I was born in San Francisco, as was my mother before me, her mother before her and her mother before her. We have all seen San Francisco change in our lifetimes: it's a frequent topic for my mother and me.
"If I nearly get mowed down when I'm on assignment by one more commuter shuttle..." I'll start a gripe to Mom.
"There aren't any Italians left in the old neighborhood in North Beach!" She'll sigh in exasperation. Then we'll both sing a verse of the nouveau San Francisco blues and finish off with a rousing "carpetbaggers are ruining this town" chorus.
But not today.
When I heard the news a few weeks ago that the hero known to the world as "Batkid" was getting his day in cape and cowl I knew that, for all the changes to my fair city, there was something important about the spirit of San Francisco that remained intact.
For those of you who haven't been following the story, the boy behind Batkid's mask is Miles, a five-year-old leukemia survivor (Miles finished his treatment in June and is in remission) from Tulelake, California. When the Make-a-Wish Foundation asked Miles what he wanted most in the world he said "I want to be Batkid."
When the news broke that San Francisco would be transforming itself into Gotham City for the day to make Miles wish come true, it went national and the entire city got in on the act. Police Chief Greg Suhr appeared on morning local news asking if anyone knew the where-abouts of Batkid; San Francisco, excuse me, Gotham City needed his help. With Penguin and the Riddler on the loose, Batman and Batkid flew into action, in matching Lamborghini Batmobiles. First, Batman and Batkid rescued a damsel in distress tied to the cable car tracks at Hyde and Green, next they foiled the Riddler in a heist in the Financial District. Batkid's lunch in Union Square was interrupted by a flashmob dancing to the bat-theme song and the Penguin's kidnapping of Giant's mascot Lou Seal (and his rescue at AT&T Park.) The day wrapped up with Batkid receiving the key to the city at City Hall. Streets were closed, police motorcades accompanied the heroes throughout their journey and crowds of gleeful "Gothamites" with homemade signs ("Keep Calm and Call Batkid" was a favorite) greeted Miles at every turn. Even the San Francisco Chronicle (a childhood institution I'm proud to be a contributor to) got in on the act printing a special "Gotham City Chronicle" with stories by Clark Kent, Lois Lane and photos by Peter Parker. For the record, KQED is another childhood institution of mine and I suggested that we rename ourselves "Gotham Public Broadcasting" for the Day.
That the city and its citizens have been so overwhelmingly committed to making Batkid's day special doesn't surprise me. For all the differences between new and old San Francisco, transplants and natives, neighborhood rifts and all the other ways we find to separate ourselves from each other, this is a place that loves to dress up and pretend. We started the Summer of Love and Burning Man, the annual pageantry of our Halloweens and Bay to Breakers remain legendary and we take Gay Pride very seriously. We're also a city that knows how to lend a helping hand, whether it be pulling each other out of the rubble of the Loma Priata quake, fighting for the rights of our fellow citizens with mass gay marriages before the law would allow or taking to the streets to protest all manners of injustice against our communities. Today, when we had the opportunity to help make a little boy who fought a terrible disease with grownup bravery feel like the hero he is, we were there. By becoming Gothamites for a day, we were our best San Franciscans.
"This could only happen here," was a commonly overheard theme at each venue.
"We heard about San Francisco being different from our friends," a couple visiting from Italy commented in Union Square -- "but this is something else."
"No one can say people in San Francisco don't know what's important," the mother of another Make-a-Wish survivor shared with me as the crowds began to head over to the ballpark. "He's going to remember this day the rest of his life and all the good people can do."
As a kid, Batman was one of my heroes too. I was reduced to the excitement of a five year-old more than once and found my reporter's resolve slipping as I cheered Batkid with the masses. I was moved as people came together like we had won another World Series and I felt real pride in my hometown as Batkid's cowl failed to conceal the ear to ear smile on Miles's face. Today, we didn't just jump head first into make-believe (a local tradition) to make one little boy's dream come true: we also cast international attention on a charity that has made it its mission to fulfill the dreams of thousand of brave children facing the toughest battles of their lives. Batman is still my hero, and today Batkid joined him in that pantheon along with the citizens who took the time to make his day so memorable.
I've always loved being able to call myself a San Franciscan, even though for just one day, I was able to fulfill a childhood dream of my own and live in Gotham City.
Check out tweets and pictures from Batkid's adventure below:
Miles’s day, sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will start at 10 a.m. at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Union Square. Here’s how Make-A-Wish describes what’s scheduled to happen there: “San Francisco’s Police Chief will ask if anyone knows the whereabouts of Batkid. The city needs his help to fight crime and capture villains! Our little Batkid, along with Batman, will be ready to answer the call!”
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*Editor's note: We have removed Batkid's last name from this piece as it appears that his family does not wish it to be shared.*