How I See San Francisco: SF Pride Community Grand Marshal Mrs. Vera
Mrs. Vera was originally a character created by David Faulk and his partner, Michael Johnstone, to honor the spirit of the many creative people they had lost to the AIDS epidemic. The character expanded over the years, through a determined lens of vibrancy, humor, craft, and joy.
Now, more than 50 costumed revelers march in concert with Verasphere, wearing whimsical, colorful creations built from unexpected, non-traditional materials. Verasphere has marched in the SF Pride Parade every year since 1995, entertaining the crowds in support of local agencies such as The LGBTQ Center, the SPCA, The San Francisco Library's Bookmobile, and Shanti, encouraging people to experiment with their own creativity.
Mrs. Vera has been honored as a Community Grand Marshal for San Francisco Pride 2019. Here, Mrs. Vera shares some thoughts on SF Pride, San Francisco, and tips for visitors.
Who is Mrs. Vera?
Mrs. Vera is a lady (usually) nonconformist, who encourages others to embrace and explore their creative capacity in order to fully appreciate their time on this planet. One of her goals for the next millennium, for which she intends to use every single iota of drag ability she possesses to pass—flawlessly—for just one day as human.
What should we expect from this year’s Pride Celebration?
A sea of joyful diversity swirls around any visitor lucky enough to be here during the Pride Celebration. People from all walks of life put aside their differences and come together to enjoy each other's company for no better reason than realizing homophobia is a colossal waste of time and energy that makes you look ignorant, provincial, and lame.
What they can expect from the portion of the celebration containing Mrs. Vera and The Verasphere Group is a massive number of kaleidoscopic, psychedelic costumes, made up of colorful bits of lost toys and memories and soon-to-be-outlawed plastic bits reconfigured into wearable art. Wherever you are at Pride, you will see people celebrating their uniqueness, and supporting others in theirs, while having a blast doing it.
How can a new visitor best experience Pride weekend?
Get up early and get downtown before the crowds. If you run into a contingent or some people you like, ask if you can join them for the march. It's a completely different experience to be in the parade, as opposed to watching it. And wear the craziest thing you can talk yourself into. You will not regret it!
How do you feel about San Francisco's reputation as a welcoming destination?
It's definitely a city wherein one of our collective values is helping others feel accepted. If you are lost or looking for something, you won't be for long.
Is there a great place, other than Pride, to see San Francisco's welcoming spirit in action?
I really like the diner Orphan Andy's, which is next to Twin Peaks bar, right at the corner of Castro and 17th streets. Orphan Andy's is from the 1970s, is always decorated to the nines, and has fabulous long-term staff. Both are great places to watch the scene in the Castro stroll by.
Where else might we find Mrs. Vera soon?
I'm honored to be a Community Grand Marshal in this year's Pride parade, having attended in costume with an ever-growing group every year for the past quarter century. If you miss us there, we have a short documentary about my partner and I and our troop called "Verasphere: A Love Story In Costume" in this year's Frameline LGBT film festival. Check out their schedule for some terrific programming. And if you miss that, I believe KQED will be airing the film in the beginning of August.
Is there a new LGBTQ location or event in the city you’re excited about?
The Farmer's Market in the Castro is a couple years old, but it is a wonderfully chill weekly market with a real neighborhood vibe. If you are here in October, the awesomely talented local film director Peaches Christ is producing a haunted house experience, The Terror Vault, in a great building, the Old Mint, that is full of scares and thrills with a queer bent and amazing production values!
Other than Pride, what's your favorite annual event in the city?
What is a must-see part of the city for visitors?
Spend some time in Golden Gate Park. There are so many different things worth doing there: the Arboretum, the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Japanese Tea Garden all offer different experiences within walking distance of each other. Go up to the Hamon Observation Tower of the de Young Museum (it's free!) for a spectacular view of the city.
You’re known for creative, subversive performance. Where can visitors best see San Francisco's counter-culture?
You can do no better than to see one of Peaches Christ's movie parody plays held about once a month or so at the Castro Theatre. These productions are wildly popular for good reason. The shows are whip-smart, campy, and pure theater of the absurd, full of local talent and the most hilarious drag queens.
If the timing doesn't work for a Peaches Production, do not worry. Oasis is where you'll find the most outrageous and fun drag/drag adjacent shows and performers. It's queer-owned and programmed by two of San Francisco's most talented entrepreneur queens, Heklina and Darcy Drollinger.
Do you have any favorites among the city’s more traditional arts and culture scene?
The Musée Mécanique down at Fisherman's Wharf is a real curiosity, full of Victorian-era automaton machines. It's great for bored teenagers sick of their parents, because it's loud and inexplicable and weird.
Do you have a favorite day trip out of the city to recommend?
The Pinball Museum in Alameda and the Oakland Museum are wonderful ways to spend a day. I also love the Charles M. Schulz Museum (of comic strip "Peanuts" fame) up in Santa Rosa, housed in a beautiful, serene complex. I hear a lot of people go to visit the many California wineries up there, too.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in the city?
I have had many of my favorite meals at Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro. The food is prepared so beautifully. I'm allergic to shellfish, so all I can ever order is the fish special of the day or their Caesar salad, which is the best Caesar salad.
What's one item still on your San Francisco bucket list?
I only have a few months left to do this, because Beach Blanket Babylon is closing at the end of the year, but that's at the top of my list.
Any last advice for visitors to San Francisco?
Keep tipping your drag queens. They spend that money locally—mostly on more drag, for you.