21 August 2007

Running the gauntlet…

Blane and I are currently living in a nice fourth-floor apartment in a not-so-nice neighborhood of strip clubs, single occupancy hotels, methadone clinics... and every type of crazy person you could ever think of.

These people aren’t friendly hobos or tramps. They are hard-core mentally disturbed homeless. They are shambling unmedicated wrecks whose lives on the street are punctuated by incarceration.

And it’s a big shock to my little suburban soul.

Homelessness in San Francisco is about as bad as it gets in any developed city. Every night I can look from my window and see a least five people sleeping on the footpath across the street. Sometimes they have real spring-coil mattresses with sheets and pillows and it looks like they’ve been transplanted from a bedroom somewhere. Although, more often I see people lying as they dropped after loosing consciousness, sprawled face down on the footpath.

There’s always a crowd on the street. People just hanging around, swearing, urinating (and once I saw a guy defecating), drinking, vomiting, smoking, smoking crack (butane lighters is the sign… look at me, mum! I’m becoming streetwise!), and yelling a lot. Yelling at each other, or just plain yelling at the world.

Everyday when I walk the short distance from this neighborhood to downtown SF it feels like running a gauntlet. Mostly I’m just dodging people asking for money, but sometimes bored groups of guys like to tease the girl who blushes easily.

“Excuse me, sister?”


“Do you like tall ugly black men?”

So I generally avoid all eye-contact and refuse to acknowledge when people speak to me. But this backfires sometimes when I pass a person and hear them trailing off, “…got a light?” or “…way to Sixth Street?” Because the crazy thing is this area of town is a major thoroughfare with the subway passing right through it. It contains important landmarks such as the city’s town hall, opera house, farmer’s market and main library. So you also see tourists with giant suitcases and people in suits going to work… all doing the head-down march through Crazytown.

I asked Blane this morning what he thought he had learnt about humanity from living in this place.

He replied, ‘Stay off drugs and always take your medication.’

I guess I’m not in Cheltenham anymore.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a common place thing, but burn burn burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars”. Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Kerouac was a romantic fool!!!!


Puss In Boots said...

This is what I fear most about travelling overseas at the end of next year. Culture clash. I think I've been sheltered too long.

Dot said...

well, i suppose it's nice to be shocked occasionally too...
a good punch in the gut reminds you why you left home in the first place.