Yesterday, in the fair city of San Francisco, on a gloriously warm sunny day, an annual tradition called Bay-to-Breakers was observed by thousands. I don’t know the history of the event, but I will briefly explain its present incarnation, for readers outside of California. At 7:00am, on the third Sunday, the event begins with a 12k footrace on the east side of the city (the bay), which winds through all of San Francisco, until heading through Golden Gate Park and eventually reaching the Pacific ocean (the breakers). Many people actually run it, but many more simply walk the length of the course, dressed with their friends in themed-costumes (or just dressed weird), drinking for the entire route (which, again, starts at seven in the morning). And many, many more simply come meet the parade of zanily-dressed, drunken race-walkers once it reaches the parks that mark the second half of the race-course (Alamo Square Park, the Panhandle, Golden Gate), to drink and revel and wear silly outfits. Then, by noon, the cops come out to sweep people off the streets and onto the sidewalks and parks, where they drink until the heat and sticky booze put them to sleep. It’s a total, complete shit-show. And a shit-show I’m not sure I know how to enjoy.
The first year I moved to San Francisco, I was twenty-five. Bay-to-Breakers seemed like a much bigger deal to most of the people I knew. There were groups who coordinated outfits, there were plans to get up early to be at the Panhandle Park by the time it was hit with the tidal wave of drunk. Bay-to-Breakers just seemed awesome then. Like a cross between Halloween and a St. Patricks Day parade (sans violence), but with a note of historical Bay Area freakiness – there are always a handful of old-man-nudists donging up the party.
And objectively, Bay-to-Breakers IS pretty awesome. I mean, as this blog has demonstrated, I certainly enjoy a reasonable amount of drinking until blackout. And I like it when adults stop taking themselves so seriously and just have a good amount of fun. But, as the mid-twenties begat the late-twenties, for both myself and my larger friend group, Bay-to-Breakers stopped being a thing to do.
However, for me, Bay-to-Breakers is somewhat unavoidable. It occurs in, quite literally, my backyard. The main course is a block from my house, so, by about 9 in the morning, my street-facing window is overrun by the outside-voices of drunken revelers:
“Anthony, where am I gonna pee?!?!?”
“Fuck yeah, awesome costume, bro!”
“Chug that shit!!!”
“I’m sooooo drunk!!!”
There would be no sleeping in yesterday. No groggily walking to the park to read the newspaper. No sitting outside at Mojo Café’s patio with a cup of ice coffee, pleasantly putting off going to them gym. The shit storm had landed and I was in the middle of it. So, being the prolific content creator that I am, at about 10 in the morning I decided to take my professional camera out into the streets to document and analyze a party I now considered myself too cool for.
Caveat: I recognize there is some inherent douchiness to this exercise. Well, I didn’t recognize it myself. My friend Carl recognized it for me, when I told him that was my plan for the day. And I get that, in some senses, if you don’t want to participate, don’t participate, but don’t be a sober, judgmental spectator.
Second caveat: As noted, the shitstorm was unavoidable. And we’re all spectators, even when we’re participants, aren’t we? (I know. Deep.)
So, for an hour or two, while I wandered the streets and took hundreds of poorly framed, non-white-balanced, Britta-Perry-like, out-of-focus shots and seriously demonstrated that I have no business owning such a nice camera, I was reminded both why I used to like Bay-to-Breakers and why I stopped caring.
First of all, the good things about Bay-to-Breakers:
- People in San Francisco take costumes very seriously, which can be charming. Sharing a drink with a robot, three guys done up like the Beastie Boys from the ‘Sabotage’ video and a couple girls in super hero outfits is pretty much a dream come true.
- Also, the women of the Bay Area SHOW UP for Bay-to-Breakers. While many women’s costumes are purely of the “sexy” (read: “slutty”) Halloween variety, a good portion of the outfits/costumes are undeniably resplendent. And say what you want, a ton of beautiful girls in great outfits make any party better.
- The level of restraint shown by the SFPD is truly cool. Cops occasionally make people pour out beers which haven’t been concealed in cups or water bottles or Camelback bags, but they’re mostly there to discourage violence, keep people safe and take pictures (seriously, almost every cop I saw had their digital camera out).
- Happy drinking days can bring out the best in people. Fast friends are made. Anthems are sung. New dance moves are pulled out of the stable to strut. It can be truly beautiful to participate in.
However, it’s not all mimosas-and-eggs-benedict. The list of cons involved with a day spent at Bay-to-Breakers are considerable.
- The kind of people who take Bay-to-Breakers seriously are not always the coolest kinds of people. They’re often the same people who take St. Patricks day or Mardi Gras too seriously. They get loud, self-righteous and rowdy. Many of them are not the best. I’m just saying.
- At times, as the afternoon wears on, the median age of people involved becomes about 22, meaning, if you’re partying hard, you’re partying hard with people born in the 90s. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with partying with kids who just graduated college or are still in college, or have yet to go to college. But I left college seven years ago this month. I party different AND better, now. Fact.
- As noted above, there’s the occasional naked old dude wandering around. Not my favorite thing in the world.
- It’s a total and complete shit show. Which can be fun, but there’s a reason the term “shit show” includes the word “shit.” The streets are deluged with trash, urine and vomit. I had some friends who live directly on the course, who would dump powdered laundry detergent every time someone would try to pee on their house. They went through a lot of detergent.
For me, based on these pros and cons, I’m generally going to land on not giving a fuck about Bay-to-Breakers. Same time, there are plenty of people I know and like, who are going to look at the same calculations and decide that they are still into it. Which, I also totally get. If I’d just moved to San Francisco, I’d probably check out Bay-to-Breakers and be excited by the party. And the knowledge that the ratio of assholes-to-cool-people at a Bay Area all-day drinking shit-show would be much, much lower than just about every other city in the country would be a revelation. Or, if I had a bunch of friends who were excited about taking the party seriously, say, all dressing up in Dignan’s yellow jumpsuit from ‘Bottle Rocket’, then I could definitely get excited about it.
I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen again, but in the meantime, I’ll admit that even if you have no interest in waking up at 7 am on Sunday to spend the morning getting black-out drunk, even if a mob of overzealous twenty-somethings reveling in their relative youth seems like the worst place to spend time with your friends, there’s still something great about the spectacle. By 1 pm, I was reading at a cafe maybe 10 blocks from the epicenter, and the flow of drunken human detritus was, of all things, charming. The stray girl, dressed in the costume of her favorite social network, who’d been separated from her friends, texting her way back to someone’s barbeque. The one kid, clearly so much drunker than his friends who’ve propped him up as they tried to figure out how to get back to BART. The scantily clad girl squealing for the first cab she’d seen in twenty minutes, which obviously already had passengers. The group talking too loudly about what their favorite costumes were. “The best people watching day of the year,” I remarked to the couple sitting next to me, as we all chuckled about the joys of our fellow man. I guess this isn’t necessarily my party, but it’s still one I’m not too old to appreciate.
SEE BELOW FOR MY SLIDE SHOW OF BAY-TO-BREAKERS PHOTOS:
Henry Goldman is the founder of yr an adult and the most amateur-est of amateur photographers.