It was love at first sight. And my first sight was through the windows of a bus as it cruised along the street that’s Haight Street. My friend and I were on a hop on-hop off tour then, and the moment I entered the street, I knew I had to come back again to explore further.
It looked like any other street—except that it wasn’t. There were buildings and there were people. But unlike most other parts of San Francisco, the buildings weren’t picture perfect. The people weren’t suited, booted, or groomed. Purple-headed women walked hand in hand with pink clad men. No one stared at each other as weird. No one seemed conventional, and yet, no one seemed to care. Some wore jeans, some wore mascara, and a lot wore whatever felt comfortable.
Store exhibits advocated peace and love, street signs echoed similar emotions, and even the walls called passers by to listen. Love afloat, was abundant, and at times as with love, overflowing and breaking norms.
Seeing all of this left a permanent smile of my face. I felt as if a bloom ballooned up within me, filling me up with the joy of welcome. There sparked inside me a sense of belonging to the place. I wanted to stay there, to walk down the street, to walk into shops. I wanted to talk to the people on the streets, befriend them, and hang out. For someone who’s reluctant to barge into another person’s consciousness and force discussion, I felt like doing that exact thing. To my surprise, I realised that the people of Haight Street would’ve been only too happy to talk to me.
For the first time in my life, I saw a hookah bar. Curious, I went in. Men and women had seats for themselves, going about their usual business, smoking away, reading a book, watching a game, and unperturbed by the stranger who’d just walked in unashamed and out of place. The shop owner came up to help me settle in, and I stepped back telling him I was just looking. A big smile came onto his face, and he waved his arms around the bar, inviting me to look around and hang around for as long as I wanted. When I left, my compassion for the people of San Francisco had magnified.
When I went back a second time to Haight Street—alone, this time—I felt the same sense of joy. This time, however, I realised what about the locality made me so ecstatic. Being in the street made me feel rebellious. All around me people embodied everything that our typical society scorns upon. Metaphorical reminders of Bob Marley and John Lennon, their beliefs, and The Beatles of 1960s hung over the sky exuberating with positivity and encouragement.
Sure, I did come across a couple of guys who willed sell me pot. Illegal though it is, I didn’t feel scared or ominous. In fact, it was so casual and so matter of fact that I understood there was nothing to fear. It was just a part of everyday life.
All my life, my family had taught me to be wary of strangers, of people who’d lead me astray—but here I was passing people whose habits I’d never micic, but people who I’d respect nevertheless. It was a new experience and I enjoyed every moment of it. And I realised how huge San Francisco is—diverse, yet inclusive of every weirdo, every nut job, even every other corporate guy. The city continued to surprise me.