I started a load of laundry around 8:30 last night and had time to kill until it was done. Spur of the moment, I decided to fire up HBO GO and revisit an old episode of the Sopranos. I’d absolutely loved the show the first time and figured episode one, season three wasn’t a bad place to dive back in.
The intro sequence began. And just as it had nearly a decade before, the song worked its way into my head. “Woke up this morning got yourself a gun…” When I finally went to bed a few hours later, that chorus was still playing on a loop between my ears.
…and it was still there when I woke up at 5 am.
Two cups of coffee later, I was strolling through the early-morning streets of North Beach when I heard a distant, drunken voice singing.
“Mamaaaa, just killed a man…Put a gun against his head, pulled theeee trigger, now he’s dead!” It gave me the creeps. As a former Midwesterner and friend of outdoorsmen, I’ve always tried to dodge the gun debate, but this particular set of circumstances felt strange to me. It wasn’t just a dude sitting in the dark singing about hurting people at 6:15 am. It was a moment that stopped me in my tracks and left me contemplating culture, violence and how quickly I needed to get the hell out of there. Queen fan or not, it was time to move along.
Music-wise, I suppose it’s nothing a little Vince Geraldi can’t fix. Culture-wise, well, that fix is a whole lot more complicated.
All debate aside, take care and beware of what might get stuck in your head. If you’re up for it, try a little tenderness.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, the homeless population in San Francisco seems to be perpetually on the rise. Whether it’s mental illness, drug abuse, skyrocketing rent prices or simply the fact that the weather is fairly mild all year long, there are people living on the streets around every corner. As a dog walker and neighborhood wanderer, Woody the dog and I are often up early and out late which leads to a number of encounters with the unfortunate.
It was a quarter past nine last night when we decided to make our way around our picturesque block. I was looking out toward the moonlight over the Bay Bridge, when I noticed a plastic bag with battery-powered Christmas lights glowing inside and a backpack tossed in the middle of the sidewalk. I pulled the leash tight as the silhouette of a man digging in the trash can came into view.
An attempt to show respect for the fact that the sidewalk would be the man’s bed for the night, we kept our distance. Woody stayed quiet. I tried not to stare. Then, unexpectedly, he popped out of the can and looked our direction. I worried for a moment we may have startled him. I prepared to be yelled at.
“HAPPY THANKSGIVING!” he exclaimed with a burst of energy and enthusiasm.
A whole wave of emotions came over me. All the typical middle-class impulses. I should give him money. I could arrange a Thanksgiving dinner for him. Maybe cover a motel room for the night. Fifteen different scenarios popped into my mind. But instead, I kept walking. I told him to have a good night. Perfectly lame. Perfectly benign.
While he’s probably forgotten about the encounter, it made quite an impression on me. And with that, I say HAPPY THANKSGIVING! May we all have the wisdom to appreciate what we have.
We paid the rent early this month to make a good impression on the new landlord. All the utilities are covered. No one is after me for anything that I can think of. I’m sitting on the second story of a temperature-controlled, luxury bus on its way to a campus full of friendly faces and free food. It all seems damn near perfect.
Then I spot the first desperate homeless person of the day. Using the sidewalk as a bed and the trashcan nearby as a pantry, I wonder where he came from and how it all came to this.
Right on cue, a parade of Uber commuters come into sight. Each cheap four-door sedan is the same—the passengers are elbow-to-elbow in the backseat staring at their phones while the driver silently dodges other Uber drivers’ angry maneuvers. It seems someone is always getting screwed in our “sharing” economy.
And the scene wouldn’t be complete without a swath of tourists aiming their sparkling new iPhones toward a row of palm trees planted along the Embarcadero. Each of them tries to capture the Instagram shot that will define their time away from home. Their time in a place where the homeless are part of the landscape, Ubers outnumber daily drivers, and a lucky guy sits on the second story of a fancy bus and watches it all unfold.
Our neighborhood is almost as dog friendly as it is people friendly. Which means we don’t have to stay home to spend an evening with Woody. This leads to all sorts of local adventures involving food, drink and light-hearted socialization. This is how we met Jeff.
An older, distinguished individual wearing a corduroy sport coat, Jeff first got acquainted with Woody. I shared the brief saga of the purebred black lab abandoned at the pound in Missouri and the conversation lead to various personal stories on both sides of the table. It wasn’t long until we discovered we were both Midwestern transplants who fell in love with San Francisco. Then we transitioned into what-do-you-do-for-a-living part of the talk and discovered that we’d both relocated to pursue copywriting gigs. At that point, we were both obviously delighted by the fact that even with over 30 years difference in age, we’d had such similar experiences.
There was a pause in the conversation as we checked in with our respective tables. Then Jeff leaned forward as if he had a secret to share. He lowered his voice slightly.
“But you know what really shocked me the most when I moved to San Francisco…,” he asked with a slight grin.
A million things ran through my head as I considered my own experience.
“…every single apartment I looked at, there were NO screens on the windows, I couldn’t believe I’d moved to a place where there were no mosquitos coming in! It was amazing.”
And that’s when I knew I’d crossed paths with a true Midwesterner with a genuine appreciation for how special this place really is.
If a city is similar to a living thing, what do you do when they start to turn on you? When strange new outfits made of steel and glass are quietly unveiled? When their attitude shifts from come on in to get the fuck out of my way? When a warm embrace becomes a careful negotiation and a $25 credit check? SF, my love, you’ve always had problems, but when did you become so interested in entertaining all your rich friends?
I’ve got my eye on you, but you probably didn’t notice because you were scrolling through selfies on your phone and your ears were plugged with white buds. You’re so beautiful—just don’t forget those who were there for you during the awkward stages and still supported you after your .com phase.
It’ll be OK. When the others follow the empty promises of better lives in another city or suburb, I hope you know I’ll still be here engulfed in the smell of your eucalyptus perfume, exploring the neighborhoods of your soul and enjoying your panoramic points of view.