It is here that an anarchic group of
bicyclists known as Critical Mass regularly assert their right to the road, packing
freeway lanes at rush hour with several hundred cyclists about once a month. Theirs is a
serious goal, to oppose the environmental ill effects of auto traffic and promote dreams
of a w6rld without cars, and a few are occasionally arrested for violating traffic rules.
night skaters, in contrast, say they are only after pure fun, with nothing to prove except
that in-line skating, one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, feels good.
But under the Californian imperative that recreation equals identification, it Is serious
Other bladers get together for group skates in other cities, but as far as many skating
enthusiasts can tell, the 300,400, sometimes as many as 600 "Midnight Rollers"
who take to the streets here on Friday nights constitute the biggest such group In the
"What it's really all about is, it's a community," said David G. Miles Jr.,
father of the Friday night tradition and founder of CORA, the California Outdoor
Roller-Skating Association. "It's a community of people who if not for skating would
never have met, and the skating is the glue that keeps everybody together."
Dan Filner, a regular shimmering in a cape of green reflecting sequins, said skating
can have transformational powers, too. "It really changed my life," Mr. Filner
said. "I went from being a computer nerd to being an Qutgolng, physically active
per-son. I'll live longer - If I don't get run over."
The group's genesis dates ~ the 1989 Loma-Prieta earthquake here. Earthquake damage
forced the closure of the Embarcadero Freeway, and a few enterprising skaters - Mr. Miles
among them - stole onto it one night and found themselves in heaven, rolling along smooth,
empty expanses for miles and miles. The freeway was eventually torn down, but the nucleus
of a regular skaters' group had been formed.
Six-odd years later they have evolved into this, a tradition so powerful that some
skaters drive hours to attend, a mix of masters with concrete quadriceps and neophytes
advised to bring cab fare in case they don't make the 12.5-mile route. The group is too
freewheeling to impose dogmatic rules, but Mr. Miles begs skaters to wear protective gear
-helmets, knee-pads and reflectors.
The night begins next to a blaring boom-box in a parking lot next to the Ferry
Building, as skaters dance, warm up, hob-nob and once-over each other.
With a cry of "Let's gooooo!" from Mr. Miles - whos day job is as a skate
instructor, the group took off last Friday nlght, streaming along the Embarcadero, which
runs along the waterfront, and through Fisherman's Wharf. Then it was on to the Marina and
to the stately Palace of Fine Arts, where they fornied a giant whirling circle under its
dome. After a mass stop for fuel at a designated grocery store, the group went on,
swarniing through narrow Fillmore and Union Streets and getting badly on the nerves of at
least one driver:
"I realize you're part of the road, but you have to pay attention if you're in
traffic!" he said. Other drivers, however, allowed the skatersto "skitch"
up the most brutal9f hills holding 6nto theirbumpers.
A tunnel under Broadway provided the scariest segment, a long ride along a narrow
walkway whose surface filled the tunnel with the chunga-chunga-chunga of skates and made
skaters' teeth chatter. Then they were on to Chinatown, a long stop for horseplay in Union
Square, back to the Ferry Building and hor to recuperate, at about 11:30 P.M.
For true addicts, the next fix wa' only two days away, when they wot gather for a
traditional Sunday of skating in Golden Gate Park, and there are more demanding events,
including a marathon skate to Los Angeles. But for many, the nightskate is special.
"There's nothing like this in New York," said David Stein,
32, director of an after-school program for poor children. "You get into the arteries
of San Francisco doing this. For me, it's like San Francisco is this being, this organism,
and we get inside it, and there are so many of us we take it over. We are the