Sitting on Mission Street off of 7th, 4 minutes until a 14 according to Next Bus (which is accurate, probably, but in MUNI minutes that means 6 to 7 minutes). I’m on a big concrete slab of a street, the night is mild, we had rain earlier and everything feels fresh. Someone goes by in shorts, seemingly a local not a tourist, a rare sight in this town. A small woman sits under the bus shelter, earphones on, a couple of bags. A young dude sits a few feet away from me on the concrete slab. It is Monday, it is quiet. The bus will be full of tired folks going home. The court of appeals looms across the street, quiet and imposing. Cranes dot the night sky, I can see them even though the moon is waning and it is dark. Construction is everywhere around this part of the city. This is one of the first neighborhoods I lived in over 20 years ago. I’m comfortable with everything about it but the change.
An older dude, hard to tell his age but he has seen some struggle, shuffles up. He sits next to young dude, his back to me, asks for some change, anything. The kid shakes his head no, doesn’t look up. He shuffles over next to me, sits, and asks if I can spare a dollar for a burger. ‘Sorry’, I say. ‘Please’, he says. I root through one of my bags. I have a half a bag of pretzels, and offer them to him . He says, ‘I do want them, thank you for offering, but I am missing most of my upper teeth. They pulled ’em all out.’ He pulls back his upper lip with stained fingers to show me. ‘Jeez’ I say. He continues. ‘Carl’s Jr. sells these soft burgers, I can get a couple for a dollar or two, I can eat ’em with no teeth, and I ‘m really hungry’. I root though my bag find a couple of singles and pass them over. ‘Thanks’, he says, and gets up, walks away, then stops, turns around, and sits again. ‘You okay?’ he asks, like a polite afterthought, almost like he feels bad for not asking me how I was doing first, before asking me for money. ‘Yeah, I am. Thank you for asking’, I say. ‘I’m glad to hear that’, he says. ‘Have a good night, sir’. ‘You too, miss.’
‘Hey, you got a fucking light?’ Silence from woman with headphones.
‘Hey you got a fucking light?’ ‘Nope’, from young dude.
‘Hey, you got a fucking light?’, possible tweaker, or hey maybe just a stressed out guy stumbling towards me. ‘Nope’, say I.
I get up to check the Next Bus, and also to suss out the situation. This guy has a real element of le sketch. Young dude is side eying him, headphone woman is peering around the shelter. Her and I bond with eye contact the way women sometimes do in these situations, I wander back to the concrete slab to sit, she joins me, not to close, but with me and young dude for sure.
‘FUCK. Someone was smoking here, someone is lying, lying because they think I am a bum, FUCK, all I need is a light’.
He stares at me. I relax my face and stare back. ‘I don’t smoke’ and look away.
He walks away, comes back, ‘Fuck, I am going to SNAP, This is why people snap, not anything big, it is all the little bullshit adding up, all the little lies and bullshit’. I actually think he has a really good point, but he doesn’t seem to really want to talk about it or need agreement right now, so I stifle y urge to say ‘Yeah!’. The headphone woman leans over to me. ‘Wait, ‘she asks. “Is he just looking for a light?’ She pantomimes lighting a cigarette in the way a lot of us talk to each other at MUNI stops, and really in lots of this town, because chances are very good that everyone in a conversation may speak a different language. ‘Yeah’, I say. ‘Oh I have one! SIR! SIR!’ She waves, holds up her lighter. He comes over, she lights his cigarette for him, and he stomps off without a thank you, but perhaps a little stunned. Young dude looks relieved, headphone lady looks proud, I don’t know how I looked but we all smile and shake our heads at one another, what are ya gonna do like.
The bus rolls up. It is crowded but there are seats for those who want them. I’m coming off a nice feeling from a class I teach, really feeling lucky for how my day went. I squeeze into a seat between two women, we all rearrange hips and bags, and I take some notes about the class, do some thinking about where we’ll go next, zone out a bit.
Two kids get on, I glance up and my heart leaps to my throat. They are wearing these creepy contact lenses so their eyes are all alien and weird. They see me startle and laugh, and I laugh, and another person who also looks goes ‘holy shit’ and laughs. They are creepy looking! I kind of want to ask if I can take a picture, but don’t. Twenty-five years ago their punk rock cuteness and band patches and skateboards would quite possibly have had us all hanging out right now drinking in a park, but they are quite possibly more than half my age, and so I let them be adorable and goofy and stupid and just feel happy they exist. Other characters come and go, and I read an old-ish New Yorker article about Mary Beard, a Roman historian and scholar of the Classics who seems really very cool, and I read about the fact that Lenny Kaye is curating a Nuggets inspired music series of shows, and I think about how if I lived in New York I could totally go to that, damn it.
For better or worse I still feel at home here like I do in few other places, lumbering along Mission, talking to folks, and heading home from work.