Thousands of disappointed spectators slowly left Justin Herman Plaza around 4 p.m. today after learning the Olympic torch relay had been rerouted secretly through other parts of the city to a gala closing ceremony whose location was switched at the last minute.
City officials made the changes because of security concerns that began with the chaotic protests of China's occupation of Tibet and its support of Sudan that were held in London and Paris. The protests that began here Tuesday only heightened city officials' concerns.
"Closing ceremonies were held at Crissy Field in the Presidio 20 minutes ago. What you all doing just standing here?" one man asked various groups, including a cluster of TV news cameramen poised to roll in Justin Herman Plaza, the announced site of the closing ceremonies.
Word-of-mouth traveled from car radios and via cell phone calls from friends in other parts of the city. At one point, it was reported that the runners were picked up early in the run by a bus and not sighted for half an hour; they were later spotted unannounced on several streets.
Word spread they would be transferred to a ferry and arrive at the Embarcadero, after all, for closing ceremonies as scheduled.
But disappointment was not the only reaction, as the band played on in the plaza, as if this were just another festival.
Ping, a woman from Beijing who now works in San Francisco, was very happy to have spent the day supporting the Olympics in China.
"I plan to go to the Games," she said, "since I go home every summer to see my parents."
Not seeing the torch "did not matter," she said. The important thing was to show support for the Games in China. Many other Chinese-Americans shared her feelings.
Tsering Lama, 23, who works for Students for Free Tibet, also was pleased with the way the day ended up.
"It's been a huge success. Exactly what we wanted," Lama said. "The huge popular reaction forced the route to be changed. The Chinese government has been denied the celebratory parade they wanted in San Francisco. Instead, they've met with a loud statement by protesters against China's human rights abuses."
Debra Benedict, a minister and social engineer in San Francisco, also called the outcome a success.
"The torch relay was canceled for San Francisco. Not by China, not by Tibet, not by Mayor [Gavin] Newsom," Benedict said. "The [International Olympic] Committee realizes they have a nightmare on their hands. The world knows what's going on in China, in Tibet, in the Sudan and all their human rights atrocities."
"It was good to be here," she said. "A nonviolent, beautiful day."