Today started out just like any other day on Etgar 36: up at 8:30, fight for a shower, take some coffee trips, and head out to crowd the public transit with 34 teenagers. But today wasn’t just any other day, because for a lot of us, it was our last full day before we go home.
We took the bumpy and hilly bus ride to hippie heaven, Haight-Ashbury, where we had a brief talk about the history of the area, followed by a famous, tourist-style Etgar 36 group photo – sorority squats included. We then dispersed and had a couple of hours of free time to wander around the neighborhood. Some clear favorites of the neighborhood included a classic 60’s T-shirt shop and countless vintage and used clothing stores. We met up at the end, all holding our various tie-die products and silly sunglasses, and headed back to the bus to go to the Castro.
Our first task when we arrived was – no surprise – a group picture. We then headed out for lunch, the majority of us going to a California favorite, Ike’s Place. We were given another couple hours of time to wander through the exciting gay neighborhood of the Castro before meeting up and going to the Human Rights Campaign which was, for some of us, the last meeting of the trip.
During the meeting, an adorable store worker (wearing a pink shirt with a rainbow flag and unicorn on it, I might add) taught us the meaning of the Human Rights Campaign. The campaign is the largest civil rights organization in the nation right now, and it stands up for same-sex marriage, as well as lobbies for equal rights. Another project they support is the Trevor Project, which is a national hotline supporting LGBT youth struggling with issues such as bullying and other problems in schools or elsewhere. The meeting took place in the store for the campaign, located in Harvey Milk’s old camera shop. During our last bus ride on Thursday, we watched Milk and learned all about Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement, including the Castro. We also got to make the connection to the equal rights symbol, the blue and yellow equal sign. I remember the main campaign a couple years ago, when the entirety of my Facebook friends had that image as their profile picture, as did other people on the trip.
After our adventures in Castro, we went to the tourist epicenter of the bay area, Ghirardelli Square, where we took yet another group picture, argued on the pronunciation on the name (starts with a soft g, if you were wondering), and ate far too much overpriced chocolate. When we were done, we met up and headed back to the hotel for our final wrap-up as a big group, once again filling the public transit to its limits.
Wrap-up took place at a park in downtown San Francisco – Yerba Buena Gardens. All of our wrap-ups have been meaningful, but this one was special. Since ten of the 34 of us leave tomorrow morning, we all knew a lot of us won’t see each other for a very long time, if ever. Although it was frigid and went much longer than usual, I didn’t mind. I listened more contently than I did for any other wrap-up. After the heartfelt moments in and after wrap-up, and another short period of free time, we went out for a final dinner as a group.
We ate at Mel’s Diner, a classic 50’s restaurant with shiny metal walls, neon lights and a giant menu, and, of course, delicious food. To conclude the night, we headed back to the hotel to discuss the following morning, the one so many of us were dreading.
After we were dismissed from the meeting, we proceeded to each other’s rooms, where we reflected on the last 22 days that we had together, playing “remember when…” and asking personal questions for everyone in the room to hear until the late hours of the night.
Spending that last night with the most amazing people in the world made me all the more grateful for this trip. I realize most of the group is continuing on and heading back to the east coast, but I believe the first 22 days will be missed by everyone. I’ll miss Etgar 36. I’ll miss the road trips, the Holiday Inns, the group photos and sorority squats, the counselors, the bus, Earle, and, most of all, all the people on the trip who have changed my life so much and made these last three weeks ones that I will not forget for the rest of my life.