|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?"
|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.
||"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
|interests" says Alexandria Ross, 22 who
works for Clorox. "Going to a bar, you have no idea what kind of people they
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,
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
"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
"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
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
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 &
"Any place that will let us in, we go in," says computer specialist Steve
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.