So last night I decided to go see this rehersal jazz band that has apparently been practicing since 1939. They don't play out, but they did have a gig back in the 1970s. I'd tell you more, but I found out about it from this guy in my writing class who made us promise that if we came to see it, we wouldn't write about it. It was that interesting.
They rehearse at 6th and Brannan, which is about 5-6 blocks south of Market street. For those of you who don't live in San Francisco, Market street is the main street in downtown San Francisco. The area known as South of Market or SOMA is part super-classy corporate and art museums, part leather daddy bars and sex shops, part spacious lofts marketed to young gay, (rich) foxy boys, and of course, 6th street.
Supposedly, the term "skid row" came from 6th street. Sixth street is alcoholics, crack addicts, and homeless people. It's all liquor stores and SROs and closed store fronts. The street is crowded, though, and well-lit. Maybe its because I used to work at 6th and Howard and I know the area that I decided to walk to the show last night from Civic Center. Maybe it's because most of these folks aren't desperate and violent, but down and out. Or maybe places just aren't scary until something messed up happens to you.
Sixth street is also the home of one of the best deals in San Francisco: Cancun Taqueria. There's one at 18th and Mission, but the 6th and Market one is my favorite. There are fewer hipsters (I'd rather someone ogle my chest than my band pins). Plus, there's a super fucked up Mermaid mural on the wall (they are all deformed and have skin diseases). A veggie taco is $1.89 and it's two tortillas, pinto beans, cheese, a big ole scoop of pico de gallo, sour cream, and half a sliced avocado on top. The filling doesn't fit inside the tortilla, you have to cut it with a knife and fork. There were at least two phases of my life where I ate this almost everyday.
I've started giving money to panhandlers again. Part of it is Walt Whitman's advice to "give alms to everyone that asks." Part of it is this hippy idea that if you give things away instead of judging people that your life will be more full (shaky and irrational, yes, but god bless hippies). Mainly, though, I just think it's the right thing to do.
So there I am sitting in the taqueria, and the only other woman is this homeless woman who is yelling in Spanish to the guys behind the counter about how nobody gives her food. I'm surprised they let her stay. She keeps asking around to everyone for help. She finally says to me, all like mumbling and futile:
"Hey m'am can you help me get something to eat?"
She looked extremely suprised when I said "What do you want?"
She's all "A Burrito!"
I told her to order what she wanted and that I would pay for it. I felt like a rich man on a date, but I was hoping in my heart of hearts that I could just pay for the damn thing and wouldn't have to talk to her (essentially, I'm a bastard). Now, I'm used to the men at Cancun staring at me while I eat, but last night they were looking at me like I was insane. I just nodded when he asked me if a "super" ($1.50 more) was okay.
I liked that she ordered a super.
While she's waiting for it, she went back and forth between shouting "No chiles!" over and over again and talking to me.
"Thank you so much Ma'am. . .you must go to church"
"No, I don't"
I started wondering if she said that because my hair was pinned back on either side of my head and I was wearing a cardigan.
"You must know what it's like to be hungry."
"I don't." I looked down at my food. "Not in that way." I'm was trying to be reserved but I felt like Goody Williams.
"I haven't eaten anything today. I'm so hungry."
"Would you like something to drink?"
"I only drink alcohol." Then I decided to look her in the face. I liked that she was honest. I really liked that she was honest. Her eyes were crazy and flat like someone who is seriously fucked up. "I'm an alcoholic." For a moment, I considered offering her a Negro Modelo. "My liver is all messed up."
"I'm sorry. That's terrible." I ate my food too quickly because I wanted out of this conversation.
When I stood up she said: "Are you pregnant?"
God bless her: she upped her burrito order, yelled at the counter guys, told me she was an alcoholic, and then told me I was fat.