Monday, May 19, 2014

The Greater Shitshow Theory

Yesterday was Bay to Breakers.  If you're not familiar, it's an annual event where a Kenyan wins a footrace, then people from Concord get kneewalking drunk and throw up in the Panhandle while careening across the city.  Before we go any further, let's pause for this picture from the Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub, which I hereby designate the Official Picture of Bay to Breakers for All Time:


What happened here?  Why did a quirky, annual only-in-San Francisco kind of event turn into a gigantic shitshow where 50,000 bad apples ruin it for the other 5?  It's something I like to think of as the Greater Shitshow Theory.  The GST works like this:

1. A group of people begin a regularly-held cool event.

2. When it begins, the event is limited to a smallish in-the-know clique.

3. Word gets out and more people are attracted to the event.

4. The event begins to grow unmanageably large.  The original founders are no longer interested and may be disgusted.  Coors Light is usually involved at this point.

5. The event spirals out of control and turns into a drunken shitshow.  It is either then cancelled forever or throttled by the authorities.

There are plenty of examples.  Castro Halloween used to be a uniquely SF kind of gathering where people would dress up in well-thought-out, cool costumes, head to the Castro, hang out and have fun.  Then a bunch of drunk assholes showed up and ruined it.  Believe it or not, when Santacon first began in 1994, it was seen as a kind of transgressive event, instead of the frat boy Jagermeister nightmare it's become.  To some extent, the same thing has happened to Burning Man, although it's easier for the People in Charge to keep a lid on it because of the remote location and high barriers to participation.  Suburban straights have even started to fuck up Gay Pride Weekend, as documented by the great Civic Center blog here and here.

History shows us that this is nothing new.  Woodstock begat Altamont, and eventually begat the dystopian nightmare that was Woodstock 99, which featurted the spectacle of Roid Bros starting fires while Limp Bizkit sang "Break Stuff."  If they had made the Human Be-In an annual event, it would today be sponsored by Red Bull and attended by dudes in sombreros carrying 30-packs of Bud Light.

True to form, that's what happened with Bay to Breakers.  I remember when it was a big, but pretty mellow event.  People drank - a lot - but held their shit together.  Here's part of a Chronicle story on the race from 1991:

A half-dozen young men ran the race in diapers while guzzling from baby bottles filled with beer.
The strange parade of fitness freaks and thrill-seekers also included four wild-eyed guys wearing ballerina tutus, a group of runners carrying a huge Trojan horse, and a gentleman decked out in top hat, tails and cane.
"It's a whole lot more fun in a costume. The crowd's enthusiasm picks you up. People cheer you on, especially if they can recognize the animal," said Grace Cooper, a San Francisco artist who ran with a flock of folks in penguin suits.
"Some people cheered, 'Go ducks, Go ducks! But we corrected them,' " she said, pointing out her orange beak, bulging eyes and polka-dot bow tie.
- - - - -
All things considered, the charity and promotional event went very well. There were no reported heart attacks or deaths. And brigades of green-jacketed organizers helped police the crowd while others collected the tons of trash left behind.
After the race, thousands of runners gathered at a nearby amphitheater in Golden Gate Park filled with huge balloons and booths set up by corporate sponsors. While some sacked out on the grass, others had picnics and listened to vintage rock and roll.

No mention of fights or people pissing on houses.  Yesterday I walked about a mile along Fulton near Golden Gate park, not far from the route, around 3:00 p.m. and was continually dodging horrifically drunk kids stumbling along the sidewalk.  On Central near the Panhandle, a guy screamed "FUCK OFF" at a girl wearing underwear and pushed her down onto the sidewalk.  Luckily her friends weren't too shitfaced to help her out, and the guy started slurring an apology.  Ugh.  The GST strikes again.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Peter Hartlaub put up a piece at SFGate about how shitty B2B has become.  Cranky Old Guys unite!

14 comments:

Joe Thomas said...

B2B is the day a big chunk of SF gets to learn what it's like to live near Dolores Park on a warm weekend

thesoniashow said...

I second your emotion, sir.

I used to work for the Examiner, and I always had to work on race day. I would see the photos come in, and I would think, "That looks like fun."

A few years ago, after quitting the Examiner, I witnessed the aftermath of the Bay to Breakers in my then-neighborhood (the corner of Haight and Ashbury). It was the biggest drunken clusterfuck I'd ever seen, and I went to Chico State.

Now, I just try to steer clear.





TK said...

Joe - I've been around Dolores Park on warm weekends, and I get what you're saying, but it's still not as bad (IMO anyway).

Sonia - "It was the biggest drunken clusterfuck I'd ever seen, and I went to Chico State." is my favorite sentence of the day.

Stoney said...

That photograph, though.

canolive said...

I live a block off the route on near Hayes, on a secluded enough street that it's a haven for people to relieve themselves. Beyond the usual costumed pee-ers, I also saw some kids openly doing blow, which was pretty ballsy. The event organizers do an OK job of cleaning up the main route, but it would be better if there was a little police presence/attention paid to the surrounding neighborhoods/alleys. Also, for the record, a tutu, fairy wings and knee socks is a bullshit costume.

canolive said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

"It was the biggest drunken clusterfuck I'd ever seen, and I went to Chico State."

THIS, me too, and yes.

Unknown said...

u done it again maaan. awesome

Tamagosan said...

My yearly reminder of why I never have anything to do with it... Thanks!

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