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Bay To Breakers ©

A Story by Patti Isaacs

              To Protect and Serve

I lived in the Bay Area for a year and a half. The job that brought my husband and me there evaporated in the recession, so we moved back to Minnesota. But we can’t stay away. Running Bay to Breakers is a great excuse to come back, reconnect with our friends here, and revel in San Francisco’s joie de vivre.

As dawn breaks, we gather at the BART station. The train pulls up at 7:10 a.m. and we skip aboard in high spirits. A gangly young man in 1970s retro basketball shorts and a frizzy, multicolored clown wig like mine gives me the high five as we enter the train car. His pseudo-Afro is cinched in the middle with a green terrycloth sweatband to match his Celtics jersey.

I sit down with my group of friends: Suzanne in a fuchsia feather boa; Gauss in his Minnesota moose-antler hat; and Sean and Jeff, serious runners, in nondescript wicking tees. At each stop the car takes on more costumed participants, all jolly and some already a little tipsy: A cow and a milkmaid; a kitty-cat with pointed ears and leopard print tail; Superman and Wonder Woman. Several of the characters discreetly sip spirits from bottles encased in brown paper bags. Laughter fills the background as I catch up with our friends after a year away from them.

At the Civic Center stop, two San Francisco police officers board the car. I can tell they’re the real thing and not costumed runners because they’re wearing long pants. Bay to Breakers participants dressed as cops would be wearing the same blue shirts and carrying the billy clubs and handcuffs—but they would replace the regulation trousers with Speedos or buttless chaps.

The officers walk up and down the aisle, smiling and chatting amiably.

“Sorry, no drinking on the train,” the male officer says to the Devil, grinning. “Hand it over.”

The Devil shrugs his shoulders and gives up his booze.

“I’m going to have to take that from you,” the policewoman says, stretching her arm toward a glitter-dusted man in a gossamer tutu and crooking her fingers.

“Can’t blame me for trying,” Tinkerbell replies, a lilt in his voice. He’s not angry and hands her the bagged beer can.

The train stops at a station and the officers take the alcohol to the open door, pouring it out onto the tracks. They walk back down the aisle, handing the empty containers to their owners. Then they return to the door. Before stepping out, the policeman smiles and calls back, “Have a good day, and be sure to recycle!”

Only in San Francisco.

photo by patti isaacs