I don't much like Valentine's Day. But it seems like San Francisco agrees with me, because February 14th in the city features an enormous pillow fight at Justin Herman Plaza, opposite the Ferry Building near Embarcadero. 2013 was the eighth annual incarnation of the event, where hundreds of people gather to hit on strangers with things other than bad pick-up lines.
The fight was due to start at six o'clock sharp, so we left Berkeley clutching our pillows at 5pm (yes, it takes that long to get to San Francisco from Berkeley, even though you can see the city just over the Bay). It was entertaining playing "spot the fellow pillow fighters" on the train; we would exchange sheepish nods in acknowledgement of the shared hilarity of the situation. By the time we passed Oakland and entered the TransBay tunnel, several other people had gotten into the carriage with pillows. We stood out even amongst these because one of our party was in the process of fashioning pillow armour: taping pillows to his arms and legs.
We made it to the plaza just in time, and were faced with the hilarious sight of hundreds of people milling around with pillows at the ready. Some had come prepared with face masks, scarves, and ski goggles, whilst others had come in costumes. We spotted Captain America and a cow in amongst the crowd.
Six o'clock came and the pillows began flying. Hundreds of complete strangers, indiscriminately swinging their fluffy weapons of war at each other and laughing all the while. Many people had unwisely brought feather pillows rather than synthetic ones; the feathered variety would burst quickly and spray their contents all over people and the plaza. Soon, the tiled ground resembled a winter wonderland, and the air was full of white. It was hard to avoid swallowing the flying fluff; I think I was still coughing up feathers later that evening, and picking them out of my shoes and clothes.
The sun set and the night lights came on. The field of war lapsed into darkness, and the attacks became even more random. People waded through the crowd, swinging their pillows at anyone or anything in their path. Surprisingly enough, some of the roughest participants were tiny little children, dressed in caps and hoods, screaming at the tops of their lungs as they sprinted through legs, thwacking at will. Some people with evident anger management issues were in the crowd; some strikes were definitely more venomous than others. But the vast majority of people were taking the event in the right spirit: swinging with some force, but always with a smile on their face.
Purportedly, the event cost the San Francisco Department of Public Works $5000 to clean up (an affair that mostly involves hoovering up feathers and picking up discarded pillow carcasses). Thankfully, they don't seem too miffed at the deliberate mess, saying that the event is becoming a regular part of the San Francisco Valentine's Day experience. I can certainly say that it's the strangest, yet most entertaining experience I've had on February 14th.