Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of a new grandchild. With three other grandchildren in the house, all under the age of seven, I delayed my stand until this morning. Those babies needed breakfast! The decision is a good one. Today I get to stand amidst the bustle and hustle of San Francisco’s biggest celebration of the year: Our annual Gay Pride Parade.
United Nations Plaza is nearly unrecognizable when I step from the escalator. Barricades and colorful, tightly packed booths leave only narrow aisles for the thousands soon to throng this space. Cascading sheets of blinding bling announce Faery Freedom Village to my right. I want to stop and explore, but in one hour I go to the hospital to help bring home the new baby.
Piles of garbage litter my path. Bits of paper and plastic blow in the breeze, tangle in the trees. What is it about we humans that we cannot take responsibility, each for our personal bits? The few available trash bins overflow. Many surrounded by loose piles.
Already at nine o’clock, people dressed in outlandish costumes for San Francisco’s Pride Parade stroll the booths, crowding every available space from here to City Hall. Despite the mess, the air is festive, gay in every sense of the word.
A long, black fence funnels me past pile after pile of garbage, across closed Larkin Street and onto Joseph L. Alioto Piazza, where the only open space is the narrow lanes between the pollarded plane trees.
Everywhere, vendors busily unpack trucker’s pallets loaded with plastic bottles of water and brightly colored beverages, giant bags of ice, raw meat, and boxes full of lettuces and tomatoes. As I pass, one vendor tosses a garbage-can-sized bundle of trash over the fence. The few garbage cans available already overflow.
Giant barbecues smoke with searing meat. Homeless people, pushed to the San Francisco Main Library steps hover in the bright sunlight. What do those smells mean to their psyches and hungry stomachs, I wonder? Soon, I have an answer.
A hungry man cautiously approaches a trash can, peers in, then begins dragging out bags and dirty paper until he finds something promising. The fragrant scent of barbecue nearly overwhelms as I pass. Behind him, artist Choi Jeon Hwa’s Breathing Flower sculpture is nearly obscured in the crowded plaza.
I find a spot in the shade of a hospitality tent directly across from the south wing of City Hall. Throughout the hour, vendors drag boxes, paper, and plastic wrap to the already burgeoning trash bin nearby.
Gaily dressed and coiffed people come and go, gawking and being gawked. A tall, thin man wearing a giant rainbow clown wig, super short shorts and suspenders, meanders past. Two men in liederhosen, suspenders and feathered caps help set up the Seagrams booth.
Men and women alike file in and out of the toilets clustered in front of me. The units lean and I wonder how comfortable it can be to relieve oneself in them. There are no hand-washing facilities. Where are all the food vendors washing up?
Of all the events we’ve seen come and go during our stands, this is by far the largest. The number of people hoping to profit from today’s festivities is astounding. I’m glad I won’t be here when the plaza fills with celebrants. I can’t imagine how tens of thousands will fit in the narrow spaces between booths and tents.
Gratitude and prayers
I feel glad as well, that so many do come to celebrate. I give gratitude for the people who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to sacrifice, to bring freedom for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered individuals in this city and around the world. In some countries, people suspected or known to be gay are jailed today. In others, they are executed.
For the acceptance and freedom in this city, I give gratitude. San Francisco city ordinances prohibit discrimination in employment, health care and housing. Gays and lesbians openly serve in every aspect of city government, in our courts, in our police and fire department, and teach in our schools without fear of harassment.
Though I can’t help wondering about the cost and waste of the event unfolding around me, particularly as I observe the hungry homeless people pushed out of their resting places this morning, I am deeply grateful for the celebration about to take place and all it represents.
May all who celebrate here today find peace in their hearts as well as joy.
As I take my leave, sound checks boom from the giant stage. Soon I will rejoice with the proud parents of my new grand baby and help them welcome her home for the first time. Our celebration will be a quiet one, filled with wonder.
Whatever our darling’s choices and circumstances in life, may she always find acceptance and love, and may we humans learn, by then, to celebrate mindfully.