Civic Center is preparing for the San Francisco Symphony's once-every-two-years fundraiser, the Black & White Ball, which is taking place on Saturday night with lots of white tents which will house food and booze and old rock acts (Patti Labelle, the Village People). Tickets are ridiculously expensive (around $200, well, it is a benefit!) which means that the mostly suburban crowd slams down as many hors d'oeuvres and drinks in the shortest amount of time as they can, which usually leads to lots of vomit everywhere in the neighborhood.
Here's a few tips if you are attending for the first time: 1. June in San Francisco is when the freezing winds and fog come racing through Golden Gate Park, down through the Haight and Hayes Valley, finally whipping through the Civic Center with Arctic ferocity. Dress accordingly. 2. Wear sensible shoes or you'll be a cripple by the end of the evening. 3. Don't try to be original and wear a red dress like Bette Davis in "Jezebel." You'll just look dumb and Henry Fonda will never forgive you.
If you're planning on crashing the event, the main thing to do is wear fancy black and white clothing and you'll blend right in. Tuxedos are an immeasurable help in all kinds of situations, and this is one of them. If you don't have one, then go to one of the used clothing stores in the Haight or in Pacific Heights and find a beautiful old one for less than a couple of hundred bucks. If it doesn't fit perfectly, go to a tailor. Even with the right clothing, security can be tight at some of the venues and not at others, but in truth most of the indoor locations tend to be claustrophobic and the best party is out on the streets. And if you want a drink, just go to one of the local bars. It tends to be cheaper and more fun.
I've encountered a number of surreal sights over the years in San Francisco, but there was one moment in the mid-1980s at one of these events which takes the cake. Charlotte Mailliard, the serial widow who is the city's Chief of Protocol, was staging the event and was promising a spectacular "Midnight Surprise" that would go down Van Ness between the Opera House and City Hall at midnight under the revolving disco ball. The surprise turned out to be a dozen flatbed platforms on wheels, each carrying a white baby grand piano with a pianist dressed in white tie, tails, and top hat. Each flatbed was to be pushed down the street by a half dozen muscle boys in loincloths. I believe they played Gershwin, but who can remember?
What I do remember is that there was an effeminate theatrical director running around the staging area on McAllister Street while the muscle boys were doing pushups and such just to prevent themselves from freezing to death, and finally the moment we'd all been waiting for arrived. The director grabbed a megaphone, and plaintively uttered my favorite line of all time, "Musclemen, Move Those Pianos!"