You can always hear a crowd of skateboarders before you see them. Their boards slide across the pavement like snakes on gravel. They shout, they yell, they project youthful determination to entertain themselves no matter what. It always sounds like there’s a lot of them.
Unfortunately, you know what they say about “sound” and “fury.”
Despite projections of 5,000 skateboarders showing up at “Wild in the Streets” 2007 for a crazy 4th of July ride from Embarcadero to 3rd and Army, the crowd was enthusiastic but … thin. No more than 100 by the official start time.
“I don’t know about this,” said a twenty-two year old skateboarder from the East Bay. “Wasn’t America supposed to show up, or something?”
That was the sales pitch, and if anyone was out in force, it was the news photographers, who swallowed it hook, line and sinker. “Wild in the Streets,” now in its fourth year and first time in San Francisco, was dangerously close to being one of those events where more people show up to do press than to participate. (There really ought to be a word for events like that -- I’m coining “Panopticonference.”)
But then, despite the use of words like “wild” and “street” in the title, this is no authentic swelling of a grassroots movement: “Wild in the Streets” is run by a skating supply company (“Emerica”), has PR representatives, and receives corporate sponsorship from Monster Energy Drink, which was on hand to distribute product (which is available in low-carb, because you’re a counter-culture rebel who does your own thing). But don’t tell that to their website, which says that the event takes “its cues from a diverse history of ‘organized coincidences’ and happenings such as motorcycle rallies, Reclaim the Streets festivals, and Critical Mass bicycle rides.”
“The goal of Wild in the Streets is to build community and raise awareness of skateboarding and the needs of skateboarders. It is our hope that Wild in the Streets will someday take on the character of a large-scale, decentralized grassroots movement for the benefit of skateboarders everywhere. Emerica believes in the ability of skateboarders to empower themselves to do great things. Be a part of something amazing, or better yet, create your own amazing event.”
Hey wait a minute … “raise awareness” … “decentralized grassroots movement”. . . “diverse history” … “empower themselves” to create their own events? They can’t talk like that! WE talk like that! Who do you think you are? We’re San Francisco! We invented empowerment and large-scale, decentralized grassroots movements for the benefit of diverse, barely coherent communities! Do you think you’re impressing somebody? Go home!
Despite the small crowds, participants jovially kept the specter of meaninglessness at bay by staying active. Skaters jumped over empty newspaper dispensers tipped on their side while we all waited for more skaters to show up and be empowered. “It’s about raising awareness,” skaters said over and over again when someone with a notepad or video camera showed up to ask questions. “You know, awareness.”
Soon, enough skaters showed up that the tourists stopped crossing the street right in front of them, and by the time the police took their newspaper stands away another 200 or so had arrived, and the chorus of “boos” they made sounded like a real social disruption. The cop waived gamely back, acknowledging he was the Man. Maybe it’s just me, but the look on his face said “I have a teenage son just like you, and this is a lot more fun than telling him what not to do.”
Eventually, just over an hour late, skateboards were waved in the air, a signal was given and a wave of kids rushed to the street and took off, weaving between cars, for the ride they’d been promised.
Which was, you know, cool and stuff. But it’s no Critical Mass -- which is a real grassroots, non-corporate event signifying “awareness.” I think Emerica owes local activists royalties.