal.

Joker doesn't have one favorite roller girl (she loves them all), but tonight, she's wearing a button with the image of Schoolyard Scrappers skater Chuck Berrings on it. However, she's also wearing a button with the logo of the Coffin Draggers, the team the Scrappers are taking on tonight. She also has a little coffin-shaped pill box that she bought from the Coffin Draggers' merchandise stand a couple of seasons ago, and two huge roller derby stickers affixed to the front window of her Volkswagen convertible (VWs and derby girls are her two big passions). Joker's only 27 years old, but she's been doing the derby since it started in Phoenix five years ago. Until she switched jobs last year from part-time masseuse to full-time restaurant manager, she rarely missed a bout. Now she works longer hours and misses an event here and there, but she's never stopped trying to talk me into attending a bout with her since I met her via MySpace about a year and a half ago.

But Joker isn't the only superfan here tonight. The line to get into Castle Mega Sports was winding down the sidewalk a half-hour before the doors opened. Several fans are here with face paint, signs, and props, and they all raced down to the rink when the doors opened to get prime seats on the floor, in the "crash zone" (inches from the track).

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea