I went to the 2009 Bay to Breakers Race yesterday and watched from Heartbreak Hill (Hayes Street-Alamo Park).
I ran in the race from the late 60's when the number of runners and watchers was in the 20,000-30,000 range. I ran leisurely most of the time with a group of friends; several times I carried one of my 2 year old children on my shoulders. In those days we ran in tennis shoes. Running shoes of the Nike type were not invented. They were invented by one of our crowd from the SRI weekly runners gang. Running strollers were not imagined. Safe strollers with multiple small wheels were years off, to be invented in Japan with an Italian brand name.
The Bay to Breakers grew in the early 1970s, in excitement, vitality and imagination with the advent of the large hippie crowds. I saw the running (and walking) group reach 40,000, naked, costumed and pushing floats.
Yesterday, by my fairly reliable count, there were close to 90,000 people on the street (a seven mile long parade which half the people finished) over a three hour period with 20,000 watchers. It was one gigantic crowd from all over the Bay Area, and parts beyond, young, healthy, laughing, singing, dancing and nearly all dressed in outrageous costumes. Parts of the crowd were still wandering the streets of San Francisco at 9PM in costume and scanty clothing (the fog was coming in).
It is this level of vitality, fun and imagination that generates the kind of thriving business we have in San Francisco and proximity. These are the creators and workers in our commercial paradise.
There is a lesson here too. One hell of a lot of people, over nearly half a century, want to have fun with their friends in a fun loving crowd, outdoors, healthy, a little defiant (naked people, lots of beer and blocking cars everywhere) and free. Long live the Bay to Breakers!