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Friday, October 31, 2008

Memories of the Castro part one

30 years ago next month on the 27th will be the thirtieth anniversary of one of the darkest days in the history of San Francisco's gay community. It was a tragic time when a strange darkness hung over the city. To me being a young man of 19 years who was coming to terms with who he was it was a true stunner.

This was my first Halloween in San Francisco as an adult. I had not been there for Halloween since I was a small child. So when my friend Lori suggested we go I said sure. The only problem was she was having car problems and I had a new car and I could not yet drive a stick shift all that well and I was not going to even attempt to drive it to the city with all of those hills.
So Lori said she could drive a stick so she drove my car and I got to go for a ride. A ride that changed my life.

It was really quite amazing we went too all of the neighborhoods, Polk Street the Haight Ashbury the Tenderloin and the last stop on our Halloween tour was the Castro. Now what is funny is I kept getting this feeling that I had been there before. I did not realize that the Safeway on Market Street was the one we used to shop at when I was a small child. We used to live in the upper Haight Ashbury off of 17Th Street. We moved when I was 5 years old to the east bay just three short years before The Summer of Love .
The city was so full of life and laughter that night only to be stripped away a few short weeks later by the senseless act of bigoted man. I remember the news reports and the announcement that Diane Fienstien made to the city and the world. I remember that she was grief stricken and unsteady on her feet.

I met Senator Dianne Fienstien the summer I was 15. That summer held allot of memories most good and some bad. What I do recall about her was that she was very nice. She spoke at a event that one of my mothers groups was holding. Who would have thought that 4 years later she would be the Mayer of San Francisco after the Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated.

I remember the candlelight marches and the rallies and the trial of Dan white. I remember the riots after the verdict was read. I remember the disbelief that draped across the city. The burning police cars, the anger and the shock and the just plain sadness by so many. Harvey Milk was a legend in his own time and he is anchored in the history of San Francisco.
So much so that there have been several documentaries about him and now a feature film starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. This movie has a all star cast and it had its premier at the Castro Theater just the other night. There is even a bar named after Harvey Milk in the Castro. Harvey’s was formally the Elephant Walk and it was raided by the police after the white night riots. I never met Harvey Milk but I met allot of people who knew him. They were the leaders of the neighborhood when I started to hang out there. The Castro had a true sense of family and you felt safe there. You could truly be yourself.

San Francisco was really different back then when I was 5, the Castro was not the Castro district it was the Eureka Valley and Noe Valley but that all seemed to change in the sixties and the early seventies. The neighborhood changed when all of the original families started to move out and there were all of these old Victorian homes left to be subdivided into flats and rented out. Then came the "gays" to make a once almost derelict neighborhood something fabulous. The rents were cheep and the places were big and you could have several roommates to split the cost.

I was going to dance clubs Like the Trocadero Transfer and Studio West and the Endup and the I-beam because I loved to dance. These clubs just happened to be predominantly gay but it did not matter to me or my friends. And anyway all of the best places to dance were in the city back then. I was not out of the closet just yet . But I made friends at the clubs and we all would do things together. One of them was the Castro Street Fair in 1979 it was the year after Harvey Milk was assassinated and the White Night Riots and it was a surreal event. We went to a friends place who was having a party. He lived in the middle of the block above a store on Castro Street. I was a great vantage point to watch all of the goings on 3 floors below on the street.

It was amazing to see all of the out and proud gay people celebrating the day. There were speeches and music and hot men. This was the height of the "Castro Clone look" and they were out in force. It looked like a lumber jack convention. There were hot guys in short shorts which were in back then and drag queens and it was just to much to take in. We ventured out into the fray and went bar hopping and had a great time. I was still to young to drink legally but we got into the bars anyway. I would be old enough in a month.

This was the beginning of a love affair with a neighborhood and its people.

to be continued.

This is Elmysterio and I'm out

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