The blogging of this trip isn’t really turning into a travelogue, I would have called a shame in days gone by as I’m pretty rubbish about remembering what I did on any given day. However, the older I get, the less I am concerned by the details of what I did and when, and the more important things are the people I spent time with, the things I learned, and the ways these experiences change/d me.
So in thinking about the time I’ve spent here in San Francisco, I have distinct impressions. Ones that will stay a long time. At least, I hope they do.
It’s been 8 years since I was last in here. My experience has been different now than then, maybe because I’m with different people, I have been traveling more alone this time rather than relying on hosts to look after me, and I’ve been staying in different neighbourhoods.
Very. Different. Neighbourhoods.
I have stayed in and near the Tenderloin district this time. It’s an old district, it’s close enough to all the places I needed to be, but it’s sketchy…
Nestled near the downtown area, the Tenderloin has historically resisted gentrification, maintaining a seedy character and reputation for crime. Squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, illegal drug trade, prostitution, liquor stores, and strip clubs give the neighborhood a seedy reputation. ~ Wikipedia
I saw all of the above; dozens of people sleeping rough, their dignity on the sidewalk alongside their excrement. I don’t remember many of them being white. I have been a racial and socio-economic minority in this neighbourhood, and as I press the RFID key against the door to open it and make my way inside this beautifully appointed, pristine loft apartment it is way too easy to feel above all that I’ve seen.
But with every person I walked past I wondered if they always felt close to the edge, if homelessness was always just around the corner or if it was a surprise, and if it still surprises them. I wonder if anything can be done, because it all just seems so hopeless.
I am acutely aware that the opportunities I’ve had, and do have. I am completely mystified that a country with such opportunities as America has so many problems. I’m incredibly grateful to have been raised in a country with social healthcare, access to education for so many (and I hope fervently that we in Australia don’t lose site of its importance screw that up). I realise the cash in my wallet and the tools I have at my disposal to make an income set me a long way apart from the people I have seen here.
It’s hard not to stop and stare, it’s impossibly difficult to keep walking, confidently, purposely so as not to make myself vulnerable in this area of ill repute.
As if I was in any way as vulnerable as they.
Ben May says
You don’t have to be in the Tenderloin either. Mission to Downtown all have the same issues and leave tourists like us who aren’t familiar with homelessness quite put off.
Four years in a row I’ve now been to SFO, and to be honest, it’s not in my top 10 favourite spots in the US… All I remember is traffic, pollution, homelessness and beggars.
Claudia Templeton says
Yes it’s very shocking especially for those like us that live in privileged conditions and don’t see it every day. USA It’s a country that definitely doesn’t care much for its poor.
That’s the truth, Claudia. In recent news, there are new laws in Ft Lauderdale to outlaw people feeding the homeless in public. It’s just heartbreaking.