Monday, November 14, 2005

Beatitude of the Boulevard

Taking hallucinogenic drugs is a popular weekend activity in San Francisco. While many cities would discourage this, here the local authorities have provided trip toys. I am referring, of course, to the kaleidoscopes on Octavia Boulevard. I’m ashamed to say I only realized that’s what they were on Saturday night, when a friend ran up to one and put her eye to it. There are twelve in all, slender silver poles with cylinders on top. I’d taken them for speed cameras. But when I looked through one, it transformed the world. The Haight-Noriega bus opened into a silver lotus with a hundred petals. My friend Chris stuck his tongue out; it became a sunset. Octavia Boulevard metamorphosed into an ever-changing stained glass window. And I wasn't even stoned.

When this former “Street” became a busy “Boulevard,” I fretted because this meant I had to wait longer to cross the road. Now when I see the kaleidoscopes, I remember not to be in so much of a hurry. I inwardly thank Gavin Newsom for rewarding trippers and flaneurs, those who look twice at the obvious instead of racing past it. For even though driving gets you where you’re going faster, walking lets you see what speeding go-getters do not get: the heavenly pattern beneath the urban ugliness, the mandala behind the mundane.

But perhaps I'm being naive. It’s hardly safe to tempt people under the influence of drugs to wander around near heavy traffic. Perhaps the authorities see these people not as visionaries but as unproductive idlers, and the kaleidoscopes are a cunning plan to eliminate them.


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