by Sue White
Nearly 20 years ago, Paula Garcia hand-delivered a letter to the Bay City Rollers, inviting the Scottish rockers to their Michigan namesake to accept a key to the city. The Rollers were her generation's Beatles -- "I was really too young to appreciate them," she said of the Fab Four -- and she was on hand again when the Bay City mayor, standing before a mural of the group, made the presentation.
The mural is gone now, and so, it would seem after hearing a McDonald's restaurant clerk insist the group was named after Bay City, Texas, are the memories. But not for Garcia, now 39 and still living in Bay City, and 59 other Roller fans from around the world. They descended Saturday on Bay Valley Resort for the Absolute Rollerfest, playing trivia games, singing Roller karaoke and hosting an acoustic performance by original Roller Ian Mitchell Largely linked by computer through America Online, the fans in their plaid trimmed pants and tartan scarves rose to a fever pitch under the evangelistic fervor of Mitchell's wife, Wendy Antanaitis-Mitchell. "I told that poor woman at McDonald's that I am MARRIED to one and I KNOW this is the Bay City they're named after," Antanaitis-Mitchell said, the crowd cheering and waving their scarves. "Nineteen years ago, on July 24, I WATCHED them get the key to the city. She works the afternoon shift, so YOU go down there and tell her TOO and she'll KNOW for sure." She relinquished the microphone to her husband, still looking quite handsome in his tartan quilt, bearing a crest sent by the Bay City police force.
Becky Mosley of South Lyon and Cathy Rice of Pinckney offered sighs of relief -- as the event's organizers, they could finally sit back and act like fans. With manager Craig Wood accompanying him, Mitchell put the room in a swoon, the fans swaying to "You're A Woman" and "Let's Pretend."
"You're no longer 15 and 16-year-old screaming lunatics," Mitchell noted, the fans immediately taking the bait and sounding off. Mitchell brought a pair onstage -- the Rollerettes, he dubbed them -- to play tambourine and maracas, and he sang "Happy Birthday" and offered kisses to another. Then up came "Dedication," and a sing-along, followed by a standing ovation.
Later, he opened the floor to questions, reminiscing about a fan who cuffed herself to the back bumper of their car -- "We didn't know she was back there and we were doing about 30 miles per hour," he said -- and another who climbed through the bathroom vent of their touring bus. "She was crying because she got stuck halfway through," Mitchell said. "She was from London and we were almost to Toronto when we discovered her. We called a taxi." He remembered the high point of his tenure with the Rollers, appearing at 17 before 50,000 fans at Toronto's Nathan Phillip's Square. Even Saturday's warm welcome can't match the high he felt that day.
"I didn't know what to expect when I came here," Mitchell admitted later. "But it is so cool. There is such an outpouring of love." And organizers Mosley and Rice "have gone through so much trouble," he said. "I wish the whole band could be here to experience this." In fact, he said, as the Rollers fan club plans next year's Rollerfest for Las Vegas, the original band is moving toward a reunion. The time is right, Mitchell said, given fan letters arriving from 15 and 16-year old girls, and the sightings of Rollergear -- the official Bay City Roller wear.
"Positive moves are being made," he said. Garcia is ready.
"We're all grown up now, but here, we can forget our problems and remember when times were simpler," she said.