Sunday, August 8, 1:30 p.m.
The 26th annual CityFest sees a bustling Fifth Avenue blocked off to vehicle traffic from University to Brookes with 250-plus vendors, 150,000-plus attendees, and lines extending out the door of every bar on the block. The street fair, organized by the Hillcrest Business Association, is a celebration of the Hillcrest sign, which was originally put up in 1940. Over the years, the sign fell into disrepair and was taken down in 1983, until community members raised over $4000 to restore and relight the iconic marker on August 26, 1984. Every year since, the community has gathered for a symbolic relighting of the sign in order to celebrate this unique and vibrant San Diego neighborhood.
San Diego’s “Queen of Boogie Woogie,” Sue Palmer, plays the main stage on University to a crowd of khaki-shorted middle-agers, babies on shoulders in weed-wacker earmuffs, scantily clad dudes with tattoos and nipple piercings, and women in summer dresses shaking hips on the intersection pavement. Amid vendors of Eastern knickknacks, shaved ice, psychic services, funnel cake, lawn gnomes, hippie garb, Egyptian bed sheets, pickled garlic, reflexology, bacon-wrapped hotdogs, vegan propaganda, luchador masks, and brotein powder, an elderly woman in a wheelchair plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the violin while Equality California volunteers recruit supporters with talk of the Supreme Court and the-fight’s-not-over-yet.
At Fifth and Brookes, kids and parents decorate paper bags with ribbons and glitter at the Rad Hatter tent. A DJ plays “Everybody Dance Now” as a nauseating carnival ride spins in the sunshine. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a self-described “leading-edge order of queer nuns,” roam the streets laughing in white face paint and custom nun habits. A Michael Jackson impersonator snaps photos with smiling passers-by and a man with a fanny pack says, “One dollar, that’s one dollar, please!”
I go for a cocktail at the sweaty, shirtless dungeon of the Brass Rail. “I’ve always wanted to live in San Diego,” Robert tells me on the patio. He just moved to University Heights from Ann Arbor, Michigan, which he describes as “the seat of liberalism.” “It used to be a $5 fine for possession of marijuana,” Robert says. “Now it’s up to $25.”
Around 6 p.m. at the stage, Burning of Rome front man Adam looks like a rogue Boy Scout in green shorts, tall red socks, and Black Flag T-shirt. Famous for their anarchic stage presence, I wonder what Adam and barefoot guitarist Joe will find to swing on and fall off of this time. A few songs in, Joe breaks one of the decorative Styrofoam skulls over his head, tossing the jaw over his shoulder. Joe and Adam leap into the audience, writhing on the pavement while drunk middle-aged couples take photos with the busted skull.
I have a couple Eel River Acai beers at Pizza Fusion and then hit the beer garden, where the San Diego Drinking Team chugs Coors and girls toss softballs at the Dunk a Drag tank.
“Let’s put our hands together for Judge Walker for overturning Prop. 8,” says county supervisor Ron Roberts. Instead of relighting the sign this year, Roberts, city councilmember Todd Gloria, congresswoman Susan Davis, and MC Laura Jane introduce Hillcrest the Motion Picture, a film depicting revelers at the local bars, the art walk, the farmers’ market, and clips of the day’s celebration.
My roommate Marcus and I go for soup at Pho Fifth Avenue. The bathroom door is locked and from inside a man says, “Wait a minute! My husband and I are having a moment!”
Only in Hillcrest. ■
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Chad Deal.