On a sunny fall Friday, smack in the middle of November, the city of San Francisco transformed itself into Gotham City. Substitute Gotham’s fictional neighborhoods and haunts like the East End for San Francisco’s Tenderloin, and think of Alcatraz as nothing but a stand-in for Blackgate Penitentiary — or even Arkham Asylum. Somewhere in the city, by the Bay’s Financial District, you might even find the headquarters of Wayne Enterprises.
The reason the fictional Gotham City, primarily accepted as located somewhere on America’s Northeast Coast, found itself transported to Northern California is because of one young individual named Miles, and his yearning to become Gotham’s famed protector. Since the start of the 1980s, the Make-A-Wish organization has been granting wishes of children faced with life-threatening medical conditions, enriching the human spirit with hope and strength. By the end of 2013, the foundation’s Greater Bay Area chapter alone will have granted 350 wishes.
It was toward the close of October that word got out about Miles’ Batman wish, and the organization’s plans to make that a reality became public. It was pretty simple, really — a few people got wind of Make-A-Wish’s plans and shared them on various social media channels. Local media outlets began to pick up on the news, and soon enough, the young man’s wish became national knowledge.
Five year-old Miles Scott, of Tulelake, California, had been battling leukemia since he was a year old. Just last month, the medical port that was inserted into his chest for cancer treatment was finally removed, and he is finally in remission. That he also started kindergarten this year is no small feat, either.
According to the Make-A-Wish Bay Area chapter’s Executive Director, Patrica Wilson, the planning of this momentous day began in March, with Miles’ family suggesting his wish happen in November.
“He’s in remission now, and has energy. Had he been going through chemotherapy, it would not have been the best time. The beauty is that he’s had his wish to look forward to, which has helped him through the dark times of treatment,” Wilson said. “Because we had been planning it for so long, he would ask his mom, “‘When am I gonna be Batman?'”
Wilson, who has been the point-person for Miles’ Batman wish, is quick to point out that all of the wishes they grant are just as important as Miles’ big day in Gotham City. “My favorite headlines that I’ve seen have been ‘elaborate scheme.’ I thought, all of our wishes are elaborate schemes, even if it’s to visit Disneyland. We make that a special experience so that the child gets a chance to meet a special character — we tailor that wish to the child’s needs. They might have their favorite kind of food. They might have their favorite kind of drink, for when the volunteers throw an enhancement party.”
While Miles’ wish is certainly no more or no less detailed than any other wish, it was undeniably very unique. So just how did Make-A-Wish go about unfolding Miles’ wish on the big day?
For starters, Batman himself enlisted Miles’ aid when a damsel in distress needed rescuing on a cable car track in the Nob Hill neighborhood, having been tied up there by none of then the Riddler. Afterwards, Batkid and Batman raced to the Financial District after getting word that the Riddler was attempting a robbery inside of a bank vault. Luckily, the Bat-pairing raced their Batmobiles (Yes, Batmobiles — as in two) to the vault just in time. The Batmobiles were in fact Lamborghinis with the black Bat and yellow shield emblazoned on the hoods and door panels, and professional drivers behind the wheel of each Bat-vehicle.
After apprehending the Riddler, and escorting him to one of Gotham City’s old-fashioned paddy wagons, Miles’ family and the Bat-duo had a little lunch at Burger Bar. The restaurant, located on the fifth floor of the women’s Macy’s building, overlooks Union Square Park, which at this time of year is decorated with an ice-rink and giant Christmas tree in the center. However, also on the street below was the infamous Penguin, commencing his plot to kidnap the San Francisco Giants’ beloved mascot, Lou Seal. Ever the aiding public, a flash mob had gathered, and warned Batkid of what was transpiring. Lunch was cut short, and Batkid and Batman hurried downstairs to get to their Batmobiles to follow the Penguin. Naturally, when they came outside, the dynamic duo were greeted with loud cheers. Eventually, their pursuit of the fowl and the seal led them to AT&T Park. From there, our heroes chased the Penguin through numerous obstacles located around the stadium’s Promenade level — most notably through a cable car, all the way down the Coco-Cola bottle slide and then to the miniature ballpark, where they found Lou Seal tied in a cage. After capturing the offending Penguin and freeing the kidnapped seal, Batkid was invited to City Hall for Mayor Ed Lee to bestow a most precious honor to Batkid for all of his accomplishments: The key to the city.
At the Mayor’s Presentation, every time young Miles addressed the crowd, it was with one arm outstretched as if in victory. But, coupled with the stoic look on his face, it was also a gesture of defiance and unwavering resolve.
In the two weeks since the Make-A-Wish organizers announced their plans, and the collective hearts of everyone across the Internet burst because of it, over 10,000 people, give or take a couple thousand, filled out an RSVP invite to join the flash mob celebration at either Union Square, City Hall, or both.
For Wilson and her team, the magic number when recruiting volunteers for a public wish, is 200 people. “Usually, that’s about the size that I need to make it feel like it’s enough,” Wilson said. “We’ve done it many times before — a famous singer, when we’ve done a crowd. But never has it gone viral before.”
The crowds that followed Batkid and Batman as they performed their good-deeds throughout the city grew at a gradual pace from one stop to the next. A sizable, yet still relatively small gathering of people, assembled to see Batkid rescue the damsel in distress. Upon their arrival in Financial District to battle the Riddler, Batkid and Batman were greeted by an even larger number of people already standing on the surrounding corners of Montgomery and Clay, just outside the Transamerica Building. On Geary Street in between Stockton and Powell Streets at Union Square, the pair were met by a flash-mob of roughly 10,000 strong. With sightlines of the heroes in action somewhat obstructed, some Bat-revelers opted for a real bird’s-eye view, watching the proceedings through the windows at Macy’s. Every event throughout the day really felt as if this was something out of a classic super hero tale. Massive crowds gathered everywhere, hoping for a glimpse of their hero in action, and feeling inspired as they left each scene. The fact that local news stations broadcasted the day’s events on a live stream — breaking news if you will — added a whole other level of depth.
Aside from the actual festivities, people have sent care packages for Miles, consisting of letters of support and admiration, comic books from local comic shops and even artwork. Comic illustrator Graham Nolan sent in a piece of art that he drew depicting Miles as Batkid battling the villainous Bane, a character he co-created.
Wilson was particularly touched by the fact that a retired couple from Ohio booked a flight to San Francisco once they heard about Miles’ story, just so they could be present and share in the celebration. East Bay Area resident Robert Deene, an instructional developer in JAVA and HTML coding and avid comic book reader, was equally moved by Miles’ tale. “It’s an amazing story. The kid gets to be Batman for a day, and we get to turn San Francisco in Gotham. As a comic fan, I just couldn’t resist.”
Robbie Stark and Marcus Solis of San Jose in the South Bay made the hour-long drive into the city. Although they aren’t big comic book readers, the two wanted to show their support for the event. “It’s for such a great cause. It really tugs on your heart strings,” said Stark. “We played hookie from work,” Solis said. “It was worth it,” Stark added, smiles on both their faces.
“Obviously, it’s struck a nerve. First of all, he’s adorable,” Wilson said, with a smile of her own. “The wish is something that resonates with everyone. Everybody wanted to be a superhero when they were a kid. It’s something that everyone can relate to.
“I don’t think it would happen anywhere else,” she continued, explaining why San Francisco was the perfect location for the big event. “I don’t know that you’ve seen some of the Twitter comments, but some are saying, ‘This is the best thing to happen to the city,’ or, ‘This is why I love San Francisco.’ I just think people need something good to happen, and I think people just want to do something positive. This is a positive use of social media. To get behind a kid who is fighting a very adult battle in cancer, I think everyone can identify that.”
Photos by Joey Panglinan