San Francisco Is the City That Knows How ... To Bust Up Drunken Revelry

Categories: Local News
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Enjoy the memories. This is done.

Whether San Francisco can host a party is a debatable proposition. But when it comes kicking over the soundsystem, flicking on the lights, tossing the lovebirds off the couch, and shutting down the festivities, nobody competes with us. We are so very good at killing a good time.

So the news that this year's Bay to Breakers won't be the piss-and-beer-soaked Mardi Gras in running shoes that has come to embody the yearly race was no surprise -- nor was the chorus of entitled lamentation that arose on the Web.

The city's action -- and the "fun crowd's" reaction -- prompt three questions:

1. Can San Francisco actually cut the booze, floats, and nudity out of B2B?

If you'd have asked this question two years ago, I'd have thought it was impossible. But after documenting the entire 82nd airborne battalion ... sorry, the San Francisco Police Department squeeze the life out of Castro Halloween 2007, I am now quite certain law and order will carry the day. The situations are not 100 percent analogous; the SFPD's M.O. during Halloween was to discourage anyone from visiting the Castro while the Bay to Breakers will still draw huge crowds. But what I observed was more about the crowd's behavior than the massive police presence (and it will be massive, no doubt).

San Franciscans talk a good game about being rebellious and anti-authority -- but, in the end, we tend to do as we're told in situations like these. This is not 1968 and the SFPD is not the Gendarmarie; most San Franciscans will not risk arrest for the "right" to be an ass in public. Even intelligent people often tend to be swept up by crowd behavior (haven't you ever inadvertently walked dangerously out into traffic without looking because the guy next to you did?). If the prevailing mood is one of deference to the cops -- and I'm betting it will be -- most people will leave their righteous indignation for the next day's blog post.
  2. How can you kill the tradition of booze-fueled mayhem at B2B?

Easy. When you've got damn near 1,000 cops at your beck and call, you can do a lot. And when you've done it once, you've established a new "tradition."

Meanwhile, let's talk about this "tradition" of inebriated hijinks so grand that many people are surprised to learn that actual serious runners (from Africa and whatnot) compete in this race. The Bay to Breakers had its inaugural run the same year the Titanic went down -- 1912. No one ran naked. Wacky traditions -- tortilla-tossing, anyone? -- were added over the years, but it's only fairly recently that the race became an all-out mobile bacchanal topped by generous doses of public urination. Vance Cardell ran the B2B back in 1985. He remembers plenty of caterpillars, silly hats, and some exhibitionism -- but no one was noticeably drunk. And no one was pissing in public, either.

"These days, everyone is carrying a bottle of water. Everyone is hydrated," said Cardell, 63. "I come from the dehydrated era. Maybe we peed less."

3. Why do those goddamn NIMBYs ruin everything?

Say what you will about neighborhood NIMBYs, but they've decided to do something a lot of young, hip folks don't do. They've made a commitment to live their lives and raise their children -- yes, children! -- here in San Francisco. For most of the young and fun folks who'd marked a day of B2B debauchery on their calendar, it's a good bet they won't be living here in five-odd years. And that's not a judgement -- it's just statistics. Urbanologist Joel Kotkin calls S.F. an "adult Disneyland" where young folks basically treat the city like an extended stay hotel during their wild years before moving on with the next phase of their lives. So it's no surprise our elected leaders cater to those who've chosen to stay here for the long haul. Why try to appease a constituency that'll be living in Livermore by 2013?

Again, if you were hosting a party, you'd probably want to have the young and fun crowd over more than folks who regale you with stories about toilet training their children. But, speaking of toilet training, I can understand the frustration of having 60,000 to 110,000 out-of-towners rumble through your neighborhood and spill untold gallons of alcohol-saturated urine and vomit in every alcove (and, worst of all, feel entitled to do so). I can sympathize with the "Death of Fun" crowd. Wandering half drunk through this marvelous city of ours on a clear and cold day is one of life's true joys.

But cleaning up after 100,000 people solely focused on their good time is decidedly less stimulating.   

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