Tale of a City: Burrowing pains


The Tenderloin isn’t so bad early in the morning.

At the most productive time of day, 10 a.m., it can actually be quite pleasant, so long as you’re walking through with the intent of leaving it. In the Tenderloin at night, there are no sights for your eyes to hold and so they’re glued to the sidewalk: Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes here in the city’s toilet should know to always watch where you step.

As for the people? When I moved to the Tenderloin, I was determined to look at things optimistically and without judgment. I figured the homeless, drug-addicted, cold and wandering crowd that this neighborhood’s known for gets enough of a bad rap from everyone else. They’re just human beings like the rest of us. A bit nutty, a bit shabby, but harmless. But it’s only been a couple of months. Perhaps the time will come when getting yelled at, in my face, to “Watch where you’re going, punk ass bitch!” will feel more like a drag than a rite of passage.

“San Francisco is an outrageously dirty town,” Anthony Bourdain once affectionately said. He was right. That’s why we love it here.

Given all my optimism, I am still sad for this city.

Bourdain was also right about San Francisco’s heaviest burdens and pitfalls.

“Right now, there’s a struggle for the soul of the city going on as battalions of techies engorged with tech bucks invade, driving rents up and infusing perfectly good coffee with pumpkin flavor.”

A struggle for the soul of San Francisco is the best way to describe it. There’s a battle brewing quietly under our noses, and the ones who see it best are the ones on the losing side. I am sad for this city because it doesn’t hold that glittering future that it once held for us, the ones on the losing side. The way things are now, there are only a select, blessed few who can make it here; the rest of us are doomed to live the rest of our lives either just scraping by, or somewhere else entirely.

I see them, too — the ones who are here to stay and live here and make it. I see them in the upscale coffee shops and in their comfortable apartments they don’t have to share. What they have is so simple, so enviable: Space. They can move around the city knowing there is space for them here, and they have the freedom to choose how to create and occupy these spaces, how to live their lives, how to plan for their future. These are the simple things that everyone wants. It’s not their fault.

For now, I am content with my own space. I’ve burrowed into my own little hole and I’m preparing to explore San Francisco from the ground up, one wretched Muni bus at a time. I’ve only just begun making my rounds through neighborhood coffee shops in my spare time, memorizing street names and listening in on conversations.

When I am alone I become overly conscious of my movements. I turn off all other senses except for sight and I look through my eye sockets, feeling detached from but caged within my own body, observing the world from the inside out. This is essential. You never belong to a city until you have experienced it alone.

I am happy here now. You can say you truly know a city when you begin to resent it. Once you’ve made enough memories there that it becomes a part of you and you of it, and you start to see parts of yourself reflected back to you, especially parts of you that you don’t like — that’s when you can officially say you belong here.


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