FhREaKin' Outside
A perfect San Francisco day, Candlestick Point, and the Cyberbuss FhREaK Olympics. Does it get any better than this?

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Letters to the Editor
Week of August 13, 2003

Preliminary reports from Candlestick Point promise clear skies with temperatures reaching the upper 70s, a light breeze coming in from the west, and visibility at 10 miles. It doesn't get much better than this. Today, it doesn't even matter that the 29 Sunset can barely make it up Mansell Street going five mph, or that the brakes are so challenged by the grade the bus sounds like it's scraping asphalt. Today, smashed against the windows like sunscreen-soaked sardines, my fellow bus passengers whoop and roar like school kids going to summer camp. Our driver, Sheila Lowe, chuckles good-naturedly and metaphorically crosses two well-manicured fingers as we approach the corner of Third Street and Fitzgerald Avenue, where her relief driver should be waiting. He isn't. Lowe's fiance is there instead, getting jiggy with the car stereo while his lady ponders her options.

"OK folks, I'm gonna take you all the way," says Lowe with a triumphant flash of her nails as she disengages the gnashing brakes, "and I'm gonna get you there in one piece."

One of Lowe's regulars starts chanting, "Go Shei-la! Go Shei-la! Go! Go! Go!"

Lowe swings her bus down Gilman, only to be faced with bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching all the way to the stadium. Behind us, Lowe's fiance sticks his head out of his car window and looks down the line.

"You guys were smart; you took the bus," commends Lowe as she merges into an empty oncoming-traffic lane and steps on the accelerator. Her passengers roar. Her fiance grins.

"It's one of those days," says a woman at my shoulder whose giggling is barely contained by her halter top. Two men with almond skin and bright blue beards nod emphatically at her left. Without asking, I know exactly what they mean: This is the sort of day when legends are made.

"OK, this is it folks," says Lowe, swinging the bus doors open. "Enjoy the concert."


Crushed inside the Muni, I hadn't taken time to consider the final destination of my fellow passengers, a busload of beer-guzzling, cleavage-baring, T-shirt-clad rockers who are very clearly not looking for the second annual Cyberbuss FhREaK Olympics.

"Metallica, dude!" shouts a man, too old to be saying dude and too bald to be flashing the devil sign, as he pushes past me.

"Master of Puppets!" shouts the man's highly bronzed, bleached-blond counterpart, just so everyone knows she's heard the album.

I brace myself for a very long walk through the sunbaked stadium parking lot.

"Chug! Chug! Chug!" bellows a heavily tattooed guy with long hair and a baseball cap while his pal -- a pale scarecrow of a boy with a sunburned nose -- does his best with a fifth of Jack Daniel's.

"You like to party?" comes a not very enticing invitation from the bed of a pickup truck that has been converted into a giant beer cooler.

"He already wins the award for most rejections before last call," shouts Christina Mullen from under a shade structure where she, her husband, her brother in-law, and two nephews are busy grilling up the remnants of a cow.

"He wins the Passed Out Before the Headliner Award," laughs Mullen, pointing to a figure slumped by the side of a nearby van. "There's at least one at every show."

"No booze for me, though," she says, patting her round stomach. "You gotta grow with your heroes."

"We met at a tailgate party," she continues, indicating her husband, not Metallica. "This is my 53rd concert. My baby is gonna be the rockin'est baby in the world."

Fortified by a burger and lemonade, I make a run for a gap in the chain-link fence and, avoiding any further blacktop advances, dive for the shade and comparable calm of the trees.

The roar of the Deftones gives way to the blurps of Devo as two dusty squirrels scamper through the scrub at my feet.

"All right, it's time for the Frisky Cougar Freeze Dance Contest!" shouts Sgt. Saucy, aka Cathy Goerz, in the tree-lined Point parking lot where the FhREaK Olympics have clearly begun. The competitors, designated by one of three armbands -- silver, white, or polka-dot red -- huddle on the tarmac between two converted school buses. The music kicks in -- P-Funk, Billy Idol, the Cure -- and when it stops, the dancers freeze. One of them, holding a bottle of beer not quite to his lips, allows the contents to stream down his shirt. He's disqualified.

"The guy with the purple hair moved!" shouts 13-year-old Justin Jay from his perch on the roof of "Rolling Thunder," the school bus that he has called home for the last 12 years. "He moved! He should be out!" Much to Jay's consternation, the referees don't spot Tom Transcender twitching under his purple mop; and, at the end of "When the Levee Breaks," he is awarded a Monarch medallion that once adorned the hood of a Mercury. Two grown men race down a sidewalk nearby, on hobbyhorses, and two scantily clad women wrestle in the grass.

"The metalheads are going to lynch us," says one self-designated fhreak. But they don't. While a few of them draw near before heading over to the stadium, they clearly prefer to stay with their own tribe. Just as well, seeing that registration for the Point Arena Pole Vaulting competition is closed.

The crossbar is duct-taped to two twigs and PVC piping is tested for spring as "safety monitors" arrange foam mats and old mattresses in the landing zone. The padding's of little use. Once the crossbar is raised to nose level, the foam has little to offer. While at a height disadvantage, the 13-and-under set, which dominates the silver team, is absolutely fearless, but it's a member of polka-dot red who emerges victorious: the man wearing red-and-gold-star boxers, who lives in a bus called "Lester," drives a Cushman called "Herman," and calls himself Wry Bread. His springy toes and easy gait are pure poetry in motion, and, even though it takes him three tries to clear the first 4-foot hurdle, in the final he clears 7 feet, and the mat, with no problem at all.

People on the other teams mumble about a ringer, but Mr. Wry Bread vehemently denies it. "I just figured it out," he says, rolling a cold can across the growing welt under his eye. "They had to go buy more beer because they don't have enough mattresses."

The next event is the Gumby Foot Race, a relay involving ungainly flotation suits provided by the tugboat White Holly, operated by the husband of FhREaK Olympics Co-Director Joanne Keune. Again, polka-dot red emerges victorious. But silver takes the lead during the Backwards Wheelbarrow Relay, when 10-year-old Samantha Baird is literally dragged across the finish line.

Despite a grass burn on her belly and prickers in her palms, she wears her Pontiac Phoenix medallion with pride, and to her brother's chagrin. Fueled by young lungs and fierce spirit, Team Silver maintains its position through the Mattress Relay, Jumping Jack Clothes Switch, and Duct Tape Disaster Challenge, in spite of the best efforts of the all-adult teams.

"What do you feed those kids?" yells a sore loser wearing a prosthetic ass.

The fledgling fhreaks grin in an impish way that suggests it just may not get any better than this. | originally published: August 13, 2003

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