Park life

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, September 9, 2007

I woke up with the worst hangover I've had in a long time. I was so tempted to turn off my alarm clock and collapse back to sleep, but I knew that it would be worth it if I could Just. Drag. Myself. Out. Of. Bed.

I was going to the 9am mass at Glide, a Methodist church across from my hotel, to hear the gospel choir - something I've always wanted to experience. My guidebook said it was a progressive church that preached social justice and did work with area's homeless, so this was another reason to go as I wanted to donate to that cause. I shakily got myself ready and stopped at my friend the concierge to check the details. Just as I was heading off he said 'oh, there's an 11am mass too that's much more popular'. Hallelujah. After an hour and a half more rest I felt ten times better although still pretty fuzzy.

On the way to the church I bought breakfast - twice. Speaking to Wendy on Friday, she told me that she gets her leftover food wrapped to go at restaurants and gives it to a homeless person. I'd seen someone else do this earlier in the week. The problem is, with my appetite, leftovers are rare! So instead I got an extra portion.  

Another suggestion of Wendy's was to buy Street Sheet (equivalent of The Big Issue). It happened to be the 20th anniversary of the publishers - The Coalition on Homelessness. Reading the editorial gave me a better overview of the reasons behind the problem (lack of affordable housing being the main one) and the shameful exploitation of the homeless for political gain in mayoral campaigns. Each mayor promises to solve the problem with radical solutions or tough measures. A recent scandal involved a sensational newspaper article about the problem of street sleepers in Golden Gate Park, which resulted in a crack-down including 3am raids during which police confiscated people's possessions. Huh? How can taking away the last personal items of someone who has no home be justified?

I arrived at Glide 20 minutes before the service to an already full house. Either side of the aisle they'd put in extra chairs so I bagged one of these about halfway back. The congregation was really mixed; people from all walks of life, old and young, different nationalities. I was trying to work out where and when I could donate money, and for some reason was concerned that I would miss the opportunity or wouldn't know who to give it to. How naive am I?!

There was a 5-piece band already stationed to the side of the stage and they played as the choir filed on - 50 strong - to rapturous applause. They choir started singing and everyone jumped up off their seats, clapping and dancing. Uh-oh, maybe I wasn't going to like this. But the music was upbeat and infectious, so I bobbed along self-consciously trying to get into the swing of it.
The congregation was welcomed and asked who was there for the first time - about 25% put their hand up and the rest roared their approval. We were told that the church welcomed everyone, whatever their faith, race, sexual orientation or economic situation. Then everyone held hands and swayed while the band played. Eek.
There was another 2 or 3 songs from choir, each one featuring a different solo vocalist, all with the most amazingly powerful voices. It was very moving. I was just starting to feel a lump in my throat when the usher started walking up and down the centre aisle holding out a box of tissues (and continued to do this throughout the service). Quite a few people took one but I was too British to admit I had tears in my eyes. The first sermon was about the concept of home which led nicely into the money raising spiel. Glide give out over a million meals a year as well as free medical care and all sorts of other services from life skills to drug counselling. I doubled my donation which was already quite generous and dropped it into the fast filling collection box. It really gave me an insight into the power that the evangelical churches must have to raise huge amounts of money from the congregation. I knew that I was being a little rash to give that much but I felt an irresistible urge. Maybe I was being brainwashed! There was also a sales pitch for Glide merchandise - a sweater and baseball cap modelled by an overtly camp member of the choir. The crowd showed him a lot of appreciation!
After the next song, everyone was asked to hug those standing near them. It when on and on - some people moving on to the next aisle which I thought was quite unnecessary. I did the minimum acceptable, hugging my two immediate neighbours, and then stared straight ahead waiting for it all to be over! The second sermon was about acting with love - including sexual love, more cheers of approval - rather than just talking about it. The service finished with everyone repeating:

Right On.
There was not one word read from the bible, but I heard the words peace, love and community used many times. It was more like going to a concert than to church. I felt refreshed and very grateful to have experienced it.
My next destination was Golden Gate Park. On the way to the bus stop my aim was to give away the breakfast to someone who needed it more than me. I didn't want to choose a particular person, because that would involve not choosing others, but I had decided that I wanted to give it to a woman. I was worried that I would offend someone if I offered it when they asked for money, or that they would laugh at my pathetic attempt to help. The change for me was so strange because suddenly I was actively looking for people living on the streets rather than pretending not to see them. The first and only person to approach me was a thin woman in her mid 20s in a wheelchair. I caught her eye but didn't say anything because I wasn't certain. She approached me and said 'can you help me get something to eat, I'm hungry'. I got the food out of my bag and handed it to her. I was so glad that I was able to do that small thing and not just shake my head and walk past. Since then, I've made a habit of carrying food on me, and I try to smile rather than avoiding people's eyes on the street. In return for that small courtesy I have had many a 'good morning' and been told twice that I have a nice smile.
Golden Gate Park is beautiful and peaceful: just the antidote to last night's excesses. I spent most of the afternoon there, starting at the bison paddock and walking through the park past lakes, a waterfall, wild flowers, rose gardens and woodland. I had lunch and saw an art exhibition at the De Young, one of a cluster of museums in the park. As I went into the gallery shop a free jazz concert was about the begin, but I spent so long shopping that by the time I left a huge round of applause signalled the end of the performance just as I wanted to sit and watch for a while. That was the first of a string of bad timing. I missed last entry at the conservatory of flowers (tropical house) because I got sidetracked on the way by the dancing rollerbladers. Then I went to find the free outdoor Opera performance and that was being packed away, the odd empty champagne bottle and discarded picnic rug taunting me. But I did get to see an impromptu drumming session instead (see video).
I had some extra time on my hands, so went up Haight Street to another park, Buena Vista, for views of the city. On the way I was passing the café I ate at on Labour Day, and guess who I saw? My favourite freak: the almost naked, shouty one. This time he was fully clothed and wearing a leopard skin hat with blue fur around the huge brim. He looked a lot happier. Yeh!
As the sun was setting I travelled into the Financial District to see the skyscrapers close up. The evening light reflected off the new mirrored tower blocks and highlighted the architectural details of the older buildings. It made the deserted area rather atmospheric. I ate Vietnamese.
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