In the midst of elections and death the parade of life continues


Last Friday morning was a very busy one in San Francisco, and very little of the discernible activity had anything to do with the election. The election, like Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, seemed very far away on this warm sunny morning on which people were walking around in their shirtsleeves.

As San Francisco’s Democratic volunteers headed to Reno for a last push before polling, the atmosphere in the city was apolitical – even otherworldly. For example, the Apple store on Stockton Street in San Francisco appears to be a sort of temple. It is always full of devotees. So full, in fact, that the first time I went there I thought there was a sale on. The nice members of the Apple staff, in their cobalt blue T-shirts, laughed gently at this. “It’s like this every day,” they said. “In fact, this is calm.” It was more like Arnotts on Christmas Eve.

On Friday morning it was extra full because two new products, the iPad Mini and the iPad 4, were being launched. Piles of small black-and-white boxes were being brought out from the stock room and it looked very possible that both models would sell out.

“Oh hello, you were in before,” said Ron, who served me a fortnight ago when it was just as frantic. We both had to pause briefly to remember the product that was being launched on that day. “The MacBook Pro Retina,” said Ron after a couple of seconds. The extraordinarily good manners of the Apple staff were kind of overwhelming. “Just remind me of your name again,” said Ron, who might share genetic material with Jeeves. He shimmered off to find a manager.

The manager, Chris, could not talk to me either. I needed the public relations people for that and the public relations people had just left. Anyway I had already tried them earlier that morning. The answerphone at the Apple media office really does say this: “If you’re a journalist on a deadline, please press one. If you’re a journalist not on a deadline, please press two.” Funny how they never got back.

Anyway, the Apple store has glass stairs and large white tables where the goods are laid out for you to play with. An extraordinary array of people sweeps through. On my previous visit – last Thursday; I could be a devotee myself – I had been sitting upstairs at a white table with two old men, and the three of us were being kindly but distinctly patronised by polite staff.

One of the old men was Mexican with an iPad, which he had already bought and was looking for help with, and very little English. His Apple assistant wasn’t being that nice to him, I thought. Kind of impatient with him, and it was hard to know if the Mexican man realised this – it is always hard to judge these situations when they are being conducted in a language foreign to you.

Next thing, the two of them were printing something out together. This was a poem, which the old man gave the Apple assistant, who was bowled over. “Thank you for doing something beautiful with it,” said the Apple assistant. The old Mexican man left quickly. “What a beautiful guy,” said the Apple assistant.

He was in his 30s with glasses and the beginnings of a beard. The Apple staff, while uniformly polite, are slightly varied, with beards and dreadlocks and tattoos and piercings and plaid shirtsleeves all worn in addition to the blue T-shirts.

It is said that at one point the late Apple supremo Steve Jobs had wanted all Apple staff, not just those in retail, to wear a uniform. He himself always wore a black top and jeans. An Apple assistant explained that the Stockton Street outlet was not Jobs’s local Apple store: “Steve’s local store was in Palo Alto.”

Friday was the Day of the Dead, in Mexico a pre-Christian feast incorporated into the days of All Saints and All Souls. Down on Mission, the main street in one of the most Hispanic parts of San Francisco, men in straw hats and very tight grey suits were swinging their double basses through the pedestrians. Dia de Los Muertos is a busy time for musicians.

In the cultural centre parties of schoolchildren were being shown around a collection of altars to the dead. Specifically, they were being shown an altar for children. It had a fabric river and an Aztec pyramid, as well as the requisite sugar skulls – calaveras de azúcar – and lots of marigolds, the flower of the dead. The altar backdrop showed two skeletons dressed up as a cowboy and his wife.

Nearby were altars to “A Mom”, as the children’s guide explained, although they might have considered her more of a granny. Her arthritis drugs were on the altar, the whiskey she liked to drink, souvenirs of her teaching career, and so on.

There was an altar to Katelynd Rose Galloway-Smith, who died in a car crash at just 19. There was a wall of memorials made by children, and these included handmade memorials to all the important people: Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and Tupac Shakur. Tonight’s parade starts at 7pm. And all of this will of course go on as usual next year, long after the election is over.

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