Roller Disco is the Key to Everything in San Francisco
By Jennifer Maerz
Last week a DJ saved my ass. But it wasn’t just the fact that he was playing “Thriller” and “Happy” and “Poison” that saved me; it was the abandoned Sacred Heart Church on Fillmore Street that’s been converted into a DIY roller rink, and the oversize beige skates with brown laces and bright-orange wheels I rented for $15, and the flashing blue and red and green runner lights snaking around the room that gave me flashbacks to grade-school birthday parties, and the neon-green projections of thumbs-up signs on the walls, and the beautiful roller queen in galaxy-printed tights, a side ponytail, and a flowing kimono who was just killing it. It was the woman flying by in pink hot pants barely longer than my underwear. It was the strangers with whom I nearly collided with but didn’t, and the strangers who did crash into me, laughing and fumbling as we pawed each other for support. It was the skate bouncers, with their whistles and muscles, who cruised over the minute I fell so hard my plastic bracelet shattered, and who pulled my friends and I off the hardwood floor like the hands of God. It’s 58-year-old David Miles, the brainchild behind Church of 8 Wheels, who, after close to four decades of doing Sunday roller-disco sessions in Golden Gate Park, has turned his fantasy of an indoor rink into a reality four nights a week. And it’s the feeling that San Francisco really is the best fucking city ever that saves us all from ever really considering living anywhere else – not Los Angeles, not Portland, not Austin, but here in our very own bastion of freak-flag flying, keeping it really weird forever and ever.
The city that inspired Church of 8 Wheels is the same one where you always have a costume in your closet for just this occasion, where, no matter how cramped your apartment is or how busy your work schedule is, you make room for ridiculous clothes and make time for ridiculously fun parties. It’s the city I moved to at 21, almost 20 years ago, and a week later wandered into a space-themed party at an abandoned church in the Mission, where someone who was dressed as a silver robot offered me a fluorescent drink, and I immediately realized I’d moved somewhere extra special. It’s the city that hosted an impromptu Michael Jackson memorial at the top of Alamo Square Park the night MJ died, where everyone within earshot danced in the dark because two DJs had hauled their decks and a generator to the top of that steep hill knowing we’d need a release, and the cops paid us no mind until well after 11 p.m.
These are fertile streets for the dreams of the forever young, and that’s never going to change – don’t believe that hype. It’s the place where you can play pinball in an arcade that grew out of the Free Gold Watch print shop in the Upper Haight. It’s the city where some artists yarn-bomb benches and others turn bike racks into musical instruments. Here our theater companies perform Shakespeare plays on Alcatraz or turn old clock shops into immersive speakeasies.
It’s the feeling that San Francisco really is the best fucking city ever that saves us all from ever really considering living anywhere else – not Los Angeles, not Portland, not Austin, but here in our very own bastion of freak-flag flying, keeping it really weird forever and ever.
And it’s the place where a woman who is brutally attacked is so overwhelmed by goodwill from her neighbors and witnesses that she makes a wonderfully silly shirtless Ryan Gosling sign thanking them for their help.
This is the mishmash of freakmanity that we love every time it greets us in San Francisco – like on those rare 90-degree days when everyone and their grandma is at the beach bonfiring together, and you borrow a lighter from a group with glittery eyelids and feather boas. Or the time when your friend tells you she recently went to the de Young in nothing but a spandex leotard, and an old lady complimented her on her outfit. Or the moments when you’re biking home and the cyclist next to you is randomly blasting your favorite old soul song at a volume loud enough to shatter car windows. Or the time when the guy in front of you on Muni is wearing a pink tail and pink ears and pink paws and does not give any fucks, and you have to rack your brain to remember if you’re missing some important San Franciscoliday.
And when you lace up a pair of roller skates in a humid Fillmore church where the pews have been pushed to the edges of the room and the confessionals have been converted into unisex bathrooms, you enter a space where all anyone really wants to do is stand upright, together, as we move in circles, forget all the fault lines and divisions about who is changing San Francisco and why – and you remember that, above everything else, we live in a city that will celebrate eccentricity until the end of time. San Francisco is still a one-of-a-kind mecca that invites you in off the street and makes you fall drunk in love with it, your head spinning faster than a pair of old skate wheels.