September 18th, 2007

The roar came at me from out of nowhere. I didn’t know what it was. I’d never heard anything like it before.

I glanced to the right. Streetside. Just as the pack swept past me in a maze of colored helmets and bent over bodies, arms and legs pulling and pushing the air out of the way. I was stunned at how fast they moved, all in unison and buried in the moment. If there was such a thing as mass enlightenment, this would be it.

Hockey players skate from one end of the rink to the other moving at speeds the eye can barely gauge. Imagine if there was no rink to slow them down. Imagine endless ice. Imagine the speeds?

Every friday night, hundreds of roller bladers come out of nowhere and meet in a predetermined place somewhere inside the city of Amsterdam. Side by side, close in front to back, the pack of roller bladers moves out, herded by a red-helmeted giant in a yellow vest . As the pack gathers speed, the giant waves an LED device the size of a baseball bat. Soon, he’s moving even faster than the pack, getting ahead of them at intersections, sending them off on other routes. And the roar is unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

I imagine the organizers of Friday Night Skate met with Amsterdam city council members before they set out to skate the city. Or maybe they didn’t. Things like Friday Night Skate emerge from Amsterdam’s culture already formed, with no political or corporate endorsement. It’s the measure of a free people that events like Friday Night Skate can occur with no formal pronouncement or commitment to the end result. It just is what it is. Self-governing, self-policed, accidentally responsible. An organic freight train severing the city as it passes through, with no prescriptive size or bureaucratic demands to slow it down. Getting down low into the curves. Rising for speed. Reaching at the wind for balance and thrill.Nothing like FNS would ever be tolerated in America’s muck of safety concerns and boundaries for spontaneous physical assertion. Friday Night Skate is the antithesis of control, the villian of respectful permission. And it happens every season of the year except in the wintertime. If you’re out walking on a friday night you’ll hear it. Friday Night Skate comes to you because there is no way you can “go” to it unless you intend to skate “in” it. And if you do, you have my respect and regard forever.

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