Photo by Elizabeth Creely

A man wearing a checked gingham shirt and aviator glasses walked into to the north side of Dolores Park. “Way to go, SF!” he said approvingly.

Thursday, June 18th was the official re-opening of the north side of the park, which had been under construction for more than a year. It was easy to see what he was so happy about. The grassy slopes of the lawn were resplendently green against the blue sky. By contrast, the south slope, visible through the chain link fences enclosing it as it undergoes construction, was threadbare and brown. A woman in a bright red sweater threw herself down on the grass. “It’s so perfect!” she said.

Green sandwich boards were lined up with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks new “Love Dolores” logo with the printed commands compost, recycle and use a trash can. Nearby, people lined up to get their pictures taken holding signs that read “I pledge to love Dolores by” with the actual pledge filled in by the individual (“not peeing” was one.)

“Be sure to have your phones out and post! And please use the hashtag #Love Dolores,” called out a SF Rec and Parks staff person. People pecked away busily at their phones in response. New horseshoe bike racks ran the length of the tennis courts; they were filling up quickly. “Criticism is not for the weak,” a bike sticker advised.

Photo by Elizabeth Creely

The staff of San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks would probably agree: the opening of Dolores Park has been bumpy . SF Parks and Rec came under criticism from park neighbors for not anticipating the problems attendant with increased park usage. Since construction on the north side commenced in March of 2014, crowd and garbage control became a problem , even as new amenities and layout were installed. But that was all in the past on Thursday.

“Folks are great. Folks have been really great,” said Connie Chan, Deputy Director of Public Affairs. Her eyes fell on a bike track that threaded through the new grass: the tire of a bicycle had made it and the owner could be seen leaning against it. She sighed imperceptibly. “I was concerned about people biking on the lawn,” she said.

“We added six tennis courts, well, reconfigured tennis courts, “ said Sara Ballard, spokesperson for SF Rec and Park. “There’s a multi-purpose court, which is new. It’s also a hard surface which is a premium in the park for holding events. There’s a new restroom which is very necessary!”

She laughed. The old bathrooms couldn’t cope with the thousands of park visitors who took to peeing everywhere along 18th and Dolores street. But that, too, seemed to be a problem from the past. “ I think there’s seventeen new toilets. By the time the whole park opens, there will be thirty-six in total. And there’s a lot of stuff you can’t see.” She was talking about the newly laid sod lawn: each blade seemed perfectly cropped. “Anyone who came to Dolores before remembers it was often very muddy and damp. There’s tons of irrigation and drainage under the grass.”

Children clustered in front of a table on the lawn. A banner with the word “MOOP” was written on it. A child picked up an orange trash grabber. “What is this?” asked the child, looking at the stick dubiously. “You pick up trash with it,” said Megan Weirich, the volunteer behind the table. “Did you find some trash?”

Photo by Elizabeth Creely

Megan explained MOOP. “It means Matter Out of Place,” she said. “It’s a Burning Man term. Just like plastic wrappers, stuff like that. People drop it and it just flies around, like matter out of place.”

When asked why she thought people littered, she shrugged. “I really think that people don’t care, to be honest.” Easy access to more consumables and fast paced lives may have eroded our innate conscientiousness, she suggested. “The lifestyles we’re living allow us to detach from the trash,” she said.

Women from the MOOP squad walked though the crowd. One of them spotted something: a glass bottle lying in the pristine grass. “Garbage! We have a MOOP emergency!,” one of the woman cried. Several MOOPERS ran over to the offending bottle and positioned themselves around the offending object, posing like synchronized swimmers. One of the women picked up the bottle dramatically with her trash grabber. “Put it in the trash, people!” she cried and walked through the crowd brandishing the bottle at the end of her orange garbage stick.

Over near the new bathrooms, people lined up to get headphones for the silent disco. “It’s a new way of enjoying music that is intimate, yet includes everyone at the same time, ” said Amy Miles, wife of the founder John Miles. The silent disco has been a “fantastic solution” to the issue of excessive noise, she said.

“We want to bring the music, and yet there are neighbors, and there are hours we have to respect.” The disco was supposed to start at 3:00, but by 3:29, there was still a line of would-be dancers waiting for their headphones. “You had to have RSVP’d a few weeks ago,” explained Ryan Kimura to a few disappointed women.

Asked when the silent disco would start, he pointed to a group of people wearing headsets. “The headphones are out , but you can see a bunch of folks who are just hanging out. It’s going to take that one person to start the dancing and then it’s going to just go off.”

Most people seemed more interested in taking their pictures wearing the headsets than dancing : apparently the novelty of a silent disco hasn’t worn off yet in San Francisco. A woman wearing the headphones took three selfies in a row, pouting differently each time. But not everyone was resisting the siren call of the silent disco. A older man, heavy-set and bearlike, shambled gently to the beats, shuffling his feet and moving his body to the silent music, oblivious to the excited chatter on the lawn or the rumble of the J-Church behind him. Bathed in the sunlight and wispy fog of the sunny afternoon in the park, he danced.

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