Night Crawler

On the Buss

On the Buss
Twining through a riddle of small alleyways South of Market, we follow two cars that are similarly searching, curling back and forth around three short dark city blocks, struggling through the labyrinth of One Way signs, hoping for a hint of activity to announce the proper direction. A lean homeless man pushes away from the shadow of a nearby building and chuckles.

"All the crazies are that way," he says pointing down a street to our left. "You can't miss them." Two young men carrying two very cumbersome cases of beer appear to our right, striding down the middle of the empty road, followed at a distance by a bearded man in striped tights, a top hat, and a bedraggled kilt.

"See, you can't miss 'em," says the homeless man, chuckling in an indulgent way that sometimes accompanies age. Someone tosses him a beer, which he raises in a breezy toast before elegantly tapping the pull-tab. The muted staccato is broken by a carbonated hiss as we pass, and he beams: "Tonight is a good night."

At the end of the block, silhouettes gain detail in the glare of brightly lit doorways, then dissolve again into the darkness of the street. The dull thud of music can be heard as we approach, but it's no preparation for the scene that unfolds like a controlled explosion in the parking lot just beyond the last apartment building: It is a whirligig of flashing lights, gratuitous colors, roaring generators, flailing limbs, and shrieks of laughter -- a free-wheeling free-for-all casually known as the Cyberbuss Guerrilla Roller Derby.

"I've been training for this my whole life," says The People's Gardner, a dark, long-haired man with a pair of rollerblades on his feet and a children's push toy in hand. He launches into the wheeled melee of the track, wielding his toy like a vengeful hockey stick filled with tiny rainbow-hued balls that bounce like popcorn. Circling the potted shrub and teetering tower of plywood that act as the track's only reference point, he narrowly evades being tangled in a thick rope stretched between a speeding office chair, a bicyclist, and a roller skater wearing a cape and duct-tape armor. An accelerating wheelchair, occupied by a woman in a tutu shouting through a traffic cone and pushed by a wild-eyed, skirted rogue with antennae on his crash helmet, takes a corner too fast and tumbles into a heap. A push scooter, driven by a formidable opponent in full-camos, football padding, and welder's goggles, sails past, followed by a rolling toilet minus bed pan, an airport luggage cart equipped with a bean bag, and a cow-bike.

On the perimeter, a handful of slightly apprehensive spectators stands behind a line of sagging caution tape, but most of those gathered stand close to the track, moving only when unforgiving metal components and human extremities come flying toward them. They know the caution tape is only a token. With the Cyberbuss, perimeters are about as useful as rules.

"As you know, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission," says C y b e r sAM. "That's the good thing about the buss. If the cops come, we'll just take it on the road."

Recently resuscitated with a new crank shaft, the large silver school bus sits on one end of the track, offering Rollerball for our viewing pleasure and disco music for dancing, and acting as a very tall, narrow stage for performers and announcers. Throughout the year, the "buss" and its silver-painted denizens travel around taping and posting live footage of oddball events online, for long-distance "Cyber-fhREaKs" to enjoy. But tonight there will be no live Webcast. Too dangerous for the equipment, they say. Still, the fhREaKs are in full effect: Tinsel-covered crash helmets, polka dotted dresses, fun- fur armor, welding masks, kneepads, vel-vet overalls, and leather bodices jiggle to "Another One Bites the Dust."

A piercing trumpet call announces the beginning of the derby. The motley conglomeration of teams lines up with shopping carts padded with futon pillows. Riders jump in calling for weapons -- mop handles topped with baby-doll heads -- and sustenance in the form of cheap beer; the drivers, all on skates of some form or another, grab the handles and rev their "engines." Some misguided soul calls for regulations and rules.

"First team to make it through 20 laps wins!" shouts a sequin-festooned gal from the top of the Cyberbuss. A last-minute entry in the form of a German shepherd in a push cart and a roller skater with a glowing fish head causes a little delay, but after four false starts, the carts are off, careening around the potted plant and into each other. Almost immediately there is chaos and confusion. A well-launched bean bag pillow causes a huge pile-up as three teams tumble to the ground in a snarl of spinning wheels and topsy-turvy head gear. Righting their mangled contraptions, the downed racers rejoin the fray, pushing, shouting, rolling, and screeching with irrepressible abandon as lap-counters try to keep one eye on their team and one eye on their toes. Lagging teams valiantly attempt to knock over more resilient athletes by shoving mop handles into their wheels, ending in scrapes and bruises and more pile-ups. The crowd cheers appreciatively, scrambling out of the way as the carts rattle pass. And the race goes on. Round and round, flailing and swearing, drinking beer between pillow bouts and collisions.

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