The Performant: Street people


Midnight Mystery Ride and Marshall Weber take it to the streets

It’s quarter to midnight, Saturday night in the Tenderloin, and out front a well-known, Geary Street watering hole, a cluster of cyclists is quietly gathering. It’s the May edition of the monthly Midnight Mystery Ride, and comers are mellow, enthusiastic. Lacking the Testosterone Brigade of Critical Mass, or the themed costumery of the San Francisco Bike Party, the distinguishing factor of the MMR is definitely the “mystery” aspect. The address of the meeting location is published the day of the ride only, no route maps or pre-planned itineraries are available, and the ride leaders and locations change each month, keeping everyone on their toes, or at least their pedals.

What’s not a mystery is the departure time. “At midnight, we ride” promises the original MMR website (whose members are based in Portland, Oreg.), and at exactly 12 am we roll out en freewheel, up the Polk Street corridor which is packed with weekend revelers, who react to the sudden appearance of a spontaneous bike parade with whoops and squeals.

A pass through the Broadway tunnel and down North Beach’s strip club row, up the Embarcadero, down SOMA, and finally up to the hilltop pocket park McKinley Square in Portrero, our route, devised and led by MMR regular “Ms. Jocelyn” winds desultorily through the neon-punctuated corridors of the San Francisco night much like the sort of ride you might take on your own on a nice night when you can’t sleep and the music of the streets is serenading you.

Best of all, upon leaving the park, we all have to bomb down the terrific twists of Vermont Street (“it’s the ‘bring your own big wheel’
 hill,” exclaims one of the riders excitedly), providing us with the adrenaline rush we need to pedal back to our respective homes in the wee hours of the morning.

“After about 36 hours is when the hallucinations start,” laughs Marshall Weber of Booklyn Artists’ Alliance of his previous public “endurance” readings. A decade of 24-hour plus readings to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses, 46 hours to read “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey,” 72 hours to get through the bible, has left Weber with a pretty good idea of how to prepare for his Streetopia-connected performance piece, a 72 hour-long marathon poetry reading on the streets of San Francisco (read more about Streetopia, here). Equipped with a doghouse-sized “covered wagon” full of poetry (and sweaters for the cold), Weber’s plan to wander the streets spouting poetry like a mad visionary is contextually different from some of his previous performances.

“Poetry is a little more open-ended, less structured,” he points out. “And San Francisco is an unstructured, free-form place. (This piece) is not so much about the endurance, but about the geography…as much about the place as of the literature.” Encountered streetside out front the Tenderloin National Forest, at one of his handful of scheduled stops, Weber reads Bob Kaufman, Allen Ginsberg.

The rhythm of the jazz-inflected poetry combined with the crowd’s excited discovery of eclipse-enhanced, crescent-shaped sunbeams shining through the leaves of nearby trees and off the mirrors of nearby cars, infuses Ellis Street with a sense of wonder and camaraderie that one hopes will linger long after the poetry, and the Streetopia project, are finished.

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