Night Crawler

One summer, when I was a child, my favorite cousin's passion turned, for a time, from classic literature to roller-skating. I don't know if it was the sunlight and wild parrots in Golden Gate Park that drew her, or if it was Carlos, an "older man" who my aunt likened to a bullet -- small, dark, and hard as steel (he used to skate down to L.A. periodically, a feat that seemed just short of superhuman). Whatever the reason, I followed her, and the park has never seemed more full of color and music since. Glittery scarves were in vogue, as were soul-tinged disco and pink pom-poms (it was that awkward part of the early '80s when the '70s still bled through here and there). Every Sunday morning the core skaters -- those die-hards who would show up rain or shine -- would gather together to show the recreational "weekend rollers" how it was done. A sweet-natured man named D. was in charge of sound then, as now.

Today, David G. Miles Jr. is 41 and graying, but the roller skates are still firmly laced to his feet. He has been providing music for roller skaters in Golden Gate Park since 1979 when he moved here from Kansas City. While the fashions may be different -- blades have replaced skates and clothes tend to be gangsta-baggy instead of Solid Gold-tight -- according to D. the vibe hasn't changed at all.

"Skating has evolved, but it still makes people feel good. That's what counts. San Francisco is this great, positive place. When I first came here, the attitude was completely new to me."

On D.'s third day in town -- after parting ways with acquaintances "headed down the wrong track" -- he took a walk through the park and saw his first outdoor roller skater.

"I'd never seen anything like that before," D. says, grinning under his black baseball cap. "I mean, we had roller-skating in Kansas City, but only in roller rinks, never outdoors." The next day, D. bought himself a pair of skates and soon thereafter joined Skate Patrol, a group of volunteers hired by Park and Recreation to monitor the nearly 20,000 people who skated in the park every weekend. This was the Golden Age of Roller-Skating in San Francisco.

"I got sucked up into the hurricane," says D., looking at the sun-splattered roller-dance circle where 40 virtuosos are presenting an impromptu routine to Madonna's "Vogue."

"It became a sort of religious experience for me -- every Sunday, in the park." Like most religious men, D. has imparted his understanding to his three children -- 12-year-old Melanie, 9-year-old Tiffany, and 7-year-old David -- who can be seen most Sundays bustin' out with the best of them (all three were on wheels at age 2). D. currently lives across the street from the park and makes his living from skate-related ventures. He is founder of the Midnight Rollers, who are responsible for San Francisco's infamous Friday Night Skate; the organizer behind the Skate Against Violence benefit, which sends over a dozen folk roller-skating down to L.A. every year; the president of C.O.R.A. (California Outdoor Rollerskaters Association); and a skating instructor at the Learning Annex.

"He's also the keeper of our history," says Dan Filner, a 27-year-old video-game writer with a half-pipe in his dining room. "San Francisco is very transient. People move away, but D. has been here from the beginning. He knows all there is to know." Filner views the skating community much the same way most night crawlers would view their neighborhood bar. "This is one big, happy family. It doesn't matter what color, religion, fashion, or sex you are -- as long as you have skates on your feet." OK, not quite like a neighborhood bar, but for the people involved, skating is a scene like any other: People meet, play, become friends, date, and even marry. In fact, last summer two skaters married during the Friday Night Skate (They have since moved to Ireland and are expecting a child).

"The only stereotype among us," says Filner, gold eyes perusing people resting in the grass, "is that we are all healthy and happy."

Throughout the day nearly 7,000 casual skaters -- families, teens, kids, and goofballs out for weekend entertainment -- stop by Sixth Avenue and Kennedy Drive to check out the antics of D.'s extended family. Richard Humphrey, a dance-skate instructor formerly of the Golden Rollers, wears old-time black spandex, an "In Skate Shape" T-shirt, and custom roller boots. He spins and twirls Ice-Capades style while 24-year-old Jill Prehodka leads a dozen well-toned, well-tanned bods in a roller-dance routine that would make the Four Tops proud. Occasionally, D. takes time out from skating with his kids to make announcements about media coverage (by CNN and In-Line Skate Magazine for starters), upcoming skate-friendly legislation (Mayor Willie Brown is apparently for a pro-street skating law), and scheduled events (the 26.8-mile Napa run is scheduled for June 21 and Skates in the Park II will be held on June 22).

"There's nothing like this back East," says Prehodka, who relocated from New Jersey a little over two years ago. "The skate community between Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco is tight, but this is really something special." She skates off, her white-blond ponytail swinging as she flits past Donna Norcom, a stunning woman with black braids and a silver shirt. A flash of silver and a backbeat later, and Norcom is on the ground, executing a knee-jeopardizing floor routine with two fledgling men in Rollerblades.

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