My friend George has lived up in San Fran for 20 some years. I've been coming to LA about as long and whenever the SoCal malaise gets too much I hop on a plane to SF or drive up the 5 and spend a few rejuvenating days with my best buddy. ( And now his fabulous wife and kids!!)
Lotta good times. Lotta late nights.
San Francisco...magic city. In ways as creepy as they are luxe. One of a kind.
I've had proudly catered meals less delicious than a few breaths of that Bay air.
A June night back in 08. George lived in Hayes Valley. Dinner done we were walking thru the Civic Center plaza. Beaux Arts urban mammoths, City Beautiful Collossalism, California telling the world it's its 6th largest economy. Lotta terra cotta.
It was raining. Please remember Mark Twain's old quip, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". It can get chilly.
"Hey what's with the crowd?"
It was about 10-11pm and City Hall looked like it was serving free meals or selling tickets to a Phish concert: folks in tents and nylon shelters, umbrellas up, sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights glinting along the row of people packed against the sidewalk surrounding the Hall. Which takes up two city blocks. All the way around.
George in his ever civil and ingratiating way walked up and asked a woman what was happening. She and another woman answered together- a few other people along the line chimed in as well when they heard the question- "Gay marriage baby." "We're getting married tomorrow" "Newsom passed it." "We're legal" "We wanna get in before they shut it down"
The voices were thrilled but the attitude of the crowd was contained, simmering, almost hushed. Maybe it was the rain but I think it was the occasion really, the immensity, the fact.....that they were the first thru the door. They were history's wedge.
It felt like being in an outdoor service. Or waiting for one to begin. No drums, no raucous cheering, no organized chants. Just people waiting for what they'd waited for for decades. I'll never forget that shared sense, and I was surprised by this, by it rising up in me, that it was good to be American. Or that we, it, America had done something momentous and right again as we sometimes do just when it's needed most.
In this most dissenting of cities, this hot bed of radical labor and radical individualism how strange but how ideal to feel....some kind of Patriotism. And see that pride in the eyes of a community that had been violently harrassed by representatives of the State for years.
I still choke up when I think about it. Specifically the two women, two older women, must have been in their 60s, standing toward the front of the line telling us the simple facts, how long they'd been there, where they'd come in from, did they need anything, were they cold, but the whole time something else shining out of their eyes: this isn't just for us. This isn't just our wedding.
I think George decided, or he knew exactly where to go and how many cups a Starbucks party server served so we walked back down the Civic center promenade with its strange pollarded tree lines, its open sky and we crossed Market to the Starbucks open late in some tourist hotel.
"Hi we need coffee for 300 people. Maybe 400."
Kid working looked dazed at first but we told him what it was for and he went to see if they had enough containers.
"It will take a little while to brew you know- we grind our own beans you know."
"...We have all night."
"How the Hell do we carry this stuff man?"
"That's a lot of laps going back and forth. We can't ask them to come get their own coffee, or get out of line..."
The 'bucks was pretty sparsely populated and the flipside of Cali kindness was showing itself, big smiles upfront but when you really need a hand......not so much.
Until I looked in the lobby of the little hotel adjacent and noticed they must be hosting some particular convention...a particular style of man and his man brother....right about then when we needed the brawn in walked about 20 brawny guys in jeans and plaid shirts and beards and hirsute chests.
I believe the proper terminology is Bears. Bears and their Cubs.
And lemme tell you, boy they can be a chipper bunch.
George who thankfully was sporting a beard back then explained what was happening, what our plan was and not long thereafter the two of us were leading a pack of proud papa Bears carrying hot coffee, hot chocolate and all the fixings to the folks huddled around San Francisco City Hall.
And they were right, the women. It was going to get shut down. And then started again. And then shut down. For years. And then finally, become the law of the land of California.
But they stuck their feet and their fingers in the door.
And the long and the short of it is that's why I'm doing this ride from SF to LA. It's a fundraiser to fight the effects of a certain disease but ultimately it's about community. And being an American. About addressing our vast and glorious multiplicity. Having the guts to stand up for plurality. Because in the end, and from the beginning, that's our law. The founding words that frame who we are frame the beginning of a defense and enshrine praise for the many, the people. We have defined that defense and who those "people" are for better and for worse for 240 years. And right now the pendulum has swung so far to the right it's stuck in the wall.
But standing having coffee with a grandmother lesbian from San Jose nine years ago made me think ...Christ the things we can do.
50 miles up in some Santa Monica mt hills with mist made it feel like Maine.