Rage Against the Machine
by micah epstein
Gay Rage was up for sale. We were sitting in the Blooddega, our local watering hole, when Bryce told us that their big-shot developer daddy was now listing our sacred arena on the algorithmic market. Our turf, tirelessly done up in spray paint and climbing tomato vines, was about to be computationally assessed, marketed, and torn up for mirror-glass mixed-use. I was a little impressed that Bryce would choose to give us a tip and possibly undermine their generational wealth, the same that let them buy all the season’s latest skates and SuckCreme hoodies. I guess Bryce really had the rage - but their daddy was (un)cool, calm, tryna collect.
The Gay Rage Garage was up for sale, and we would be losing the best Derby course this side of the Ooze. We had to do something. Time to throw a monkey wrench in the face of the man. Or in our case, into the face of a god-like algorithmic super-system.
But I had a plan. A perfect plan for us derby punks, who really only know how to do one thing: skate. Before first we needed competition; we pinged our rival gangs, talked all kinds of smack, about how sickly their compost heaps were and how barren their community fridge was, knowing that would have ‘em chomping at the bit to prove their punk credentials. Next, we shut down the whole street in front of Gay Rage. It’s stupid easy to block streets in the age of the autonomous car - a technique known as the Bridle Ritual. First, label a can of white spray paint “salt.” Second, find a buddy who trusts you and use them as bait. Push ‘em in front of the car. It will be ethically required to stop. Third, while the car is stopped, draw two concentric circles of white paint around it. Its sensors will return a DO NOT CROSS MARKING and it will be stranded. The salt label isn’t strictly necessary, but I love the black magic aesthetic of drawing a circle of salt around something so haunted as a driverless car. We did that to a whole mess of them at each end of the street, and suddenly we had all the space we needed to make a scene. We were almost ready. From its place of honor above the mantle of our garden tool shed we took down Gus.
Gus was a real vintage gunpowder and lead double barreled shotgun, beautiful choking ivy carved into the real-wood stock (very solar). In this age of “non-lethal” rubber bullets and cyberwarfare, a gunshot signaled to the whole neighborhood that shit was about to hit the fan. And fans. Doomsday had arrived.
When the market switched our automobile system to autonomous, cars stopped needing to park. Instead, they circled the block and spewed emissions into the air until their owner finished their errand or job or date or whatever yuppie biz they were up to. Empty lots and poor people’s homes were fed into one end of the market, high-rises were spat out the other. But parking garages, in all their brutalist invincibility, were hard to tear down or retrofit. That’s when Derby gangs like us rolled in. We squatted and tagged and built planter beds and from the broken glass and cigarette butts we birthed a totally novel institution: Doomsday Derby. An ungodly blend of roller derby, parkour, and crit riding, plus the music, fashion, lingo, and recipes that went with it. Incredibly dangerous and even more fun, it was niche, not for everybody. Until today.
Time to throw a monkey wrench in the face of the man. Or in our case, into the face of a god-like algorithmic super-system.
Gus thundered, daytime fireworks of dyed dandelion spores raked the sky, and we were off. The best of us knew to cut across the abandoned solar array (left unmaintained since glacial retreat had opened the North for deep drilling). We jumped from panel to panel, dodging piles of silica shards. The last jump was over the community garden - the most dangerous cause no one would dare risk crashing our orderly rows. We plunged into the cool concrete darkness of the Gay Rage Garage. Our course was the best of the best, a huge banked ovoid, spiraling down into darkness. Squat pillars interjected just often enough to keep things interesting. Originally attached to a mall - now long demolished - the hologram ghosts of corporate mascots flickered and appeared, triggered by the screech of our skates. Some noobs ahead of me tried to dodge ‘em and ate compost. I knew better and blew right through the ghosts, feeling their electric flesh tingle on mine in a way that was definitely carcinogenic - but I had bigger Ooze-fish to fry. Some goon from the Thrasher Gang was drafting off my left elbow. I gave them a shove, and took the next bend on the edge of my skates, throwing sparks. We came onto the final bend of the Garage, and I could see the rectangle of blue sky that marked our big, Derby-defying finale. I bent my knees and took the plywood ramp out of the second-story window at full speed.
I had expected a loose crowd, stranded by Bridle Riturals or drawn in by our party vibes. I didn’t expect a sea of upturned faces, the click-buzz of surveillance drones the only sound amidst collective hush and awe. My city, my whole world, looked on as I burst through a curtain of ivy, arced from 40 feet up with recycled-aluminum blades strapped to my feet, landed with practiced ease, and broke the caution tape finish line. A horde of punks in their most flamboyant shroom-leathers tumbling and landing behind me, vying for second place. Something ~clicked~ in that moment. Doomsday Derby was here, and it was cool.
I could never have imagined how successful my plan would be. The market, ever tapped into the zeitgeist of its city, ever listening to the chatter and scroll and hashtags of its citizens, immediately recognized Doomsday Derby as a cultural institution of the first order, and added the Gay Rage Garage to its historic building ledger. With the protection and registration, safety rails were added, and the broken glass was swept up. The mascot ghosts were disabled (can’t have sacred trademarks on a live broadcast), and Gus was traded in for a less acoustically-offensive airhorn. Soon, digital marketing brands and Derby-inspired streetwear boutiques began to move into the neighborhood. The Blooddega changed hands once, twice, and became a place that served 10 types of cauliflower toast. The Garage still stood, in all of its indestructibility, but our humble rooftop veggie gardens were swapped out for a curated crown of blossoming vines and carbon-sink palms. The Garage still stood, a birthplace of a global phenomenon - but Gay Rage had been sold. We had made Gay Rage cool and hip and good, in its own tiny way. And the market had made it media, brought it to scale and made it fit for consumption.
About the Author: micah epstein
micah (they/them) is a second year Master’s in City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community, and Economic Development. They are a storyteller and systems meddler raised on vast swathes of fantasy and science fiction, which taught them the power stories have to change hearts, minds, and systems. As a designer, they’ve designed web experiences and print artifacts for the ACLU of Washington, the MIT Media Lab, the coveillance collective, and many others. When not pushing pixels, you can find them headbanging in grimy basements or racing (and beating) c*rs on their rusty fixed gear.