Mark Twain once wrote that the coldest winter he had ever seen was a summer in San Francisco. Everyone became extremely aware of this when we hit the streets of San Fran for one of our chillier and less educationally intense days.
Our first stop was the historic Haight and Ashbury street where Billy debriefed us on the hippies of the sixties in San Francisco, detailing the importance of the neighborhood in the counterculture of the time. We also discussed the gentrification of the area before we were cut loose for free time. Tie-dye was in the atmosphere as we patronized local record shops, boutiques and vintage stores, but Haight and Ashbury was not the extent of our shopping for the day.
Next, we took one of the city’s historic busses to the Castro district. We had previously watched the movie “Milk”, a historical film portraying the struggle for homosexuals to be given equal rights in the seventies. We were able to get lunch independently, and couldn’t help notice as we ventured to local diners and delis that everywhere we looked were rainbow flags, one of the many symbols for the LGBT community. Finally, after some shopping and performances by local street artists, with the addition of several nearly-naked men gracing Castro street, we headed off to what seemed like a gift shop, called the Human Rights Campaign Store.
When we entered, we were greeted by John, the assistant manager of the store, who told us a bit about where we were sitting. Without many of us realizing it, we had sat down in the middle of an integral part of history, Harvey Milk’s former home and camera shop, a cultural and political hub for the LGBT rights campaign of the seventies. Also brought during the speech were the two laws that had recently been debated, Proposition 8, a California-specific ban on same-sex marriage, and DOMA (the defense of marriage act) which is a nation-wide law, giving individual states the authority to choose not to recognize same-sex marriages that had been performed in other states. Although the issue is still under debate, in addition to several other laws dealing with human rights, the gay community clearly saw this as a victory, as did our speaker John.
As promised, we were given free time to roam within a few streets of our hotel and then walked, as a group, to what would be the final wrap-up for many of us on the trip. As we sat in Yerba Guena Gardens surrounded by fountains, we all reflected on our days, and for the 22-dayers, our trip as a whole. San Francisco was said to me the favorite city of many, and it was mentioned that it seemed to “get everything right”, from the rich culture, to the beautiful scenery and temperate weather.
The feeling of melancholy surrounded our group as we began to say our goodbyes and walked to dinner, briefly stopping at the famous Ferry Building to catch a glimpse of the Pacific. We went to a buffet-style pub and enjoyed each other’s company as a group for the last time.
As a thirty-six-dayer, I recognize that the rest of the trip will be incredible still, but can’t help feeling sorrow for those who will not continue with the group. A final hour of free time was given to us to pack and tie up loose ends with friends, exchanging contact information and promising to text, Facebook message and call, we went to sleep, awaiting the hectic airport in the morning.
It was refreshing, the contrast between the chill of the bus everyday, to actually get to see and feel the chill of San Francisco on foot. It was a city full of ornate tie-dye and skyscrapers. I know for a fact that many of us, myself included, left our hearts in San Francisco.