Alternate Zone

San Francisco. Five days of Macworld. Bookstores to discover, places to explore. People to meet, minds to connect.

Expectations maybe. Yeah just a few. I recall a very different San Francisco. It was full of animated people. Eye contact was common, smiles flowed in abundance. There was an openness, an acceptance that was refreshing. Midnight excursions were cloaked in fog. Figures would appear out of the swirling mists only to recede once more as we passed them. Fear never entered into my thinking. Our conversation kept up its rambling pace after exchanging pleasantries with these strangers in the mists. At times the silence would embrace us, hand in hand we walked along with this mysterious companion.

We ended up in an all night diner. Sipping coffee and tracing patterns in the beaded watery circles left by our glasses. Silken strands of conversation teased our tired minds, like a windblown spider’s web. The dawn crept up behind our weary happiness. Suddenly the sky was pewter soft grey. Tapping upon the glass window, beckoning us to new adventures. Sleep evaporated like the warm steam curling up from our coffee cups.

6 A.M. skipping down the streets of San Francisco like kids.

It’s changed. San Francisco isn’t a place I would naively walk about anymore.

I spent three weeks in a loft in downtown LA near skid row. I was working on a series for a client who kindly lent me space. Mornings were rituals of coffee, gathering of the many keys to the fortress, and a walk to the paint store around the corner. I have a lot of fond memories of that time. Even walking down the stairs opening the second series of doors to be slammed by an overwhelming stench of warmed trash. Summer there isn’t exactly full of summer blossoms perfuming the air. After the doors came the long stretch down a crumbling asphalt road fenced in till one reached the three-padlocked gate. One for each tenant. His was the middle one with a yellow splotch.

Freedom and a pocketful of keys. A quick glance to the left showed a group of people around last night’s barrel that held a flaming fire, now smoldering in the daylight. To the right a used car lot. Connecting it all was a gray strip of concrete dotted with gum, dirt, and general grime. My own personal gray concrete road to a borrowed land of oz.

The street people there were friendly. Even if you didn’t have anything to give to them. I never felt threatened or anxious. A few of them went on rampages of drunken binges, even then there was a certain mood of ‘I am doing my thing, you are doing yours, and it’s ok.’

A lot of commentary was made about where we were staying in San Francisco
for Macworld. At first I just let it slide. I mean what could possibly be so terrible about staying in a bad section of town in San Francisco? Sure I had seen people throw chairs out of windows onto a condom carpeted car lot the last time I was there, but no big deal. When we arrived I soon realized that what was, was no longer. The street people were pissed. Not just one random soul but a lot of pissed street people. And no, one can’t blame them. It’s a hard life. Not one I would choose. How many of them did choose it? How many of them were forced out into it?

How far can your compassion go when every street has at least one if not more homeless person panhandling? When the streets are splattered with alcoholic vomit and curses. What happens to your compassion when you know that the odds of that spare change are closer to them feeding an addiction instead of basic human comfort of warmth and a full belly?

Beth Lock was an inspiration. True to her Aquarian nature, she not only stopped, she spoke with kindness that is rare. She gave of herself by giving not just money, but respect. Treating other human beings no matter what they looked like, how they smelled, or sounded with dignity. With compassion. She went beyond the exterior, and looked for the diamond soul that all human beings have whether we cloak it in material possessions, bad luck, addictions, or fear. Thank you Beth, for spreading hope.

Reflecting mirror pools of life lived there, cities evolve. The bay area, once a hippie refuge, now a hip place for the new web community. The high dollar web mover and shakers. A place that once was affordable for an average joe is now so out of range it’s surreal. Very real to those that once lived there. Lived there with dreams and hopes for the future. Dreams that are as elusive as the once animated friendly face of San Francisco. As money pours in San Francisco becomes more exclusive. The divide between the classes more distinct. Haight Street is no longer a cheap place to hang out. It’s trendy and rapidly moving away from the programs that helped the down and out regain scraps of dignity.

San Francisco was to me a reflection of the changes occurring in today’s society. When the world turns to modems for sustenance. We reach out and travel these thin wires, making friends, learning about new things and old. We live and shop through the Internet. But what about those with out the Internet? Online they may not be, but they are still human. Are we still so tribal that we can’t do something?

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