Arts and Culture

A Very Covid San Francisco New Years

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It was a sunny, crisp Wednesday afternoon after my bread delivery shift at Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco when I realized, or permitted myself to feel, that New Year’s Eve was close.

“Jesus,” I said, looking at my phone, noting the date. “It’s tomorrow.”

After enduring almost a year of coronavirus, celebrating anything, let alone a celebration centered around evening parties, typically inside and drinking, felt strange. Thankfully I have not been affected by COVID as I’m sure the families of the 330 thousand lost so far have been. So, how does one raise a glass of champagne to a year of lies, death, corruption, and mismanagement in the wake of that? It’s challenging to get one’s head around, let alone stay present enough to remember what one is genuinely thankful for this terrible year. On top of that, like many others across the US, my traditions of debauchery and merriment have been thrown to the wolves in the name of COVID safety. I respect the sacrifice, but it’s still difficult, especially on a holiday whose sole purpose is to honor a new year. As I’ve often told my mother, who is up in Seattle, the risk is not worth the reward, though some days, I don’t know if I believed that.

Then I remembered I don’t know what to believe anymore.

These musings and many more whipped through me like the cutting afternoon wind as I passed Bi-Rite. The store was stocked with festive cheese, fresh pork, shiny cakes, and over-priced champagne. They were celebrating, I thought. Continuing down Divisadero, I passed a group of girls with cheap top hats and party kits. So are they. Then, past The Page Bar, almost home, I admired their window confetti decorations and old beer signs, only to sulk at their now-closed patio. It was still decadently decorated with mock snowy nature paintings and a banner that read “FUCK 2020, HELLO 2021”, but the patrons were nowhere to be found.

After washing away the possibility of being a spreader (I visited over ten grocery stores in San Francisco and the East Bay on my route three days a week), I was about to put in some time on the now struggling Cyberpunk 2077 when my girlfriend asked, “Do you want to go check out Entwined at Peacock Meadow?”

“Isn’t shit locked down?” I replied, ashamed of my eagerness to stay inside.

I worry about when things go back to “normal” because I, a classic hermit and homebody, may decide four walls rather than none is what I need.

“Parks are opened,” she explained. “It’ll be nice.”

I aired my grievances of being tired from the day, of my anxiety about the sure-to-be-crowds, and lastly, my girlfriend’s parents, who are both at risk. There’s that word again – risk. That single syllable word haunted me like the ghost of Christmas past. After much deliberation, something we were quite skilled at now, we decided it was better to try to enjoy the holiday as a family – outside, with masks – rather than not at all. We needed something because, over the last year, there had not been enough.

Charles Gadeken, the San Francisco artist behind “Entwined” effortlessly transported my girlfriend, her family, and my world for the quick thirty minutes we viewed his work. At one moment, we were in line getting hot dogs and stale pretzels at Annie’s. In the next, the sun setting into the Pacific behind us, we were seeped in shadows, the only lights coming from the illuminated cube-leaves thinly scattered on the thick trunked metal trees and bushes.

Seeing the crowd, I hesitated but was quickly comforted seeing everyone was distanced, and reminding myself we were outside, I stepped in. Kids snaked through the crowd giggling with candy canes gripped in their hands as their tiny feet stomped on the fog-laden grass. Over our heads, the natural starlight mixed with the kaleidoscopic colors of the ever-changing white, green, pink, dark blue, and red lights. Though I could feel my breath colliding with my mask and all the other dread that came when going out in public, I told myself to enjoy my girlfriend playing with her nephews; to be inspired by her parents leaning on one another in the shifting light; to recognize the challenges and ultimately the perseverance we all still possessed.

We said our goodbyes and promises to see each other soon. I took a few pictures and texted them to my side of the family’s group text. A barrage of “where is THAT” and “OH WOW” and “please wear a mask” rolled over me. I wished they were there. Like many others, I hoped they would be next year.

Carlo Rovelli, the author of The Order of Time, wrote, “The world is nothing but change.” He goes on to say that the world is nothing but a series of events. The pandemic, like the holiday season, is just that – an event. I kept that sentiment close to my heart as I slipped my phone back into my pocket and took my girlfriend’s hand to warm it.

Uncle John’s Tree all lit up

We took a moment to crane our necks to look at Uncle John’s Tree, a single, massive Monterey Cypress that stands in front of the McLaren Lodge. It’s been there for 100 years. In the road, on the sidewalk, and in the park, people were going about their everyday lives – running, zipping around on scooters, and heading home from work. Life was moving forward. Ahead of us, a quad of kids was playing “Ode to Joy.” I try not to muse in metaphor, but there was something magical in seeing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 being played since it’s composition from 1822 – 1824. With all the chaos of the year, it was hard not to see similarities in what we all have endured since early March and that we are still here. I dropped five dollars in their cup, thanked them, and we made our way home.

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Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Winner of the ClarkGrossman and Wilner Award in Short Fiction, his work has been featured in Drunk Monkeys, The Millions, Music in SF and more. He survives in San Francisco.