Halloween is San Francisco’s unofficial holiday. October 31st is now an occasion for adults to dress up, drink, dance, and revel living in a city of differences and tolerance. In years past the evening was for children, but adults would put on good parties as merchants and community groups hosted street fairs, parades, and festivals.
I loved being out on my familiar blocks at night, part of a pack of children mostly unsupervised. Halloween was strange and thrilling with its allusions to death and the macabre, its ancient traditions mixed with popular characters and stories of the day, its play-acting as cowboys, witches, and spacemen, and, of course, its candy.
It was the same with my daughter. Months ahead of October, she would decide on a costume and worked on making it with my wife. Miranda tended to the traditional characters—skeleton, vampire, witch, ghost—and was a fearless and industrious trick-or-treater.
Despite the adult-driven nature of Halloween in San Francisco today, I can testify that there are still children in the city enjoying it. Things are different than my day, for sure. Halloween activities now mostly center on school and block parties in the late afternoon and early evening. Trick-or-treating action is concentrated in specific (and wealthy) neighborhoods. At my house in the middle of the Richmond District we get perhaps one group of costumed kids a year; my friends who live in Cole Valley go through pounds and pounds of candy, not bothering to close their front door as hoards of robots, princesses, and copyrighted superheroes make up hours-long processions with parents as escorts.
The ferrying of kids to West Portal and Sea Cliff, St. Francis Wood and Cole Valley doesn’t seem to be so much about parents’ fears as much as demographics. Trust me, we had more than enough city anxieties in the early 1970s, from the Zodiac killer to the Symbionese Liberation Army, plus the poisoned Halloween candy urban myth was going strong. But back then we could have 20-30 children on one city block, a critical mass to push households into stocking candy for the neighbor kids. With fewer children in the city, a self-respecting jedi master or Black Panther has to commute across town to get a decent sackful of candy bars.
On Wednesday, watch out for the kids while driving and try to recapture some of the excitement you had as a child. Your role model can be Peter Finelli, shown in 1946 dishing out free ice cream cones at his store on 42nd Avenue in the Sunset District. This man is having some fun: