A few weeks ago Baltimore's Dan Rodricks interviewed Elijah Anderson about his new book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life on local NPR affiliate WYPR. The main thesis of Anderson's book is that it is the cosmopolitan canopy, those spaces where all races and classes of a city mix, and agree to act civil toward one another, that provide the true social fabric of a city. As I listened to this interview, and the attempts by Rodricks and callers to name such spaces in Baltimore, I thought, well, in San Francisco, we call them street fairs. From How Weird to the Castro Street Fair, each provides an opportunity for a neighborhood to invite the rest of the city to have a visit, socialize, have some food and drink, and maybe dance a little while soaking in some of the unique "atmosphere" of the neighborhood. As I walked around Dore Alley Street Fair this past Sunday, I realized that I could not find a better example of how the cosmopolitan canopy of the street fair brings all of San Francisco together in a way that only this city really can.
Let's be honest: Dore Alley is FREAKY, and there are things both wonderful and terrible to be seen. But I think it's a mark of being a San Franciscan that one can wander into that scene, with perhaps only the slightest notion of what a "fetish fair" might be, and think, oh, there are some naked guys, and over there someone is pretending to a dog, and, wow, the sound of that whip is really loud, and it's all just another day in the city. There are many people who would take that as the very mark of how deviant and decadent Sodom by the Bay has become, but for me, it's a mark of what is truly special about "San Francisco Values:" we judge people not by how weird or freaky they are, but by things that really count, like the strength of you character. So you like to spend some time running around on all fours and barking, yeah, whatever -- are you someone I can count on when I really need you? As a city, we also have a vast tolerance for difference, because we're almost all people who have come here because we were so very, very different in the places we lived before. Dore Alley Fair is an event where people from all over the city come together, and whatever our differences in race, gender, class, ethnicity, etc., we can be civil to one another because we don't just tolerate difference, we encourage it in full display.
For me, Dore Alley was also a deeply personal reminder of why I came back to San Francisco. I went down there with no particular plans, no crew, and spent the afternoon wandering around, running into friends, hanging out for while, running off again, finding more friends, repeat repeat repeat. It was the best experience of "community" I've had in a really long time, because I could feel how I connected, in so many different ways, to this gathering of people. In some ways the big party aspect of Dore Alley Fair was far less important to me than this ability to just have a spontaneous, serendipitous experience of being part of something much larger than myself.