Viva Mexico

I didn’t post a blog or write a poem yesterday. I was busy playing international roller derby in Mexico. Yes, Mexico.

The day got off to a rough start. I was carpooling to the rink with a couple of friends, and they were running late, which of course I handled with perfect calm. I did not worry that they had forgotten about me. Not even once. But we made it to the rink to meet up with everyone else with time to spare, mostly because we were still waiting for our guide, Omar, to arrive. He was expected around eleven. It was now close to one o’clock.

So we loaded up the vans with our gear and two teams, and set off to find Omar, who had come up from Ensenada that morning to guide us back down. This may strike some readers as a little convoluted, since we could have met Omar at the border, and saved everyone some time. It struck us this way as well. In any case, we went to find him at another skate store in San Diego, a rival with the skate shop that operates in the rink where SDRD skates.

He was not there. One of the employees of the store said that he normally takes the trolley from Old Town and walks over to the store. So we headed next to the Old Trolley station. No one had ever met Omar before, so our strategy was just to shout his name (in the closed van) as often as possible. This did not annoy our fearless leader at all.

Eventually we released a skater to skate around the trolley tracks and look for him. Of course, we immediately lost her as well, just as we finally found Omar, who had also brought his young son with him. So we began shouting for Bully Julie instead and she skated back to the van (for reference: this is a woman I have never seen not wearing skates. She drives in her skates). It was now around two o’clock and we were finally leaving San Diego.

The drive into Mexico was smooth, but crossing the border was still shocking. We were only a few feet away from America, but nothing looked the same. We passed a large culvert and saw people living inside it. We saw a man with one leg crawling up from the ditch. To be honest, it reminded me of the leper scene is Jesus Christ Superstar, which should tell you exactly how much personal experience I have with poverty. It was also hillier than I’d imagined. For some reason, I imagined Tijuana as flat, even though San Diego is not. The hills were more obvious on this side of the border too, since there weren’t large houses and lawns blocking the view. Houses were old, decrepit, sometimes no more than shacks. From the highway, neighborhood streets were dirt.

But the view was incredible. The highway ran just along the ocean and the water was stunning. As we drove further out of Tijuana and further into Baja toward Ensenada, we traveled through a more mountainous, verdant area. In addition to fruit venders on the side of the road, there were also wine and olive oil stands. Nothing I have seen in California looked like this to me; outside of San Diego, the land gets hot and dry. Green is a rare color.

We stopped for tacos in Ensenada, despite the fact that we were less than an hour away from the start of the women’s game, a fact which did not seem to bother most of the men. But eventually we made it to the rec center where we’d be playing, a building that on the outside looked like a warehouse or maybe a club. Inside, the floor was sport court, grippy and slippy at the same time. It was hard to get traction to gain speed, but also difficult to stop with any kind of accuracy (not that I do that on our wonderful wood floor anyway).  We warmed up, and got started as soon as we could, beginning the game about an hour later than we were supposed to.

The game itself: what can I say? I am still not a good enough player to play and watch at the same time, so I cannot point to any particular moments in the game. All I know is that we were ahead the entire time, and nothing seemed particularly difficult. We were playing with nine women, a short line, but it was a short game, only half an hour. I played about every other jam, and every time I sat on the bench I remembered, “I’m in Mexico right now.” Even sitting on the bench was a thrill.

I jammed once, in the final jam. It was a power jam, and it was glorious. I was hit, yes, and I fell, yes. But I also scored points, and I called it when I was supposed to. My teammates were great.

After the game, we took pictures with the other team, Ensenada Roller Derby, and as I was packing up my gear, one of the other players came up to me with a shirt in her hand.
“Do you want to trade?” she asked.
“I’d love to,” I said, “but I only have the shirt I’m wearing,” which of course I’d just worn while playing, so it was wet and stinky.
“That’s okay,” she said. In that moment, I fell in love with her. I ripped off my stinky shirt and put on my brand new Endsenada Roller Derby shirt, courtesy of Winka Brona. And for a few photos, she even put on my stinky jersey.

The men played a great game, fun to watch. Men’s roller derby is like most men’s sports: violence fueled by testosterone. But it’s also something I’ve learned to appreciate. They hit hard and are way more aggressive. Our coach was almost ejected, mostly because the floor was slipperier than he as used to so his hits were more dangerous, but he also wasn’t holding anything back even though it was a different floor.  I value what derby offers to women (it’s great to have a sport where the men are secondary), but there is a lot that I can learn from men’s derby.

Game ended around 9 p.m. We skipped the after party in an effort to get home before midnight. It’s one of the few times I regret skipping an after party (a chance to hang out with my new derby hero), but I already know we’ll be back. We did stop at the same taco shop on our way out of town, and I ate the three best tacos I have ever had. The taco stand didn’t sell beer, but there was a liquor store down the block where we bought Tecate and Dos Equis. Beer and tacos after derby was the perfect end to a perfect day.

We drove back in the dark, and yes, coming back to the U.S. at midnight was harder than crossing into Mexico, but it was nothing too bad. Without Omar to guide us, we had to make a few U-turns, once heading toward the airport instead of the border. The other van with all our gear got stuck in secondary and didn’t make it back to San Diego until three in the morning. As it was, skipping the after party was probably the right choice.

I could not imagine a better first trip to Mexico. Coming back, happy and satisfied and back in the country, conversation in the van fell away as people dozed off, and I thought of speech and debate tournaments in high school, coming back late at night, traveling with a group of weirdoes doing something that very few people understand. I’m glad I still have this in my life.

I can’t wait to go back to Mexico. I want to play with Ensenada again. I want to check out the beaches and eat more tacos. And now that I’ve seen it done, I think I could handle doing it myself.

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