Monday, May 19, 2008

A Larger Variety of Kinds

Humanity. It’s what was on display yesterday at the Bay to Breakers Race in San Francisco, when 65,000 runners gathered at the Embarcadero for a cross-city trek to the ocean. Andrew and I had expected costumes and craziness (Andrew went prepared with a ridiculous hat, a chicken with its legs hanging down by Andrew’s cheeks). But we had underestimated San Francisco.

When I say things like “race” and “runners,” I use the terms loosely; though there were some (more or less) serious runners involved, the truth is that this race is actually more of a parade, an excuse for San Franciscans to devise amazing costumes, indulge their exhibitionist tendencies, and throw tortillas. And devise, indulge, and throw they did.

Each costume was better than the last. A crowd of forty or fifty runners decked out in hammer-and-sickle t-shirts as the Cold War Olympic Team…

A man wearing full-body, skin-tight green spandex, covering even the eyes…

Plenty of Vikings, grass skirts, lingerie, and wigs:

A group of runners were dressed as protestors—protesting running. They carried signs saying things like “Runners probably eat babies” and “Secondhand running kills.” That’s the Bay to Breakers race in a nutshell:

And oh, the exhibitionism. We had heard there was nudity, and was there ever. Groups of men and women, and some single runners as well, wearing nothing but socks and sneakers. There were a few young-ish men, but most of the naked runners were grizzled, long-haired former hippies, striding nonchalantly through the streets. “These people have been taking their clothes off since the sixties,” observed a woman next to me. I’d post a few pictures, but I’m sure your imagination will suffice.

The tortillas? It’s apparently a Bay to Breakers tradition to hurl tortillas, Frisbee-style, into the meandering, non-running crowd. Andrew said tortillas were flying madly at the start of the race, and I saw them soaring through the air at my perch at Howard and 2nd. Runners sometimes caught the tortillas and just threw them back at the crowd.

As for Gatorade and water stations, well, this was—obviously—a different kind of race. Kegs were pulled on wagons, boxes of wine swung at runners’ sides, plastic cups of beer were tucked into bras and waistbands. Some runners strolled by with Starbucks cups.

It was an amazing spectacle, something that could not have happened in any other city, in quite this way, and it made me love San Francisco even more than I already did. There’s something spiritually satisfying about being part of a crowd of thousands, just having a good time, full of good will and acceptance and humor, seeing all of humanity there on full display. A little girl standing not far from me, her eyes wide as saucers, asked her mom why people were dressed (or undressed) as they were. “Honey, it takes all kinds,” her mom said. “And San Francisco just has a larger variety of kinds.”

I don’t think it’s ever been said quite so well.

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