Dave Rice 11:30 a.m., Dec. 9
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My wife and I arrived at Dusty Rhodes Park at about 6pm, to a friendly dance party that had apparently been underway for at least a couple hours. Close to 200 revelers — most wearing joyfully psychedelic costumes — were mingling and dancing enthusiastically under the overcast skies.
Ocean Beach’s Miscellaneous Heathens were at it again.
Their tradition started nearly a decade ago, when a group of 30 or 40 friends partied at their Brighton Street apartment complex and then marched through Ocean Beach streets, dancing along the way. These days, the Heathens’ are on their ninth annual party and procession. This one was billed as a “full day of dancing in the sun,” a “circus extravaganza,” with “costumed participation highly encouraged.” The invite also promised “a whole body experience” and “OB’s largest hokey pokey.”
While the sun ended up a no-show and the temperature couldn’t have been much higher than 65F, not even the people wearing diapers seemed concerned with the weather. A DJ spun energetic house music along with an occasional light-hearted, humorous track, including a remix of Surfin’ Bird (“the bird is the word”) featuring Peter from Family Guy. A sizable portion of the crowd was dancing at any given point during the evening, but it was still comfortable and easy to find a roomy plot of grass where the music sounded good and there was plenty of room to groove.
Several attendees juggled, balanced on balls, or spun hoola hoops. Bright sculptures of mushrooms decorated the grounds and a half-dozen people wore costumes that stood at least 10 feet above the ground, lending the festivities a distinctly surreal air.
A handful of small children were in attendance with their parents. A group of people that I recognized as frequent occupants of the park sat at benches at one end of the gathering, appearing to enjoy the music and the people-watching.
Last year, the Heathen’s walk met with a hostile response from police officers, who took issue with the group’s path down city streets and broke up the party on the beach, before the bonfire got going. As a result, organizer Heathens aimed to minimize the traffic impacts of this year’s procession.
At about 7:30pm, a Heathen named Derrick got on the loudspeaker and began firing the crowd up for the parade, which he called “the best part of the party.” Randolph, another Heathen, grabbed the mic and reminded everyone to keep it cool during the procession, which started ambling out of Dusty Rhodes Park at about 8:00pm.
A few minutes later, about 200 Heathens and their non-Heathen friends crossed Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at West Point Loma Avenue. The first half of the group crossed on a green light, but when the light changed to yellow, Derrick brought the second half of the group to a stop. “This is the first year we're going with the cops,” Derrick said to the crowd, waving his arms as a signal to not cross the street.
Derrick was shirtless, on a pair of stilts, wearing a top hat with a pair of steam punk goggles wrapped around it — and the crowd happily cooperated with him. When the light turned green again, Derrick raised his arms skyward and the second half of the procession continued across Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and on down to Robb Field.
Slowly but steadily, the Heathens procession crossed Robb Field, coming out of the park on Bacon Street and taking a right on West Point Loma Avenue. After walking a few more blocks to the beach and then crossing a couple hundred yards of sand, the Heathens arrived at the grassy park near the foot of Newport Avenue, just south of the lifeguard tower.
Within a few minutes, dozens of spectators had joined the marchers to smile and cheer under the moonlit sky. A couple of the folks on stilts said it was time for some hokey-pokey, and as the music came up, a vigorous round ensued.
After the Hokey-Pokey, all that remained was the bonfire, which was ready and burning in a fire pit near Tower 2 when the procession arrived with the wooden, elephant-shaped throne that had carried the Queen. Within seconds, the elephant was blazing mightily and the Heathens were gleefully hooting and dancing in circles around the fire.
Moments earlier, during the Hokey-Pokey at the grassy park, I had noticed an older guy who seemed to have just come across the scene with his wife, perhaps while taking a stroll down Newport. The man, after observing the festivities for a minute or two, smiled and said, “This is tripping me out.” He looked happily confused, like he couldn’t quite figure out what the Heathens were up to, but could tell they were having fun.