*This morning I woke up, ate a breakfast that involved copious amounts of bread and peanut butter, and walked half a block to catch the 33 bus to the Panhandle. The bus was fairly empty, which wouldn’t have been surprising on any other Sunday morning, but it was on this day, the only Sunday of the year when the young denizens of San Francisco are awake before 10 am. Then again, the Bay to Breakers festivities had started at 7 am, which meant I was late to the party.
*You can tell a lot about the cultural pride of a place by the events that they value. Until Linsanity, most people I knew at Harvard had never attended a basketball game (and even then, he was probably held up more as an athletic token than as a reason to be interested in basketball). At Duke, students camp out to get tickets to March Madness (there are regularly scheduled tent checks to prove tent occupancy). In other words, basketball at Harvard? Very little pride. Basketball at Duke? A completely a different story. Despite the grandiosity of events like Oktoberfest (Berlin) or the Royal Coronation (UK), much can also be extracted about the everyday culture of those places. These extractions aren’t necessarily profound truths, like the fact that people in Berlin really enjoy beer and sausages, or that pomp and circumstance and the dignity of the queen are very important to Brits, but all of these things trickle down to the quotidian—the everyday conversations and interactions you’ll have in a place.
*If festivals and sporting events are apt representations of the cities they’re held in, then Bay to Breakers is fairly accurate. Today was the 102nd annual Bay to Breakers, which is one of the largest footraces in the world, running from the Embarcadero (the Bay) to Ocean Beach (the Breakers). It’s known largely for its crazy costumes, nudity, and debauchery, which typify San Francisco events (most events are riffs off of Halloween it seems; nowadays, nudity is unremarkable and costumes less than impressionable). Is it a race that is actually run? Perhaps, but mostly, it’s partied.
*As an inhabitant of San Francisco, I felt a twinge of obligation to participate in Bay to Breakers, which is a factor of both peer pressure and being twenty-two. And by participate, I don’t mean run. I mean, make an appearance, an expectation I imposed on myself which is the result of that silly thing called FOMO.
*Gentle prodding from a friend was all it took for me to agree to go, which is how I ended up on the 33 bus this morning. I met her at Haight and Stanyan, and we walked two blocks to the Panhandle, where throngs of inebriated revelers, clad in brightly-colored spandex, obtrusive costumes made from very cheap and surely uncomfortable fabric, and often nothing at all, were parading down Fell street. Coordinated group costumes, like the flour-covered bakers in chef hats and the secret service agents who were really nerdy dudes wearing plastic wayfarer imitations and iPod headphones and the people wearing cardboard boxes, were mildly entertaining, even endearing for a few minutes or so. For me, the entertainment value is inversely proportional to the number of septuagenarian penises I see hanging out, though arguably, those free-falling appendages are this city’s charms.
*Though sixty-four year olds are allowed to say that they don’t like large crowds, apparently at twenty-two, saying so makes me a misanthrope. After thirty minutes of merely spectating the Bay to Breakers parade, I felt over-stimulated, as I tend to be often these days. In my apartment, I prefer silence. Despite my self-diagnosed addiction to it, the Internet is too much noise for me. That I have such an extreme aversion to the environments that I’m told I should be loving as a twenty-two year old living in San Francisco (night clubs, bars, raucous parties) is either the consequence of or catalyst to living inside my head, which is a constant and noisy stream of mostly trivial thoughts. And because I’m mostly alcohol and drug-free, there are very few aids to help with the desensitization. Besides, I like my five senses.
*I left Bay to Breakers not too long after I arrived. For me, the most dreaded part of going to any social event is telling my friends why I want to leave. I don’t make excuses; the truth is that when I leave, I just really don’t want to be there. For people who don’t share my constitution, I am an enigma, and more likely, a killjoy. Though I often feel like a misfit for leaving a nightclub before midnight so that I can go home and listen to a podcast and thumb through magazines, I console myself for failing social expectations by telling myself, “different strokes for different folks.” Don’t get me wrong—I love living in a city and I love talking to people—I even enjoy the occasional chat with a stranger—but I’ve resigned myself to not knowing and not adhering to my idea of what a typical Saturday night for a twenty-two year old is. I refuse to subscribe to the idea that this resignation means I'm wasting my twenties away. I'm just choosing how I want to live it, and it's a choice without regret.
*One of my best friends tells me, in a coy and slightly mocking tone, “Do you.” “Do you what you do,” is what he means. Do the things you love to do and do the things that make you who you are. Bay to Breakers is the San Francisco thing to do—and I will always love the free, unthinking, and fun-loving spirit of it all, but I’m here doing me: in my living room, typing away, with tea and cookies in reach.