When the sun rises on the morning following Dia de los Muertos, it's an affirmation. Our loved ones may be gone. But we are here. We are alive.
And we are slobs.
Department of Public Works crews burning the midnight oil this year gathered copious amounts of beer and liquor bottles, discarded food wrappers, various and sundry paper products, and whatever other detritus managed to fill many large trucks. The definition of "trash" is amorphous; as we know, it may be one man's treasure. For those driving sweeper trucks, however, any unconventional object left on the street takes on the patina of trash.
There is, however, one object even the most hardened trash-hauling DPW worker won't touch: a shrine to the dead. DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon confirmed that dozens of memorials were left untouched in the days following the celebration, and will be respectfully left in place for "up to a month." This is also the department's general rule of thumb regarding impromptu shrines for accident and murder victims cropping up on city streets — "provided they're well-maintained and not blocking public access."
The rules for Garfield Park on 26th and Harrison, the epicenter of Dia de los Muertos, are less permissive. The permits obtained by The Marigold Project from the Recreation and Park Department mandate the lawn be clean by the next morning. Some participants are good about clearing out their altars by 11 p.m. Many aren't; heaps of material are left behind. Some city residents even deposit the ashes of their beloved pets — thereby scattering feline cremains in Garfield Park.
The Marigold Project, the Mission nonprofit behind the event, is unable to indulgently allow discarded shrines to sit for months on end. Quite the opposite: It disposes of shrine components with remarkable care and efficiency. Wooden and cardboard altars are fastidiously recycled and "hundreds and hundreds" of floral bouquets are composted, per organizer Maica Folch.
She personally delivered more than 500 slightly used candles to the Scroungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP) in Bayview. Packaged food is disseminated to local shelters. Cigarettes are awarded to passersby "who like to smoke." And the reams of photographs are gathered into a pile and, eventually, taken to Ocean Beach for a ritualistic burning.
And the many, many bottles of tequila and other spirits left to appease the spirits?
"Those?" Folch says with a laugh. "Those we keep."