Last week I attended a conference in San Francisco and my mother accompanied me. Our hotel was located in downtown by the intersection of Bush and Powell streets. Powell Street is the main drag for the trolleys. Every day we walked down Powell, past Union Square and tourists with cameras riding the trolleys. One night after dinner, we trekked our way up the steep hill to our hotel. A trolley full of high school boys and girls whooped and waved at us. Being in bright spirits, we whooped back at them and waved, too.
Often times in a big city one can feel lost in the crowd. People walk past you, sometimes not even side-stepping so as not to collide into you. When you do make eye contact it seems they are looking right past you. Most of the time, encounters while you’re walking from point A to point B are brief. I understand that we all have schedules to keep, and strangers you cross paths with or cross the street with are just another face in the tidal wave of pedestrians.
On our last night in San Francisco, we returned from Fisherman’s Wharf and walked along the now familiar Powell Street to our hotel. As we approached Union Square I heard music. It sounded like live music. Sure enough a band was playing, and out in the open space of the square couples were swing dancing. Chairs were arranged for anyone to come sit, listen and enjoy.
It was 5:30 in the afternoon; the sunlight was golden. We found seats in the crowd and were thankful to be off our feet. Little by little more and more people entered the square. They danced; they sat; they stood and took pictures.
A dance school hosted this outdoor concert every fourth Wednesday. At intermission when the band took a 20-minute break, the dance instructor gave a free lesson. People, young and old, stepped on to the dance floor and found partners.
As we sat there and enjoyed the moment, I was very aware of how the music and dancing drew people together. Tourists and city dwellers, strangers, alike converged on this place. For a moment, as long as the music stirred, we were no longer strangers; we were a community. The square was our backyard, and these people were our neighbors.
Visit my Instagram feed (@sriprae_mc) to see a short video clip of one of the dancing couples at Union Square.
All images © 2013 Sriprae P. McDonald