DETROIT: This Is How We Roll

21 Jul

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In 2005 a group of high-spirited, hard-working, competitive women joined forces to form The Detroit Derby Girls, a women’s flat-track roller derby league based in Detroit. Through the years the league has grown to include more than 120 skaters, 5 home teams and 3 travel teams that compete inter-league. This is not the old-fashioned banked-track derby of the 1970’s where hair-pulling, tripping, punching and chair-throwing was the norm. Today skaters have backgrounds in speed skating, hockey, even figure skating; they are very athletic. These women pay-to-play; they spend their hard-earned dollars buying equipment, practice time, massage therapy, band-aids and ice packs. They practice several times a week, pay for their own travel expenses and manage the league. Players come in all shapes and sizes; during the day they work as doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers and shop-keepers. 2009 was an amazing year; Drew Barrymore arrived in Detroit to film “Whip It“, many of our local skaters took part in the film, how cool is that? That same year the DDG were ranked #2 in the North Central Division and made a trip to the Nationals. Home bouts are played at the magnificent Masonic Temple; ticket cost is minimal, bouts offer everything: hard-hitting action, speed, competitiveness, live music and lots of fun. The girls still use great names such as Black Eyed Skeez, Ghetto Barbie, Cool Whip, Fatal Femme, Racer McChaseHer and Zooma Thurman, keeping the kitsch part of derby alive. It’s a blast!

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Today the DDG is having a FREE bout outdoors at Eastern Market, using the parking lot behind Shed 3. It’s one of those days when the weather changes every five minutes; we are flip-flopping between pouring rain and sunshine. When we arrive it’s pouring, spectators and skaters are gathered inside the shed waiting for the rain to stop. Today a mix of skaters from all home teams will make up the Motown Wreckers vs the Motor City Dis-assembly Line; dressed in blue and yellow jerseys they are ready to roll. The sun comes out, refs and skaters alike make short work of sweeping the puddles off the asphalt; the temperature hovers in the 80’s so it dries quickly. The track area is laid out with spray paint lines, rocks and debris are cleared and the pack lines up. One blow of the whistle and the jam begins; blockers, pivots and jammers whirl around the track, to say it’s a little tricky skating in a parking lot is an understatement, but the teams rise to the challenge. Spectators who planned ahead are sitting comfortably in lawn chairs, the crowd grows with passers-by checking out the action. Kris makes his way to the top of the parking structure to get a great overall view and take pictures, others are there just to watch. Rows of white folding chairs make up the team benches, the skyline of the city peeks out above the roof of Shed 2, the sky cannot make up it’s mind if it will rain again. It’s inevitable that skaters will fall, one good hip-check or shoulder is all it takes,  the parking lot surface is unforgiving; instead of sliding the surface grabs hold of both clothing and skin…ouch! Taking it in stride the two teams battle it out, the crowd loves it! Keep an eye on their Facebook page for upcoming bouts and events, the regular season usually begins in November.

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We are having lunch at Topsoil, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant located inside MOCAD on Woodward.  We enter the museum and hang a right down a short hallway to the restaurant/performance space; rectangular tables are pulled together creating long community tables, sunlight pours in through the glass roll-up door in an otherwise dim space. I walk to the counter to check out the menu and place our order. It’s really hot outside so we’re looking for something cold, something light; the cold sesame udon, blk seed, sea salt, carrot salad  and the kale, Farro, lemon and evoo salad fit the bill. Everybody who eats here tells us we have to try the hot dogs, well, Tofu dogs, so I ask the gent behind the counter which one he likes best, ‘Zombie’ is his reply, Zombie it is. I join Kris at the table while our food is being prepared in the open kitchen, before I know it a tray is placed on the counter and my name is called. I am sure to grab silverware and plenty of napkins, we’re sharing everything. The first thing we dive into, of course, is the Zombie, a tofu dog tucked into a bun topped with house-made peanut butter and house-made vegan kimchi………..it is soooo good! The dog tastes like a regular hot dog, no funny texture or anything like that, the combination of flavors is excellent! Both salads are generous portions and quite tasty; when all the food is gone, Kris says, we should have gotten 2 hot dogs!

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The museum is still open, so we have a look around. MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) is a non-collecting institution, its purpose is to explore emerging ideas in the contemporary arts. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is a former auto dealership; the huge open spaces are perfect for art exhibitions. In addition MOCAD hosts lectures, musical performances, films, literary readings and educational activities for children in the historic space. Today the main exhibit is a show called La Bella Crisis by Jose Lerma, a Puerto Rican artist. The gallery is transformed into an art fair; Lerma created a ‘booth’ a day for 30 days, now complete, the floor is covered in a silver tarp, canvasses hang at different levels, each space is unique. Detroit Native Steve Locke has an exhibit in one of the smaller galleries; “There is no one left to blame” is a series of male portraits on canvas. Midwestern Voices and Visions showcases the work of highly talented artists of color in Midwestern residency programs. Along the back wall is Dana Friedman’s video installation “Projecting”. We like that the museum is ever-changing, there’s always something new to see anytime we pop in. If you’d like to check it out you don’t have much time, the museum and restaurant will be closed from July 28 through September 11 for renovations, so get there soon!

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