We decided to enjoy a Sunday afternoon at Stern Grove. I had always heard about the free concerts, but had never ventured there. Our friends said they would arrive at noon. We aimed to be there at noon as well, even though the concert didn’t start until 2:00 pm. The best laid plans…

We arrived at 1:10 pm. We saw our friends and began navigating the maze of blankets in between us and them, their blanket beckoning us to relax and picnic upon it. We walked along the stone path. We stopped in front of the others that had also been there for a while, enjoying the fresh air and crispness of a San Francisco summer day. No one noticed us. Except. Except for the old lady. Except, upon closer inspection, she wasn’t really that old. But the bitterness that pulsed through her veins aged her. She was obviously upset that we were blocking her view, blocking her view of nothing to see. She finally poked me, the last in the line of several, waiting to rearrange, waiting to take our place on the blanket our friends had spread out earlier, “So. So, I guess it doesn’t pay to come late, now, does it, missy?” I looked at her, shocked. Here very question defied logic. How could we be late? The show didn’t start for at least another hour. Surely she wasn’t complaining? I started to say something when she cut in, “Why don’t you all go to the west meadow?” The west meadow. Where you could hear the music, but not see the stage. I ignored her.

We squeezed in, a dozen of us on a small blanket, laughing, talking, sharing mate. She wasn’t pleased. Her attention, however, had shifted from us to a young family several feet in front of us. The mother and father sat in low lawn chairs, but not low enough for her. She tripped over the blankets spread between us and them, angrily tapped the mother on the shoulder, and insisted they put the chairs away. Evidently they were above Stern Grove regulation height. The young parents looked dumbfounded; their toddler drew closer to them. The old lady continued to point and shake her finger, radiating negativity. The show still had not started. The young couple reluctantly folded their chairs, sat on the blanket, and cradled their little girl.

The music began. The chatter turned to cheers and whoops and undulations. And everyone stood. Stood and moved and danced and enjoyed that feeling of hearing good music, seeing blue skies, and feeling joy. Everyone except the old lady. She remained in her regulation height lawn chair, bitter.

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