Here, In San Francisco
I drove to downtown Oakland this morning, finding a space near the office with a hand written sign taped to the parking meter that said "broken". I took it as an omen I should park and walk to the BART station half a block down and take a train to San Francisco, get off at Powell Street where the Market Street cable car takes you over the hill up through North Beach to Fisherman's Wharf and shoot pictures. I guess there's no necessity to mention I was going to "shoot pictures".
I wasn't interested in the cable car, of course, there's always one or two hundred people waiting in line to take the ride. It's a good place to shoot pictures of people, though, as it's a big time attraction for tourists staying at nearby hotels, shoppers, grifters, proselytizers, jugglers, dancers, musicians. There's also a line of people playing chess on the sidewalk half a block up toward Van Ness, but that's another story.
So what's brought me to this place, to the point that a broken parking meter was waiting for me in Oakland ten steps from BART? The area is crowded, lots of people waiting in line for the cable car, a group of maybe fifteen ratty looking born again Christians exhorting people to find Jesus (Proselytizing Jesus freaks seem to come in many flavors, these looked like old hippies decked out in tie dyed t-shirts, bull horns and electric guitars. A done this before reasonably well rehearsed presentation, but they looked way too ragged around the edges, so I walked on up the crowded sidewalk, camera in hand.)
Then, across the street on the opposite sidewalk, a broken column of people dressed in costume came running up through the crowd. They had signs, they were pushing weird looking carts, wobbly wheel chairs, whatever, running at an easy pace dodging through the pedestrians, so I crossed over and started shooting. I thought, what the hell, maybe a dozen people, I'd managed to get a number of pictures before they disappeared up the sidewalk. Then another group came running up from behind. More pictures. OK, this is good. I stopped and stood waiting for a traffic light, when a woman, probably a tourist, asked me in some amazement "who were these people, what was going on?". I was tempted to say, well, you know, this happens all the time in San Francisco. Can't really tell: Performance artists? Some kind of party or strange ritual, a high school reunion?
Just another day here on the street in San Francisco, lady, but I let it drop and shrugged my shoulders and loaded another roll of film. Maybe it was her first day in town, her first day on a San Francisco street. She'd heard stories about the city, of course, but she'd had no idea they only scratched the surface: This really was somewhere else, this really was mythic California, where people in strange costume (and not just kids, these people were in their twenties and thirties and forties) not only did things she'd read about, they apparently did things she couldn't even imagine, all before noon, on a Saturday.
There really were a lot of them, if not a hundred, then more than fifty, just running up the street waving signs that said (well, I don't quite remember what they said and probably won't remember until I get the contact sheets back), but I think it was something about a new play here in town. I think I read about it this morning in the paper. They were there and then they were gone and I, a laid back Californian, didn't feel like following after. I'd got off a roll of film, bam!, and that was that. A better photographer, a committed photographer, a photographer from another city would undoubtedly still be running along with them, following them to their source, taking notes, finding out and about, here, in San Francisco.