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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Everybody Ought to Know about SF

The sun set fifteen minutes ago. Darkness sneaks up on me earlier each day, a result of Daylight Savings Time. The congested bus slows to a stop at Geary and Hyde, where I jump off after pushing my way through the threadbare backpacks and briefcases that crowd the aisle. This is my least favorite time of day to be on the streets of the Tenderloin. So many homeless druggies roam them, begging for dinner.

While I wait nervously at the stoplight, I pull my bright pink BlackBerry from my coat pocket and dial Darren. It’s been a long day at work. With Christmas just around the corner, I’m organizing holiday parties scheduled for every weekend in December. Stacks of menus and credit card authorization forms accumulate on my desk, waiting for me to distribute them to the appropriate people. In the meantime there’s parking to arrange, guest lists to obtain, tables and chairs to order, invoices to send, checks to collect, confirmation cards to sign...


“Excuse me?” A timid, female voice interrupts my thoughts. I spin around.


“Yeah?” I’m casual, and I'm thankful she’s not a bum asking me to spare a few bucks for a McDonald’s hamburger – or a Chevy’s burrito, or a McCormick’s steak. (I’ve heard it all.)


“Do you know this area very well?” She’s an attractive black woman wearing tailored trousers, bright white Adidas, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a marshmallow-shaped vest.

“No,” I lie, not wanting to admit that I do in fact know the area – because I live in it.

“Oh.”

“Well, kinda,” I say, giving in to her pained expression. “What can I do for you?”


“First of all, thank you for answering,” she says, smiling. “Most people just turn and walk the other way when I open my mouth.” Her angelic eyes are soft and innocent, but I wonder how many people she has tried to stop tonight. And why.


“Yeah, I know,” I try to relate, but I can’t. I learned quickly never to talk to – or make eye contact with – anyone I see on this street. (In fact, this morning I ran into a friend on my walk to work, and he hollered my name three times and tapped me on the shoulder before I turned to look at him.)


“Here’s the thing,” she starts. “I moved here a week ago, and my husband disappeared last Tuesday. I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him in thirty-six hours.”

My jaw drops in unison with my heart.


“I’m so sorry,” I offer my kindest tone, even though I’m in a hurry to get home for my Thursday night lineup: Flash Forward, Parks & Recreation, The Office, and Grey’s Anatomy.


“That’s alright, Miss. Do you know of any shelters around here where I can get some food? Or prenatal care?”


Oh, great. She's pregnant too? I list the shelters I know of. She counters each name with an excuse. This one doesn’t offer prenatal help, that one only cares for women in their third trimester. And the one down the block? Is too full to accept anyone else.


“I really don’t know of any more shelters,” I say gently. “I’m sorry.” I truly believe my job here is done. She asked for shelters, and that’s what I gave her. Besides, I can’t remember if I scheduled a recording for Flash Forward, and it’s about to start. I cross the street.


“Could you at least spare some money for dinner?” The woman hurries to catch up with me.


Ah-ha.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash. Not even change.” It’s the truth. I use my change for the bus. Sometimes I even pay the two-dollar fare in pennies.


“Well, there’s an ATM right here,” she grumbles as she points to the money machine we’re standing next to. It's so convenient.

Did she plan this?


“Ugghh,” I growl back.


“Bitch,” she says under her breath, and I’m horrified and embarrassed for listening to her sorry story in the first place. Her eye’s are no longer angelic.

What I ought to know about San Francisco? Is that I’ll get played if I’m not careful.


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  1. This is so true! I lived in SF for a year after graduating from UO and noticed the same thing. I hate it when people are mean to you for not giving them money.

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