Halloween in the Castro
There are some things in life that you just don’t completely understand until you are right in the midst of them. Some are big things; things like falling in love, things like grief. Other things are smaller; the pounding of a migraine or the frustration of being stuck in hours of traffic. They are things that you may feel like you understand because you have an intellectual grasp on them, and often you have the memory of an experience of them, but it is only right when you yourself are exactly in that moment that you can truly empathize with someone describing those situations. Halloween in the Castro is one of those things.
Humans are amazingly resilient creatures. This is due in part to the fact that we are, in many ways, able to live in the moment. We may feel like the soaring of our heart or the devastation of our grief will last forever, but the intensity gradually fades away. When it does, we are left with memories of intensity but no real understanding left of the experience as it was when it was at its peak. Perhaps this is why Halloween in the Castro continues despite its associations with tragedy. Perhaps each year the people of this city feel the insanity while it is happening and truly mean it when they say that they aren’t going to ever do it again. But by the time that the next Halloween comes around, the intensity has become the memory and the street scene doesn’t seem so bad so people head out in droves in spite of cautions to the contrary.
At this time last year, I didn’t yet live in San Francisco. I remember my friends from here telling me about Halloween and I thought that I understood, but I didn’t. In thinking that I might go this year, I relied on my experience of Pride to inform my senses about my ability to enjoy Halloween. The two are not comparable.
Halloween in the Castro was insane. It was people shoved chest-to-back from one side of the street to the other all throughout the closed-off area. It was underage kids with hope in their hearts and fear in their eyes trying to find a place to sit down for just a minute to evade the dizziness of too-young drinking. It was people from all over the city, from all over the region, moving together in some sort of shared experience that most people around seemed mostly bewildered by. It is not something easy to describe, because it is one of those things that you can only understand when you are inside of it.
I had two distinct experiences of Castro Halloween while I was there last night. On the one hand, I was forcing my way through masses of people, getting wound up in gauze and fabric and glitter, when the air raid siren went off and everyone began to move back out of the streets. The masses were nearly crushing. Being that close to so many moving bodies was terrifying. And yet, on the other hand, an hour later I was inside of a club, comfortably pressing my body against the bodies of all of those strangers, thoroughly enjoying the excited vibrancy of the scene.
It was not until we were leaving the Castro that I fully understood what gun shots and air raid sirens meant. It was not until this morning that I read reports of seven (and at last count, ten) people being shot in the midst of all of the pulsating energy. My mind is still trying to wrap itself around the idea that thousands upon thousands of people can be in one place while it experiences such a tragedy and yet can easily move off of the scary streets and on to sexy dance floors.
I wasn’t even sure until the last minute that I was going to go to the Castro. I had thought about going to the weekend event which was reportedly smaller and friendlier. But I didn’t make it out and last night decided that I may as well check out the big event before my chance had passed. Having heard so many stories, I almost felt like it was a rite of passage for being a part of this city. And the truth is, despite the way that things happened, I’m glad that I went. I’m glad that I got to experience the insanity first hand. But I hope that, should Halloween in the Castro manage to happen again next year in spite of its increasing uncontrollable violence, I remember clearly why I won’t go again.