On a recent cloudless Saturday afternoon, Ashley Lauren Saks pirouetted across the Golden Gate Bridge wearing white face paint, red lips, a black tutu, gray ballet slippers, and one fingerless glove. Part mime, part ballerina — a mimerina! — Saks made flirty eyes at the bronze statue of the bridge's engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, which guards the pedestrian entrance. Then she did a sexy dance around him, and a crowd began to gather. Out on the pedestrian walkway, Saks borrowed a pink umbrella from a young girl and escorted several enchanted tourists beneath it. The mimerina waved wildly at traffic, chased and mimicked aloof joggers, then lay down on the pavement just to see how people would react (several apparently complained).
When the California Highway Patrol officers pulled up, the mimerina waved at them, too. They didn't smile.
Saks was doing the routine as part of an art project for a graduate class at California College of the Arts (her friend videotaped the whole thing). Unfortunately, it turns out, not just anybody can create a spectacle on the bridge. Over the years, plenty of folks have tried. But unless they ask permission and pay $100 to the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, they eventually have to scram, district spokeswoman Mary Currie says.
"It's all about safety and security and avoiding distraction," Currie says. "When heads turn, traffic slows down. It's pretty straightforward."
A few months ago, 75-year-old Michael Grbich wanted to tap-dance across the bridge. He paid for a permit and did his dancing on a Sunday, when traffic was minimal. But in the 17 years Currie has worked for the district, some pretty wacky characters have tried to bypass the system. In 2003, a few folks dressed up as the California Raisins attempted to cross. The same year, gubernatorial candidate and porn star Mary Carey sauntered out in a distractingly skimpy outfit and was quickly shown back to land. There were also a few nude Rollerbladers who got out there long enough to snap a photo, now immortalized on the famous Palm Press postcards. In 2005, a bunch of women in trench coats wandered out by the south tower and disrobed for a photo shoot. "That was obviously distracting," Currie says.
And she'll never forget the man who attempted to push a peanut across the bridge — using his nose. "That became distracting and had to be stopped," she says.
As for the mimerina, highway patrol officers let Saks and her videographer go with a warning. They even asked whether she needed a ride back to her car. She preferred to walk, thank you very much.
The new themes of Saks' project are censorship, police power, safety, security, and paranoia. She plans to explore "how long it takes for outsiders to step in and intervene with simple, light, and playful acts such as dressing up as a mime and dancing around to make people smile."
Next stop: Alcatraz.