From the San Francisco Chronicle - FAST-FORWARD                                Thursday, Nov. 4, 19?3

Invasion of the Rollerbladers

Mob of skaters takes city by storm weekly

BY SAM WHITING                                    Chronk~ S~ff Wriler

On a foggy Friday night, Dan Cunningham and Phyllis White are sharing a bottle of red beneath the Palace of Fine Arts dome. They have with them a wrapped birthday present and a sleeping bag. At 9:20, the first inline skater arrives like a scout for a swarm of killer bees.

Another body on wheels rolls out of the dark, then another, and all at once there are 62 skaters whipping around the circle with arms linked in a long snake. "What is this," asks Cunningham, "roller derby night?"

    FNSInvasion1993.jpg (136834 bytes)
Then as quickly as the swarm appeared, it vanishes into the night toward the next appointed round.

"At first it seemed like a science fiction movie or something," says a surprised White. "We're not really part of it, but we're engulfed in it," adds Cunningham, who may have been touched by the wine. "We wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Neither would the loosely organized group of skaters, a hodgepodge of styles and skill levels, who depart the Ferry Building at 8:30 each Friday night to spend three intense hours coursing 12.5 miles of frenzied street.

FNSInvasion2.jpg (47233 bytes) "We're pretty much Friday night heathens. We just overrun the city," explains Lori Solay, 27, who is in furniture sales and is wearing cutoffs and a short-sleeve lavender top. Once they get going, the chill isn't a factor. Adrenaline and pumping limbs take care of that.

"It's a nice deviation from going out and drinking Friday nights, what every-body else does," says Solay. And the people who do what everybody else does show their support by hooting from the street corners and saloons along Chestnut Street, the Bermuda Triangle and over the hills and through the tunnels to South of Market.

Better Than Bars

It's better than going to the bars, and you meet people with with the same

interests" says Alexandria Ross, 22 who works for Clorox. "Going to a bar, you have no idea what kind of people they are."

Pedestrians and motorists along the route are equally unsure what kind of people the skaters are, other than something to be avoided like a stampede of bulls.

"I've never seen anything like this," says Minnesotan Bill Creswell, who is strolling by Union Square when the skaters come swooping down the steps, just before 11 p.m. "It's not what I expected, but this is the big city."

The Friday night skate used to be on Thursdays, but apparently "The Simpsons" is big with in-line types. So it found a niche on the weekend and has become renowned enough to attract Jon Lowden, 30, editor at large of InLine Magazine, in Boulder, Cob.

"This is one of the more legendary group skates in the country because of the terrain," says Lowden, a top-rated racer. "The average San Francisco skater has a little more lead in his pencil."

San Francisco isn't the only Bay Area skating hot spot. Nighttime skaters can also be found patrolling the streets of Los Gatos, Walnut Creek and Stanford University.

In San Francisco the skaters sharpen up In the parking lot across from the

        HOW TO JOIN THE SKATE

To loin the Friday night skate, meet at 8 p.m. in the parking lot across the Embarcadero from the

Ferry Building. Skaters leave at 8:30 p.m and must know how to stop and turn. Helmets and pads required.

Only heavy rain causes cancellation. For more information call David

Miles at (415)752-1967.

At 7:30 other weeknights in Los Gatos, Walnut Creek, Stanford

University and San Francisco, the

Nuvo Colours skate shop sponsors skates of 25 to 100 skaters. For information call (415)771-6086.

Ferry Building, as organizer David Miles, 37, opens his van and cranks up a music-like sound that Yeltsin might have used to clear out the parliament

"It's like running a marathon with a group of people", explains Michael Johnson, 29, a Charles Schwab rep who dresses in grunge with unbuttoned flannel, cutoff jeans and tights. "It's a mob mentality."

Most wear fluorescent glow sticks on their skates or flashing reflector lights on their belts. Miles, founder and president of the Outdoor Roller Skating Association of America, is distinguished by a blinking headband. He lurks behind the group like the ski patrol, picking up strays as they head north along the Embarcadero toward Pier 39. Speeds can reach 35 to 40 miles per hour.

"The first night I wasn't sure I was going to make it," says Lenny Brandriet, a cahhie, "but they take real good care of the new people."

After looping Pier 39, they skate through the heart of Fisherman's Wharf, playing cat and mouse with the feared "yellow jackets" - taxicabs. At Aquatic Park, they cross into Fort Mason and travel along the Marina Green past the Exploratorium to the Palace of Fine Arts. Moving around and through traffic, they can make it down congested Chestnut Street and up Fillmore to Union faster than any car.

"It's a feeling of being empowered," explains John Seely, 57, an Oakland writer and translator. "The street suddenly belongs to you."

At 9:45 they reach City Pantry on Fillmore, and fill up on Snapple and candy bars. The clerks pretend not to notice.

"I don't think those guys in the store like us. I think they are waiting for someone to go through the display case", says Brandriet. "But on the other hand, we're worth a quick hundred bucks."

Cruising the Tunnel

After clogging the sidewalks and benches along Union, they skate up to Polk Street, turn right and then left at Johnny Love's, and rip Broadway to "Hell on Wheels," a.k.a. Helen Wills Playground. They circle the basketball court, playing tag, jumping and spinning. When the park lights dim at 10, they head for the highlight of the evening - the Broadweay Tunnel

 "Going through the tunnel is pure extasy"says Leely. The elevated pedestrian walkway to the tunnel, which crosses beneath four city blocks allows no room to turn or stop.

"It's a bobsled run. All downhill," says Johnson. "You hear your feet and feel the vibration. The cars coming through and the horns blowing. It's a rush."

It is also illegal to skate on any sidewalk, according to San Francisco police spokesman David Ambrose. An officer could require them to pull off their skates and sock hop through the tunnel. This would dampen the fun considerably, but it hasn't happened yet.

At the east end of the tube they regroup. "A couple of people fell, but I didn't see no blood," says Miles. "Nobody was hurt."

Then they pass through Chinatown to a run at the Stockton tunnel. If the southbound light is green, they'll wait until it turns red. With no traffic approaching from behind, the skaters bolt through as if there were a land grab, reaching the other end before the light can turn and the cars catch them.

After that race, they feel entitled to a little spree In Union Square, leaping police barricades, even lying down to jump one another like barrels.

"If ever see you down here again, you better have a permit," says one angry man who did not appreciate the disruption.

"We monopolize a lot of stuff," admits Brandriet, "but it's for 10 minutes a week."

Through the Club District

They continue down Powell to Market, then west six long crosstown blocks to 11th, down through the nightclubs to the fashion center and across town to the Beale Street Bar & Grill.

"Any place that will let us in, we go in," says computer specialist Steve Howe, 30.

By 11:30, they are home in their parking lot, 12.5 miles on the legs hut they need more, spinning in circles until 1 a.m.

"Jump, skate, dance to the music," says Miles. "It's almost like being in the park."

By Saturday "you feel great," says Johnson. "Tired, but it's a healthy tired. Not a bar tired." Which leaves ju'st enough time to rest for the big Sunday scene in Golden Gate Park.