I live in the Tenderloin and as anyone who knows San Francisco can attest, this neighborhood has its challenges. I've lived here for five years. Some of my neighbors who've lived here longer think the area has improved in recent years, but I don't share their opinion. In fact, in the seventeen years I've lived in and around the City I think the Tenderloin's gotten worse, largely due to an out-of-control drug trade coupled with a police department that seems incapable or unwilling of doing anything about it.
I live in a really cool art deco hotel that was the first building in San Francisco to be converted into condos. My apartment has an awesome view and I can see 180 degrees from the TransAmerica Pyramid to Twin Peaks.
From the street below I can hear the whistles of the dealers, incredibly loud sirens, people screaming, people yelling incoherently and once in awhile the distinct sound of gunfire.
I can walk out the door of my building and get pretty much any kind of food I want at anytime, most of it well made, tasty and cheap. On the other hand there's a Ruth's Chris, Morton's, and a plethora of this city's best restaurants all within a ten to fifteen minute stroll or less.
I can also buy crack, heroin, weed, hookers of both genders and plenty that are a little of both any time of the day or night. It's an eight block walk to work, eight blocks in the other direction the opera house and six blocks to the top of Nob Hill. There are definitely benefits to be had, no doubt, and the good comes with the bad, right?
But it can disheartening, soul-crushing sometimes, to be a witness to the constant human train-wreck that runs rampant through this neighborhood. I never wanted to be the kind of person who just ignored people asking for change, even if I had none to give, but now I'm one of them. I used to offer to buy people food if they asked for some money to get some. No more.
Now I know only suckers and tourists do that. You can get three free meals a day around here if you're willing to wait in line for it. Every day. Free groceries, which I see people sell on the street a few blocks away after they get them. Free medical care. And $2 pints of vodka.
Sadly, I've gotten used to seeing people behave like animals- in how they treat themselves and how they treat others. One gets used to certain things most people would never tolerate if you're you're exposed to it long enough- just ask a victim of domestic violence, a cop, an emergency room nurse, an Israeli, or a Palestinian.
Although it repulses me, I've gotten used to the smell of streets that smell like piss, human shit on the already disgusting sidewalks, people peeing in the streets, discarded used condoms, trash, dealers asking me if I want some crack or some other dope, hookers asking me for dates, bums hitting me up for change, food, cigarettes, my coat. The amputees, the people who reek of urine so badly you can smell them from forty feet away, half a block if the wind is blowing. Usually it just rolls right off my back.
But every once in awhile I see something, or really, someone, whose behavior or condition is just so completely awful it just leaves me feeling so fucking sad and suddenly there is nothing I want to do more than to just leave this place. That sadness always seems to leave a residual Travis Bickle-like anger behind, where I too feel like saying “All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”
Today was one of those days. Except here, the animals are out all day and all night, and it never rains in California. It only keeps pouring. This is still the Barbary Coast.