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    Fall in the Castro

    By Dr. Tim Seelig

    Fall is in the air in San Francisco. Can’t you just feel it?

    The mornings have a chill in the air. Everyone grabs their mittens and ear muffs on the way out of the door. You have to scrape a little frost off of the car windows. There’s that cozy smell of fireplaces warming happy people by the hearth. The trees are turning glorious shades of red and gold. Soon that first snow will dust the hillside. People are getting their sleds out of storage.

    Stop! That was somewhere else. Perhaps where you came from. Erase all of that. Fall in San Francisco is kind of “the same but different.”

    There are most definitely things that mark the turn of summer to autumn in San Francisco. Most years, it actually gets warmer following the coldest month of the year—August. Not this year, because all we will remember about this August (and talk about for many years to come) is where we were during that record-breaking, climate change-induced, thermometer-busting heat wave on September 1. It was horrible, almost unbearable and lasted … two days.

    To mark the change of seasons, most communities around the country have a Fall Harvest Festival. You know, harnessing up the ponies for a hay ride, bobbing for apples, donning various costumes from pilgrims to turkeys, and setting up booths filled with various activities and selling wares.

    San Francisco has one of those, too. We have a different name for our annual Fall Festival. It’s called the Folsom Street Fair. It is “the same but different.” Think about the similarities, though. There are harnesses, rides, bobbing and costumes galore. There are booths with a wide range of activities and paraphernalia, too! It just screams to the world: “It’s Fall, people! Folsom is here!” So, get up and put some clothes on (or take some off) and let’s celebrate!

    We may not have those chilly mornings marked by a little shiver and “brrrrrrr.” But we have a lot of other things that can give you the shivers and make you say “grrrrrr.” Yup, same but different. And don’t forget the “kinder, gentler” festival—the Castro Street Fair!

    Those of you who came here from one of those autumnal climes only have a month or so until your friends start complaining about the piles of leaves and snow. When that first idyllic dusting turns into black slush alongside the streets and stays, like an unwanted relative, for 6 months. Who’s laughing now?

    I come from the Lone Star State—a land of two seasons rather than four. Burnt or Frozen. The constant is “brown.” That broad brush is really unfair. There are three lovely days in the spring as the grass turns from brown to green, birds are chirping and mosquitoes are breeding. There are four in the fall when the last of the summer finally gives up the ghost after 100 days over 100 degrees. But the people are really nice. Enough about me, back to you—and me—and San Francisco.

    How does one know it’s Fall in the Castro? I am sure you have your very own favorite signals and traditions that Fall is here. One way to know is the spectacular windows—at Cliff’s Hardware! They are the harbingers of autumn with the most fabulous things for the upcoming holidays. They begin by heralding the approach of the gay national holiday, Halloween. But because the holidays all come so quickly, the windows multi-task. The answer is just to put up a sexy skeleton, wearing a boa and tiara (because Cliff’s), holding a stuffed turkey, a Menorah, and some mistletoe, standing next to the most outrageous aluminum Christmas tree.

    What would we do without Cliff’s at this crazy time of year?

    Twin Peaks starts lining the counter with delicious mugs of Irish Coffee. Hot Cookie adds pumpkin to menu. The Castro Theatre starts showing holiday fare, leading up to the big event on Christmas Eve. Hand Job offers holiday icons for your nails. The naked men trade in their gold lame banana hammocks for tiny little crocheted Christmas stockings. (Try to hang that on the mantle.) The Castro Merchants make the entire gayborhood literally sparkle.

    Now, do you want to trade this in for that little Norman Rockwell scene that comes with excruciatingly endless meals with family, raking mountains of red and gold hued leaves, shoveling snow that just won’t stop falling?

    Or would you rather start at Union Square with a little ice-skating, jump on a festive decorated cable car to the top of Nob Hill for a hot toddy and a multi-million-dollar view? (It used to be a million-dollar view, but inflation, you know.) Or perhaps a fabulous meal at one of the wide array of Castro eateries, a cup of coffee at any of the 30 or so coffee shops within a two-block radius, followed by a good old Autumn Bar Crawl hitting all of your faves.

    And don’t forget to dust off your Santa suit for SantaCon, which originated in San Francisco and is now a worldwide phenomenon. Then rip that Santa suit into small shreds to barely cover the “ornaments” for the amazing Santa Skivvies Run and raise some money for the SF AIDS Foundation. There are also Donna Sachet’s Songs of the Season and a few—9 actually—concerts by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus!

    Wow. Fall in San Francisco is amazing! As far as I am concerned, you can have your piles of red and gold leaves. You can have your drifts of snow. I’ll take the rainbow palette of the Castro and San Francisco any day of the year—especially in the Fall.

    It’s the same, but oh so different!

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.