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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Nov 13 1996
After last week's sojourn into the darker recesses of depravity, "Night Crawler" needed some good, clean, wholesome fun -- the kind from which apple cheeks and warm fuzzies are made. Thoughtfully, the powers that be at Pier 39 scheduled the Great San Francisco Snow Party a mere eight days after the sinister Allhallows' Eve festivities.

Friday, the opening day of the Snow Party, finds a pale but determined sun burning through the morning fog. By noon the docks are bathed in golden light and most of the snow is reduced to slushy puddles made obvious by little yellow signs reading "Wet Ground." A KGO news van, searching for a human interest story, sits idling near one of the last remaining snow patches while rambunctious teens hurl snowballs at each other amid peals of laughter. Though the snowpack itself is unimpressive, the mirth is contagious; several young children collect around the perimeter of the battlefield, waiting for a chance to plunge their hands into the frozen pile. The teens carry on with their oafish hilarity until, noticing the growing presence of parents, they satisfy themselves with one last barrage of projectiles and slump off down the walkway with marked I-was-getting-bored-anyway shrugs. Following motherly words of encouragement, the smaller kids toddle over to the remaining mound and bury their shoes in the wet, graying leftovers. The smallest of them plops herself in the middle of the flattened pile and blinks at her family in a silent query as to what she is expected to do next. The older children grab handfuls of snow and watch them melt in their hot little palms, which is interesting for about three or four seconds.

Noticing the lack of enthusiasm and the ever-dwindling snow, a confused parent winds her way through several booths sponsored by ski resorts and numerous more pedaling snow equipment until she reaches one with a large banner reading: "The Great San Francisco Snow Party." "Excuse me," she says, approaching the freckle-nosed young adult behind the counter, "but, is this all the snow?"

"For today," confirms the woman over her large, pink-rimmed ski glasses. "There was a big pile earlier today, but the kids all carried it away. Come back tomorrow. Come early."

Saturday finds the pier teeming with its usual array of big-haired, pasty-skinned tourists. Yes, there are tourists down at Fisherman's Wharf even in November. They come bearing cameras, sequined shirts, sunglasses, and Am Ex cards. They are not to be disappointed. It is an uncharacteristically warm and sunny day on the bay -- so warm and sunny, in fact, that the Ben & Jerry's cart already has a large line, and folks must tie their cardigans around their waists to keep from perspiring. Under a tree the prerequisite steel-drum reggae band joyfully butchers Bob Marley tunes; not far away, several jugglers rake in cash without any high-season fanfare. Rows of booths touting snow-related goods and services line the walkway, and athletes with sun-streaked hair and snowside tans help fit youngsters into their first pairs of skis. Several 6-foot ramps covered with snow and AstroTurf serve as mini ski slopes for the children who, despite having an instructor on each arm, are damn proud of their bravery.

At the Ford-sponsored stage the Magic Swami, an obnoxious MC dressed in a plaid jacket, a gold turban, and flowing pants, mocks a collection of champion skiers who perform disco routines while wearing skis and traveling down a moving conveyer belt of AstroTurf. "Up next, three-time world champion and legend in his own mind, Bob Howard!" shouts the Swami as a ruddy skier in full gear appears at the top of the ramp. Bearing an unsettling likeness to David Hasselhoff, the skier gives a Hollywood wave and twirls down the conveyer belt before somersaulting onto the ground below. Five feet away, skier Todd Ocean executes a series of trampoline-assisted flips while wearing skis and singing along to "Smash It Up" by the Damned. "This is Generation X, after all," explains the Swami before describing the fabulous new Ford truck he would be giving away later in the afternoon.

A bike messenger in the crowd shakes his head in disgusted resignation, dons his snow goggles, pulls down his knit cap, and prepares to speed off. "Shoulda known it was just a consumer thing," he says before riding over to a fenced-off enclosure that is still filled with snow and a bunch of local kids in gloves and snowsuits. He watches the children with mild amusement as they slide around on their behinds. "I guess that would be OK if you were little and never, ever got to see real snow, but it kind of makes a person homesick."

At Embarcadero Center, the first ice skaters of the season line up to pay for their rental blades. Horrible Top 40 new wave is piped in, but no one cares. The Zamboni makes its final pass and the skaters push onto the frozen surface. Many of them fall within only a few feet of the gate. They are quickly reminded that ice is cold and very hard, but one gent glides through the cluttered expanse as if he were born on frozen water. "Oh yeah, Minnesota," he says, smiling. Even in brown shorts, his legs look incredibly tan and strangely out of place against the glaring whiteness of the ice. He shifts anxiously, eager to get back into the fray. "It may not be like home," he says looking at the surrounding forest of office buildings, "but it sure is a hell of a lot better than nothing."

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By Silke Tudor

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