It's noon. It's Feb. 14. And we're here. In surprising numbers.
"I didn't expect this many people," says 36-year-old Krista Milton, who had a seen a flier and just happened to be in the neighborhood.
For weeks, fliers and handbills have been circulating, graphic spoofs on the Powerpuff Girls, The Matrix, and Mad Max challenging the people of San Francisco to "Reclaim the Streets. Reclaim Your Hearts." Following in the tradition of the first Reclaim the Streets, which was organized in England in 1991 as a response to proposed road construction, Reclaim the Streets, San Francisco is a decentralized direct-action movement that uses street parties to take back public space. Since 1995, RTS events have spontaneously erupted throughout Europe, Australia, and the Americas. The key points being: Anyone can participate; everyone is in charge; and the word gets out because people want it to. Romance the Clown, a vivacious 28-year-old with curly black hair tucked under her pirate hat and red and black striped arm-socks offset by dozens of heart-shaped dog collar tags, spent her Friday clowning in BART stations, passing out fliers and roses. A group calling itself the Billboard Action Front showed its support by subvertising two billboards in one night: The Lion King 1 1/2 on upper Haight and Salvation Army at Divisadero and Grove. For about a week leading up to the event, a group of young gay pirates (delineated by striped socks, short pants, and bandannas, evidently colored for their sexual preferences) walked around my neighborhood with a bucket of sidewalk chalk, drawing the heart-and-crossbones on every corner.
"Love pirates," explained Devon Day, a brigand wearing a light blue bandanna (cocksucker), when I finally caught up with them to ask what the symbol meant.
"Take back your heart," suggested his friend in gray (bondage). "Valentine's Day. Upper Haight. Noon. Be there." None of the boys had fliers or knew where to get one. They had just visited the RTS Web site (www.rts-sf.com) and liked the idea.
"I just love the image," says Capt. Port, a 35-year-old who carries the most well-crafted ensign of the day.
"I make pirate flags for 826 Valencia, so it was easy for me," admits the Captain. "I saw the flier and thought, 'Love pirates? Why not?'"
"Corporate culture tells us to buy things for the people we love," explains Romance the Clown. "Love should be free. Expressions of love should be free. In a way, we're robbing the corporate culture. Like pirates. Stealing from the rich."
"I'm here to dance in the streets," proclaims the Rev. Jim, sporting a cardboard pirate hat and a stuffed toy frog on a stick. "That's the most important thing: dancing in the streets."
As if in agreement, a large red banner is unfurled along Stanyan Street: "Dance into the Revolution." Cars honk; a brass band begins to play; the impromptu Free Love Cheerleaders present a short routine; pirates wage mock sword fights; Pinkman, in all his unitard, unicycling glory, offers Valentine's Day smooches to one very lucky lady; a stilt-walker shows up in frothy white ribbons; the self-appointed Valentine's Day furry, covered in pink from head to toe, waves to the passing public; and a small pirate ship, complete with patchwork sails and a rolling cannon made of PVC tubing, emerges from the crowd. Across the street, the gathering police force looks on impassively.
Then we're on the move, up Haight Street, dancing, following the beat of a rolling sound system. Automobile traffic is helplessly engulfed, buses stopped. Some drivers curse and mutter; others get out and dance. We shout, "Happy Valentine's Day!" and blow kisses to the people emerging from the storefronts.
"Shit! Goddamn! Get off that ass and jam!" bellows Chloe, a fetching young woman in a black latex bustier wielding a bullhorn. The chant is carried down the street. A few voyeurs join the march. Others hang back, smiling, slightly confused about the message.
"We're marching for no reason at all," explains a boy in neon-orange pants with a heart-and-crossbones, fashioned out of reflective tape, on his ass.
Halfway between Ashbury and Masonic, the march comes to a stop in front of a rusted-out VW bus with completely flattened tires that has been parked across Haight Street. A group of people with black bandannas tied across their faces unfurl an orange traffic sign that reads "Street Party"; barricades are raised at the other end of the block designating "Road Reclamation Ahead"; the pirate ship is hoisted onto the roof of the van.
"Whose streets?" shouts one masked man.
"Our streets!" shouts the crowd.
Beers are opened, dancing resumed, sidewalk chalk distributed, kissing commenced. The tourists watch. The police line up along the sidewalk, chuckling to each other, rerouting traffic when necessary.
"If everyone would be so kind as to get off the sidewalk and into the streets," shouts Chloe. Some of the tourists join in.
Someone scrawls "If I can't dance, I won't come to your revolution" across the road in pastel hues.
At 4 o'clock, a few hours after the party begins, the sound system and the "revolution" slowly snake their way back to the park. Business on Haight Street returns to normal, but love is in the air.