San Francisco. The city where I was born. Home to artists, lovers, dreamers… and tech. The city has changed so much since I was born there almost 30 years ago, especially in the past few years or so. Yes, it is wildly overpriced now. Yes, many people are moving to where I live because they can’t afford to live in the city. But. Though it has changed, though it is becoming more of a playground for the rich than a space for dreamers, it is still magical.
Yesterday my friend and I went to San Francisco for Hardly Strictly, a free (!) music festival in Golden Gate Park. Though I had heard of it countless times over the years, I had never been able to go in the past because I would always be working. Now that I have the weekends free, I feel like I get to be a part of so much more than I used to.
The park was teeming with people, six different stages with six different experiences all going at the same time, humans of all different walks of life coming together at once. The energy was palpable, almost overwhelming. There were those who were there just to get drunk and party, but there were also those who were there for a shared love of music. That’s music festivals for you. There’s a sense of humanity or depravity or both. It’s intense, wild, freeing, energizing. I felt like a component of something greater than me. And I like that.
As my friend and I settled onto a small patch of grass amidst the crowd, I took a moment to take it all in. The sun seemed to be perched in a tree, the weather was perfect, which is rare in San Francisco, and everyone seemed to be smiling. I felt the breeze kiss my skin, felt the dampness of the grass through our blanket, felt the energy of the masses. I was in San Francisco on a Saturday surrounded by people, listening to free, live music, the sun peeking through the trees, the air warm and inviting. It was magic.
I will admit that my friend and I had gone to the festival without even looking at the lineup. It was free and in Golden Gate Park; we had nothing to lose. We just wanted to get out-of-town, to experience what the city had to offer, to deviate from the norm. Because of our desire to break free, to explore and get out there, we were beyond pleasantly surprised to discover that Cyndi Lauper was playing right when we got to the park. We danced to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” swayed and sang along to “Time After Time.” I explained the meaning behind the lyrics to “She Bop.” And then Chris Isaak was onstage next!
Even if we hadn’t heard these artists, the experience alone was worth it. It might not seem like much to some, to go to a music festival on a Saturday, but it’s exciting for me. Exciting to be out in the world on the weekend instead of going into work. Exciting to go to the city on a whim, just because. My friend and I talked about how if we were still in our old relationships, we probably wouldn’t have gone to Hardly Strictly. We’d be doing something else with our ex-boyfriends, or if we had gone with them, it would’ve been a different experience altogether. We were free. In the moment, just the two of us, dancing and singing and laughing.
After the show we were swirled into the crowd of people leaving the park, swept up in the movement, wondering where the night would take us. Feeling like we were dying from thirst, we stopped at a cafe and sipped our drinks on a couch, watching as a man produced three white balls from his backpack and began to juggle. A trio across from us discussed Burning Man and what it was like to live out of their van. Suddenly a woman who had quietly been reading the paper on the other couch leapt up and began screaming at everyone about conspiracy theories. Only in San Francisco.
After the cafe we walked back to where we had parked the car, in Sea Cliff, one of the ritziest neighborhoods in the city. It’s astonishing to see how the one percent lives, to peek into the lives of the extremely wealthy. The houses, or mansions, are beyond belief. Though feeling a little rueful, we were once again pleasantly surprised when we decided to go to the closest beach and found the secluded beauty of China Beach. Maybe during the day it’s crowded or not as eerily beautiful, but at that time of night it was epic.
We walked down a dark pathway to find a stretch of sand, the sound of the ocean crashing beside us, and right in front of us a sparkling view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The night air was unbelievably warm as we stood atop a lookout point, marveling at the beauty we had stumbled upon. We laughed at how romantic the setting was, but agreed that we had been awesome dates nonetheless.
Though we saw the disparity between the rich and the rest of us, we also saw so much more. We saw people of all creeds and classes coming together because of music. We saw the sun setting over the lights on the horizon as we walked up the notorious hills of San Francisco. We saw the raw beauty of the sea juxtaposed against the man-made beauty of sparkling cliff side mansions. We saw.
And that’s what I want to do. See. See and do and be. I want to feel the atmosphere that I am a part of, I want to appreciate the beauty amidst the filth, I want to dance and walk till I get blisters. I want to keep circling for a half hour and somehow end up in Sea Cliff when I can’t find a parking space, rather than bemoaning the parking situation in San Francisco and giving up. I want to eat festival food on the grass with the sun on my face and enjoy it, instead of complaining how much it costs or how crowded the park is. I want to do it all. And maybe these days San Francisco doesn’t always feel like a place where you can do it all, but it can. On a sunny Saturday in Golden Gate Park, it can.
I wish you a wild, free life.