My husband grew up in the Bay Area, but that was decades ago, and until this move, I'd only been to San Francisco as a tourist. What that means is that the only people we know here are our landlord and his wife. This is not a huge problem for my introverted better half, who is happy to wait for me to meet people and occasionally bring them home for dinner. For me, it's a different story. I crave conversation. I'll bond with the drycleaner, the pharmacist, the nice old lady walking her cockapoo. I'm forever chatting up strangers and embarassing my kids. So when I heard two friends and former coworkers were coming to town on business, I immediately made plans to have them for dinner at the crazy Japanese house. Wine, artisanal cheeses, sunset on the bay - we had the makings of a lovely evening.
Since my friends were without wheels, my husband and I offered to pick them up. We decided to drive into town early, and take a long walk before meeting the ladies at their hotel. As soon as we hit the Bay Bridge, we knew something was amiss. It was 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon, and we were stuck in 5:30 rush hour traffic. The bridge finally spilled us out onto the hopelessly gridlocked streets of San Francisco. The only logical move was to find a place to park and start our walk early. Granted, the Tenderloin isn't the best place for a stroll, but we gamely parked the car, tightened our shoe laces and and got going. Meanwhile, my 14 year old son called, and I began chatting distractedly on my cell phone as I walked.
It seemed all manner of colorful people were headed in the same direction, and the sidewalk kept getting more and more crowded. We all converged upon a barricaded street lined with portapotties. A friendly police officer was letting people in past the barrier, in groups of twos and threes. He waved us through and we found ourselves in a vast public square choked with people. We had stumbled onto Love Fest '07, San Francisco's annual outdoor rave - definitely a new experience for a nice, straight, middle-aged couple with two kids and a yorkie.
As Electronica thumped, thousands of Love Fest Revelers danced, tranced and groped themselves or each other. Breasts bounced. Earplug-distended lobes swayed. Cellulite dimpled cheerfully. Judging by the frenzy surrounding us, the street vendors were selling more than just beer and souvlaki. There were blue mohawks, purple wigs, leather chaps, clowns in white face and women in tutus that barely grazed their panties. Fishnet, preferably hot pink and torn, was the uniform du jour for both sexes. Women tended to wear it on their legs, but the guys prefered fishet tanks, with so their nipple piercings could poke through. I held the cell phone up in the air so my son could hear the music - attending a rave could only be good for my street cred. We kept walking, looking for a way out. My husband complained of feeling overdressed - the chinos and flannel shirt did seem a tad formal.
He wasn't the only one without a costume. As we reached the center of the square, we came upon a butt naked reveler. Surely, I thought, he's wearing some kind of g-string, cod piece, figleaf - perhaps a giant bean pod from New Guinea, to conceal his manhood? Nope. Mr. Johnson was definitely on display, relaxed, meticulously shaved, and working on his tan.
"Hold on a second!" I shouted into the phone. "I have to compose myself. There's a guy here who's totally naked." My son, who thinks everyone over forty is senile, made the natural assumption that I was hallucinating. "Mom, they have laws against public nudity."
Not in San Francisco, they don't. At least not at Love Fest. I looked around and realized Mr. Burma Shave had a bevvy of friends dressed just like him, all middle-aged and none even remotely resembling Michaelangelo's David.
50 yards from another police check point, we picked up the pace. And then, dazed and relieved, we were out of there. Perhaps we should have made plans with my friends for Sunday instead. Or perhaps not. Turns out Sunday was the 24th annual Folsom Street Fair, described in the San Francisco Chronicle as "A celebration of leather culture and sexual fetishism." I guess I'll just have to wait until next year to have myself publicly flogged.