BARchive: Night Flight
After locking the Leatherneck bar I hopped in my pickup and headed for the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street, behind the Civic Center. I squeezed into an illegal parking spot, adjusted my chaps, and entered the neo-Spanish Colonial building, long since demolished. Nobody asked for my boarding pass. Night Flight 1977, considered the world’s first gay circuit party, was already launched.
Manhattanite Michael Maletta’s production was the first Circuit Party on the West Coast. Sheets of white woven nylon that had once hung on Christo’s Running Fence now hung in an aging industrial building like clouds in a night sky.
I undid another button on my 501s.
"Think that’s gonna help?" A familiar voice said.
"There’s always hope," I turned to see my pal Paul.
"Wait till you see this."
He led me toward a huge room filled with dancing men. I grabbed a beer from a nearby ice pool and was nearly sucked into the crowd as a scaffold-tower rolled onto the floor. Atop the tower a slide-jockey manipulated six projectors casting multiple images onto screens around the room.
"You like?" Paul said.
"Steve and I put the slides together from Wake’s collection."
I stood mesmerized by the slides, the light beams, all flashing on Christo’s panels. I grabbed another beer. Paul had melded into the crowd of thousands.
On the upper floor, a platform provided a stage for acts reminiscent of medieval fairs. Jugglers, slight-of-hand artists, wrestlers, jesters, and shape-shifters of all types played to the crowd.
Fuck film booths and pinball machines were everywhere. At one machine, two players, each with one hand, tried to keep the ball in play with the flippers, while they used their other hand to fist or fondle.
The contortion exhibitionists held this voyeur’s attention until a red light beckoned me to an unlit room. Anonymous groping hands ushered me in.
I emerged satiated. My buddy Allan had replaced the duo at the pinball machine.
"Get your knob polished?" Allan said, with his knowing cowboy grin.
I grinned back. He offered me a toot from his plastic bullet.
"I just might try that myself," he said, and disappeared into the dark room behind the red light.
Back at the dance floor a tightrope walker crossed a cable over the heads of nearly naked men who sniffed poppers and merged into a mass of sweaty bodies on drugs of choice.
I reached for another beer from the ice pool.
"Aren’t you glad I talked you into moving to San Francisco?"
I recognized Jack’s voice instantly. Before I could answer we were engulfed by whirling dervishes sucking on Popsicles tossed from the scaffold-tower.
Night Flight boogied on, refusing to climax until well into the first day of the new year.
Historian Jack Fritscher preserves Night Flight in Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer. In his contemporary 1978 Drummer article Fritscher tagged it "The bitch-and-bull mating of New York energy with San Francisco attitude..." that ... "strengthen[ed] the solidarity of the gay political front."
If such things exist, Night Flight was gay San Francisco’s "Spirit of Place" and "Spirit of Time." Gay community businesses helped sponsor Night Flight. Proceeds from the revelry went to the Pride Foundation. Little did we know, as we danced past dawn, the importance gay cooperation and solidarity would have just down the road and around the corner.
Copyright 2012 Jim Stewart. For further true gay adventures check out the award-winning "Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco" by Jim Stewart.