San Francisco Cyclists: The Mission (mostly) Edition

In a class discussion last Wednesday about cultures of honor (we are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) my students asked me if there was anything or anyone that would engender the kind of emotion (rage) that would be required to act out in the way the subjects in the Harlan, Kentucky chapter behaved. Was there something someone could say or do to me that would trigger me. I had to think about this for a while, as I generally avoid that kind of conflict because it makes me uncomfortable, but also because as a woman it is simply too risky to actually address those who act inappropriately towards you in America anymore.

I thought about it for a minute and imagined who could make me feel so angry I wanted to actually do something to them that might be permanently damaging. My former step-mother came to mind because she is a truly Bad Person, but I am trying to let that go, so, nah. Then it hit me: CYCLISTS. My friend Justin has a saying: ‘When I am walking I hate cars; when I am driving I hate pedestrians. But I always hate cyclists’ and as a non driver a third of the sentiment is not relevant to me, but the latter thought: YES.

To be fair, I never really had an opinion on cyclists until I lived in San Francisco. For most of my life I have had a bike, and I have ridden bikes in more cities and countries than I can count. It never really seemed like a “Thing” to me. It was just an activity, or a conduit to one, I suppose.

But since I have been in San Francisco it has come to my attention that the cyclists in this city are the worst examples of people. Now, I am not saying all cyclists are the worst people, but I am definitely saying that all the worst people I have met in San Francisco have been cyclists.

The cyclists in San Francisco act as if they are the most maligned and put upon population that ever lived (puh-leeze), and there are constant outcries about how they are mistreated by cars and public transportation and, well, any one who gets in their way. Which is interesting because they are about the ONLY people you will see yelling at, and accosting, pedestrians, busses, and motor vehicle drivers in this town.

In no particular order here are things I have seen:

  • Speeding down crowded sidewalks (and being annoyed that people are on them)
  • Chasing down and banging on cars
  • I cannot count the broken traffic laws, but mostly it is running lights and I am fairly certain I have yet to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign
  • Shoving people out of the way on Bart (trains and escalators and platforms)
  • Speeding aggressively close to a pedestrian about to step off a sidewalk and yelling “THAT IS JAYWALKING!”
  • People crossing through the bike lanes on foot (I do this in the early mornings on Valencia Street when there is little to no vehicular traffic and limited bike traffic) and a singular rider, rather than negotiating the space, speeds up to ensure proximity and admonishes: “THAT IS NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE”
  • Cyclists knock over kids and elderly people

My favorite is “Bike to Work Day” which brings out hundreds of the most entitled riders you have ever seen. Those of us who keep our eco-footprints small by always using public transportation are not super impressed with your one day of awareness, by the way. Ironically, a majority of these hyper-aggressive individuals not only ignore traffic laws and signs, but they are riding fixed gear bikes, often with no brakes or single brakes, and frequently they are helmet free.

Oh, and in every example I have listed above, the cyclist was a white male.

Just saying.

The most famous event since I have been back in the city was the guy who plowed through a cross walk and killed a man. In spite of the fact that the guy had no remorse, and blogged about the whole things as he was riding for “time” he only received probation and community service. Gross. [Also, white male.]

Now, I realize that the fact that I can list and identify my issues with San Francisco cyclists definitely suggests that the majority of cyclists cannot be this loathsome, and that these assholes must be outliers. But I am not sure that could or should quell my distaste.

In a very interesting turn of events, on the very same Wednesday that I had been having the aforementioned conversation with my students, I had a very unpleasant experience with just the type of cyclist I am speaking of.

I was coming home at what would basically be considered rush hour and arrived at my Bart station at around 6:00 pm. My station is one of the most crowded, and according to Bart information has the greatest number of people walking to and from the station. As we filed out of the train on to the escalator from the platform a white male cyclist, somewhere in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ maybe 180 lbs, in standard tech-bro normcore clothes (jeans that allowed his Oxford boxers to show and a generic shirt and zip up jacket) with sandy hair and glasses, shoved his bike on to the escalator.

For what it is worth, bikes are not allowed on escalators in Bart stations.

He shoved a few people for the simple fact that the escalator was totally full and held his bike upright resting on the rear wheel so that the front wheel was bumping the woman in front of him. I looked at him as I made my way up the escalator on the left and had a thought of how fun it would be to drop some knowledge on him about how there are no bikes allowed on the escalator.

I did not say anything to him because: 1) It had been a long day and really what point would there be; 2) as a woman I do not have the freedom to say what I want to men because there is ALWAYS the very real reality that it could be dangerous to me.

I made my way through the turnstile and headed up the stairs to exit the station. As I reached the top of the stairs I became aware of the fact that this cyclist had sprinted up the other stairs (so clearly he did not NEED to be using an escalator…) and as I stepped off the stairs, he physically blocked me with his bike and got in my face yelling, “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I HAVE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR?!” I looked at him in total shock and took my ear buds out.

“Are you talking to me?”

“YEAH, BITCH I AM. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I TAKE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR? YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME? BITCH?”

“Uhh…”

“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!” (At this point, he is still physically obstructing me while I am trying to walk, and takes one hand off his bike raising it as it to… well, who knows.)

“Are you serious? FUCK OFF.”

“YEAH WHATEVER. BITCH.” Now he swings his leg over the bike and begins to pedal away – through a very dense crowd – and yells back, “I WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKED YOU TEN YEARS AGO!”

Wow. He went there?

And he rode off up the sidewalk towards Bartlett regardless of the steady stream of foot traffic in both directions from the station. Then he crossed 24th on the diagonal, from the SE corner of Bartlett and 24th to the NW corner.

Now this encounter brings up myriad issues, not all related to cyclists, but likely all related to white male privilege, and in my neighborhood, the two more often than not overlap. And then of course there are the obvious facts that I am completely within my rights to look at people around me and not only for general safety and awareness, and his waning insult suggests his problem might have had little to do with any look I gave him, but much more to do with some larger issues he has, dare I say, with women. 

Here is the (hardly inclusive) list of things it brought to my mind:

  • How is it possible that no other person stopped to see about this potentially problematic situation?
  • Who the fuck was this kid?
  • Would this have happened had I not been a woman, walking alone (albeit in a crowd)?
  • Would this have happened had the cyclist not been a white male? (I tried to replay the situation where the rider is black or latino or Asian or female and the resulting image is laughably fictitious)
  • Who the fuck is this kid?
  • How is it that the most offensive and entitled cyclists are the ones who do not follow the rules?
  • Why did I not think to retort that his aggressive ass was not supposed to be on the escalator in the first place?
  • Did he think I said, “Fuck YOU” prompting his retort about how he would not have fucked me ten years ago? Or is this just the go-to kind of insult for a young man to level at a middle-aged woman?
  • Did he think I would have actually ever wanted to fuck him? (I know this is not the issue, but it makes me think about how homophobic straight guys always think gay men will want to get with them – and I had to remember that a great number of young men in San Francisco must somehow by into the mythology that San Francisco women are desperate for them.)
  • Ultimately, my largest question (aside from what I should do about the situation) was: WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THIS KID’S DAMAGE?

This is the kind of shit that ONLY women have to put up with. And I know it is not only from cyclists, but anyone reading this can be absolutely sure that this little prince would not have done this to a man, or a woman who was with a man. Further, not that I should ever need to say this, but let me add that I was dressed completely normally, coming home from work carrying a load of stuff – there was nothing setting me apart from any other person returning from work that day, and certainly nothing sexualizing about my appearance.

The situation agitated me enough that I spoke to the Bart station attendants the next day, who told me that they were terribly disappointed I had not come back in to report the man the night before, and that they did have him on video in the station as a matter of policy if I wanted to file a police report. I considered it for sure. At this point I have not done anything else about it, but I certainly have considered how the experience speaks to so many of the social issues we are facing in our society everyday including white male privilege, sexism, misogyny, entitlement, dangerous self-interest, ageism, to name but a few.

It is a shame that this guy was on a bike because all it does, even in my rational mind that knows it is unfair, is make me more unforgiving of the bicycle culture in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, if I had to name a group of people who bring our any sort of Hatfield-McCoy energy in me, it remains SF cyclists. How unfair it is that I am unable to express this because of cultural norms that endanger me for responding to this sort of thing in kind.

Earlier in the day when I had arrived at my answer for my students, their response (many of them skaters and riders) was a chorus of agreement, and nearly every one of them had a story about an egregious act perpetrated by an urban cyclist. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, one example is just that, but 30 is a pattern.

Watch yourself out there people.

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So, this happened. Again.

I am Civic Center Bart waiting for a train around 10:30 am on a Wednesday. The platform is relatively empty… this is not a busy time of day. I am not dressed in any unusual way – I am wearing jeans, a long sweater and flats. I have a scarf around my neck because my hair is pulled back and it is breezy. It is San Francisco, after all. I am wearing sunglasses. I am not wearing my earphones, which I almost always keep in – even though they are mostly off. I am looking at my phone because I am in the midst of a relatively alarming/entertaining group text with two colleagues about the substitute teacher that is apparently unable to do the one thing he had to do for me: pass out some papers.

At this point the train is four minutes out and I hear someone say, “What time is it?” I am stuck by this question because it comes out loud, and sudden, as if I have already been engaged in conversation with this person, and as an aside they have interjected, ‘By the way what time is it?’ There is no segue from this speaker, just, ‘Hey. Tell. Me. What. Time. It. Is.’ By the time I realize he is talking to me I look up then quickly back at my phone and report that it is 10:45.

I look back to my phone and continue to check up on the situation I am missing at school for having reported for my civic duty.

“You’re really cute.” The Man With No Watch Says.

“Thank you.”

“So, you got a husband?”

“I am not going to answer that question.”

“Why? You single?”

“I am not going to answer it because it is a totally inappropriate thing to ask me.”

“Well, do you?”

“It is none of your business and it is not okay for you to be asking me.”

“What? I ask lots of ladies and they don’t think it is inappropriate.”

“Well, maybe you should keep talking to them. I am telling you it is inappropriate and you have no business asking me in the first place, let alone over and over again. It is non of your business, and completely irrelevant to you.”

“What? You having a bad day?”

“No, not really. I am just sick of constantly being hassled by offensive interactions like this.”

“Oh, no I am hassling you? You think I am harassing you?”

“Yes. Actually I do. And I am sick of it.”

“Whatever man. You hella uptight. Does this train go to Fremont?”

I point to the sign that says ‘SAN FRANCISCO/MILLBRAE’.

“Ah, yeah. I see”

And the train comes. I get on the train. I wonder for a moment if Fremont was a ruse and my inquisitor will get on this train with me. It would not be the first time. He does not. I see several seats and decide I will stand because I only have two stops to go. A man standing across from me asks, “How are you today?” And I think to myself, I sure miss the reality in which a question like that really was just a question like that.

I nod.

He lets it go.

When I get off the train and come out to the neighborhood I return to everyday, I see the regular assortment of folks who are always there, regardless of the hour or the weather. Some greet me in a way that indicates neighborhood familiarity. Some are busy doing whatever it is that they do with their days.

None of them ask me if I have a husband.

But it will happen again, likely before I even get to my building.

I wish it would stop. I wish that there was not something inside of me that somehow is programmed to eek out a bit of guilt that I am being snobby or a ‘bitch’ when I don’t want to engage with the strangers who somehow feel they have a right to comment on me, my body, my clothes, my personhood.

I wish it would stop.

Then I am home.

And it stops; at least for the moments I am at home.

A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city.

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The last time I blogged about a week spent with the fabulous Ms. R was two years ago on my return from a whirlwind tour of NYC for spring break. A month or so later she joined me for a compare and contrast week on the west coast, but that one didn’t make the blog, because at the time, I felt like it was silly to do like a vacay blog for my own city.

But, if one’s city is San Francisco – how silly is that?

Two years to the week later Ms. R was back in SF, and this time we took the time to both take in, and take on, the City by the Bay.

Spring break comes at such a desperately necessary time for people in my profession. The ides of March seem to know no end for a teacher, and there is not a more liberating feeling mid-year than the final bell on the Friday afternoon leading into the Easter holiday week (although, working in Berkeley, you are not allowed to call it Easter break, lest you offend… but a spring holiday by ANY name would be as sweet.) And on 27 March, at precisely 3:32 I was out the door and on my way home to… well, to home.

The last two years I left town for the break to New York City as I mentioned, and more recently Seattle. But this year, I would be here: a stay-cation. But not just a week of me doing all the things I do – yoga, cooking, reading, taking photos of the cats – I would be hosting Ms. R for a week of Bay Area shenanigans (and, doing all that other stuff too.)

Ms. R was my first friend in Hong Kong when I arrived in 2005 and we seem to have a mutual appreciation for each other that has stood the test of time. One of the more British Brits I know, Ms. R brings a certain standard to all things (and a clear opinion on how all things should be done) that I find educational, entertaining, and enlightening.

And I was prepared:

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From the moment the wheels touched down, we were taking full advantage of all things La Mission and SF. And it went something like this:

Friday: 
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The first night of a vacation may be the sweetest, in the same way that the last night brings a certain melancholy that is unavoidable in its predictability, the anticipation that greets the first Friday is delicious. Home early to kick up my feet, have a beer, watch some basketball and revel in what was to come. It was a segue of perfection.

R arrived around 8:30 out time, and I knew she would be knackered, but we were not missing El Farolito. I mean, come on, it is the Mission. And then we were ensconced in my none too spacious apartment, both so exhausted that it was all we could do to catch up with the basics before heading to bed.

Saturday:
First day out and about – up so early as jet lag can do, but a lovely morning, yoga and then  at least two neighborhoods by foot…

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Through the Mission to Zeitgeist we went for cold beers in the hot sun. (“Your people are just so friendly!”) Then on to Hayes Valley where I sadly learned of a designer I will never afford but will forever covet: Dries Van Noten. This is why Ms. R is:

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Along the way we had macarons and cupcakes from Miette, cocktails and salty snacks at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, as you do, and discovered far too many:

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But Ms. R has a system… it’s all look-y look-y loo… (until it’s not) and seems haphazard – until it’s not. It is like stages in the Tour de France or something – and when we got to Alpe d’Huez…. wowsa.

After a gorgeous day strolling the Mission and Hayes Valley, we had dinner at home and watched basketball. And really, burgers, beers, and basketball can make for a pretty great evening in.

Sunday:
Again, we were up early, figured there was no reason to sleep in – if on London time for Ms. R, so be it… more time to do things. Sometimes the things were like me doing yoga and R taking a walk, and sometimes it was sitting around and chatting over coffee – the coffee still a constant struggle… and although no SF barista has yet had the gall to try to purvey a misto (that is not a word! I hear her declare!) it is still an adventure to find the suitable cup for Ms. R. I had a hair appointment on Sunday and Ms. R was up for the cup and got a blowout as well – so we were all dolled up thanks to Revamp as we headed to Hi Tops to catch some more of the Elite Eight. Because there’s no kind of sports bar like a gay sports bar. [“Yay sports!!”] Plus, as Ms. R pointed out, no other sports bar was going to have a kale salad on the menu, which, it turns out, goes nicely with beer. #healthydrinker

I wanted to get a selfie. It did not happen. Ms. R is not a fan in general.

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After the game we headed downtown for another round of shopping, because: Good Hair.

And eventually we found ourselves back at home. One of the best parts about vacation is that moment you get home on a Sunday night… and you are like, ‘Hey – I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow!’ So, then that was happening.

Monday:
Up early for yoga. Super early, but as was voluntary, freakishly easy to manage. And it was good to get it out of the way because we were entering the Alps [if we are to keep the Tour de France metaphor rolling (yeah, I just did that), which seems apropos as Ms. R will be cycling the whole of the UK later in the year, from bottom to top, as it were] and headed downtown. To shop.

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It is amazing how much shit you never knew you needed when you get out there in the land of the consumer. And while Ms. R had a legit list of things she wanted needed to get while she was here, it turns out that just being in the proximity of a shopper can have an infectious effect on me. And a shopper I became.

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Shoes, dresses, pants, shirts, sweaters, make up… more and more and more. Frankly, it was rather impressive. But we eventually had to cut it short to get to our foot massage at my local, followed by cocktails at one of my Top Five Dives: The Latin American Club and then dinner at my favorite place. Gayle Pirie does such an amazing job with this restaurant – everything is always just right – and her love for the Mission and her local clientele is remarkable. We had a great meal, perfect wine, bubbles and dessert.

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Tuesday:
Started out with a lovely morning at home (I think I even prepared an acceptable cup of coffee…. then some yoga. Then brunch at Plow with my hair guru. Ms. R got to see a few more neighborhoods today – Potrero, the Fillmore, Pac Heights, Union Street… Which of course Ms. R loved. I should have taken her out to Cow Hollow. Next time.

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And eventually, the East Bay.

After a brief respite after our breezy day on the streets of SF, we headed out to one of my favorite venues, The Fox Theater in Oakland. It is a great venue and the surrounding area is just coming up and up and up. So up in fact, it is hard to even choose where to go pre-show. We chose Dogwood and it was a solid choice. A couple of cocktails and some snacks and on to get down with TV on the Radio. This might have been the fourth or fifth time I have seen TVOTR, but every time, they bring it, and this Tuesday evening was no exception. I told Ms. R to observe what happened as soon as the lights went down… and she was suitably impressed (for lack of a better word): “Your people smoke so much weed.” Was her general consensus (although I am sure she was getting used to it with the prolific exhalations from my downstairs neighbor.) And it is sort of funny that smokers have to leave the Fox to smoke cigarettes – but weed? No worries: spark up.

I wanted a selfie of us again. But, no dice.

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Wednesday:
April Fool’s Day. Really, this is such a ridiculous day. Eventually I am going to have to learn to just stay away from social media, because really: lame. But, for now, Noe Valley for breakfast and a strategic strike to Omnivore Books. Then off to Dolores Park, via Rhea’s Deli.

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An afternoon in Dolores Park is hard not to love, even when the wind is beginning to kick up… I suggested a selfie, but…

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We topped off this evening with dinner at a newish neighborhood restaurant called Plin. This restaurant is in a locale with bad juju. The Thai restaurant that used to be in the same space was not very good (likely why I was able to get a table for 18 for my 40th birthday) although they didn’t seem to mind when I stood on my chair – for more than 10 minutes – which could have something to do with why they went out of business. Anyhow, Plin, still has weird juju. Or feng shui. Or whatever you want to call it. And this is too bad because the food is actually really very good. But our consensus was that it will struggle in a neighborhood replete with dining opportunities that are also very good.

After dinner we walked home – and it is just so nice to be able to walk through the neighborhood and enjoy it all. We stopped into The Velvet Scoop for a super yummy treat I was introduced to last fall: frozen custard.

We walked home simply pleased with another full day in the neighborhood.

Thursday:
This would be the one day that Ms. R and I did more or less our own thing… AS I mentioned, she is a young woman with a plan and she had really panned out her trip to perfection. It was an important day – and I will just say, it could not have been more lovely for what was on the agenda.

For me, I reverted back to my more typical routine – did a couple of yoga classes, took care of some errands, and through it all sort of saw the City really differently as I seemed a lot more tuned into things around me, thanks to fresh eyes, I suppose.

San Francisco really is such an amazing city… with all the boroughs, as Ms. R likes to call them, and the vistas, and the sights (“It’s so small. I don’t need a picture of that.” – Ms. R to the Mrs. Doubtfire House.) But also amazing in less fantastic ways, with a painfully abundant homeless population – which simply defies explanation to a person who comes from a nation that provides care for its most vulnerable. There is no acceptable way to explain how it is that so many of our people live without the care they need, on the streets, and this is really apparent when you speak to a European. The same confusion comes up in conversation when in flipping through the news channels it is one violent crime after the next and the question comes up: “What is the deal with your gun laws?” Yeah, I got nothing for you on that. The juxtaposition of our national experiences is fascinating.

When Ms. R returned after her day on the road (“Are you good with driving a car here?” I asked. “I drove a Porsche in Beirut, I think I will be fine.” *crickets*) her comment on American drivers was how much the adhered to the rules of the road. So, yeah, I guess we are better than Madrid and Beirut in one way. Not sure that is winning, but we will take it.

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We had another great neighborhood night in the Mission… We met up with Little E and had drinks at The Chapel, dinner at Tacolicious (a nice challenge for me who has given up chips for lent – the second coming cannot come soon enough when you are staring down a bowl of guacamole and not having tortilla chips), apres dinner drinks at ABV, mildly disrupted by an incredibly short and freakishly intoxicated Mexican man literally being held up and force fed by his amigo… a scene wholly incongruous with the vibe of the bar, but got me ready to go because: vomit potential. Plus, there was ice cream in my future, so why linger?

Friday:
This was my mom’s birthday, and in good form Ms. R agreed to give up some time with my padres. And R was coming up too. So my momma got to have some birthday shenanigans with all her kids.

But before that was going to happen, we headed out to do a bit more shopping. For real (though in returning to the nearly forgotten Tour de France metaphor, we were very much in the final time trial at this point.) A high point of the afternoon was definitely a light lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. Very posh. I also have to say… the shoe department at Neiman’s will make a grown woman (without a trust fund) cry. Wowsa.

Then it was back to the hood to meet the ‘rents and R. Once all rendezvous’d we started at El Techo for drinks and tapas. Then it was on to pie, because, as T said, “Who doesn’t like pie?” Well – no one, except for R who was off sweets until #HeHasRisen. Plus, there is nothing more hipster than a pie shop in the Mission, except maybe if it were in Bushwick, so you know, when in Rome… And it is really freaking good pie.

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We tried to watch a movie when we got home, but Into The Woods is a really long fairytale mash-up musical for a post cocktail Friday night. I am still trying to work out when that would not seem long…. We failed. But without much disappointment, because one of our most all-American experiences was on the horizon.

Saturday:
Let’s Go OAKLAND! Up early to make our way back to the East Bay with R to see the final exhibition game of spring training – and drink beer, eat hotdogs… and a super-jumbo corn dog too!

I love baseball, and one of the coolest things about Ms. R is that she gets sports, and was not only enthusiastic about the March Madness, but totally for the cup to go to O.Co (especially a cup full of beer. But not Bud Light because, “How many calories are we saving on this beer R?” “Maybe 50?” “Oh, love, no. We are not drinking that again.”)

It was a gorgeous day at the ball park – perhaps a little too gorgeous for my Brit Abroad though. Fortunately a very friendly one of my people had a sachet (packet) of sunscreen – though, in truth too little too late, but the thought was on point. I hope at this point she has gone totally brown.

Although the A’s did not win (insert sad emoji here) I did get to see my adored Barry Zito take the mound in the green and gold once again (last pitches before heading to Triple A Nashville, but hey, I have been wanting to go to Tennessee.) And that was awesome.

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I suggested a selfie of the three of us all kitted out in our A’s gear. But no.

After the game and a lot of laughs (and eye rolls) we headed back to the City where we watched Wisconsin upset Kentucky (WHAT?!?!) and then a a final stop at the local taqueria, followed up with a stroll down to Humphry Slocombe, because one must. Then home for silly movies. I am not sure what it says about us that we made it through We’re The Millers.

Sunday:
He has risen (though, for the first time, the sun did not come out…) And although, I would like to claim some higher spirituality about this – the reality is I was pretty psyched that chips were going to be back on my menu. Initially, when I had been trying to arrange things for the week, I had been unable to find anywhere for Easter brunch. However, apparently we were so charming when we had dinner at Foreign Cinema, that they were able to magically manifest a table for us on Easter Sunday. The perks of being a local I guess. Or good tippers? (No, that couldn’t be, I was with a Brit. Ha. Like the coffee conundrum, Ms. R has substantial issues with tipping. And don’t even get going on the tip jars for counter service…. “You Americans are ruining it for everyone!” So we are friendly and generous. Not too shabby!)

One other thing that Ms. R had wanted to do while here was to try SoulCycle. I have to say, I was more up for this than I thought I might be. It was early and unfamiliar and hard. But it was kind of cool too. So, spinning, packing, and foot massages took us straight into a gorgeous Easter brunch that Ms. R’s mum treated us too, which was pretty sweet. And this was the second Easter brunch Ms. R and I have shared in the past three years, so it is kind of a tradition. Okay, maybe not totally, but it could be. I tagged the two of us in the following photo, because: not a selfie from the week.

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After brunch, it was the load out.

And then she was gone.

The Sunday doldrums can really sneak up on you, something I find particularly perplexing as there is no surprise in their arrival. This Sunday totally faked me out, and not only for it being Easter Sunday, but because it began with all the activity that the past week has brought into my more typically solitary home life, and then, just like that… it was over. Evening arrived, and in spite of it being the brightest moments of an otherwise grey day, all was quiet and still; as if the week itself had not actually happened.

I thought back on Ms. R’s synopsis of ‘my people’ – which always cracks me up:

  • Friendly
  • Weed obsessed
  • Good teeth
  • Big
  • Poor fashion choices
  • Unable to make coffee hot enough
  • And I just have to come back to friendly – because we gotta focus on the bright side…

And as I climbed into bed looking ahead to super fun and amazing Monday morning meetings back at school, it dawned on me:

Yep, this all just happened. In a single week, we did it all. Even without a selfie to prove it.

What’s the time?

I went out in the neighborhood a little while back. I haven’t been hitting my locals so regularly anymore. I’d like to say this is a reflection of better judgement. But it is more likely just because I am sofa king tired I would just rather not. However, I rallied because one of my bebe cousins was in town, and, well, I mean this is the neighborhood to bar crawl in if you’re going to go for it.

And I do love a quality dive bar.

We started with a happy hour tipple at the Toronado. This bar is not in my neighborhood. I have had some legendary nights at the Toronado. And let me assure you that when anyone says that something in a bar was legendary, they mean, God, I did WHAT?!? In fact, even recalling some of it is cringeworthy. But the Force is strong in this one, and so, there I was.

In and out of my own volition. Win.

After getting back to the Mission we made dinner at home and then headed out – a little early for most of the non-neighborhood types who would certainly be filling the streets eventually – but as I may have mentioned, or soon will: age.

I took the bebe to the Latin American first, because one cocktail = done. In hindsight, this may have been poorly thought out. But, live and learn. Or at least I have heard some people do that… The Latin is a formerly great dive bar that has become a little overly self conscious about that status, but still serves a margarita that can knock you over and if it is not too crowed with an equally overly self conscious crowd, can be fun. Also, props to door dude for being the first to tell me that my drivers’ license was expired and he was doing me a solid to let me in. [I may have already mentioned I am in no way akin to someone who might actually need an ID check.]

After the Latin we headed to Doc’s Clock. I love Doc’s. I bring everyone there I can because I love it so. They also have shuffle board and a long bar. I adore a long bar.

We took seats at the bar.

Bebe saw a sign behind the bar that said, “Welcome to San Francisco. Now go homo.” Being from a special part of Southern California she was beside herself as a result of this sign. She took out her phone to take a photo. As she was working out her shot, unaware that she had the flash on, there was a perfect convergence of her photographic explosion and the arrival of the bartender who was clearly temporarily blinded by this situation. And she made no mystery of her displeasure with the situation. Bebe was embarrassed, but I was more embarrassed for the ridiculous overreaction of the bartender. As she acted like Nosferatu having seen the first light of day, I said, “It’s cool, you can help those other people first, we are not in a hurry.”

“Look, I’m already here, what do you want?”

Oh really?

We ordered drinks. I stuck with my standard clear liquors. Bebe began making unwise choices. [My neighborhood is going to be a lot nicer when all the people insisting that they actually enjoy bourbon just stop pretending.]

As we sat at the bar chatting, and apparently being hilarious – we were talking about our family – the bartender started hanging around quite a bit more. Soon enough she was chuckling along with us, and before long adding asides.

At this point the bar was getting pretty crowded and a big group of Woo Girls came in.

The bartender came over and we said at the same time: “God. The Woo Girls are here.” I think that is the point I won her over. The next thing I know she was telling me how smart I was, and that she could tell I was from the neighborhood. [This is also rather a big deal, as it is fairly common for people in this neighborhood to tell me things like I have “Marina hair”, or ask, “Are you from Marin?” Really? Sigh.]

When Bebe was ready for her second round and I was holding steady, Lisa, my new BFB, topped me off for good measure.

Now the touristas were flooding in. I have to say it is fun to be a local in this neighborhood when everyone else wants to be here if for no other reason than a nice angle for snobbery.

A group of young men came in and were suddenly positioned right next to us. One introduced the other, saying, he is visiting from Seattle. “Oh yeah? I lived in Seattle.” I tell him.

“No way!” he says. Why is this a response to a statement I am wondering. I mean, is it a challenge? Or is it too unlikely that to previously unknown humans could have lived in the same place? Or is it lack of a more clever answer? As I contemplated this he said, “But I am not from there.”

“Oh? Where are you from?”

“San Diego.”

“How funny, I went to school there.” I brace for the ‘NO WAY!’

“Where?!” He comes back with instead.

“UCSD.”

“NO WAY! [there we go] I am from Encinitas!” [As a side note, the number of people I meet from Encinitas outside of Encinitas is freakish.]

After some amount of bar conversation that can only achieve the level of enthusiasm it does when enhanced by liquor, we determine that we have had these (even I admit) strangely parallel life experiences. San Diego, Seattle, he is also a history teacher… Wait what? His buddy is beside himself. Do we know any of the same people, he wants to know. I mean, how can we not, he claims.

And here is where the real fun begins: The guess how old I am game.

I gently suggest that it is unlikely we know any of the same people because although we have had similar paths, I am old enough to be his mother.

“Maybe in Kentucky!” He says. Okay, fair play, that was clever. Although, I was getting nervous that he might throw his hands in the air and woo.

So he is 28. He guesses I am in my thirties. I no longer know if this is a ploy, or at all sincere. Bebe and I laugh.

“Uh, no.” Unsure how long I want to keep this guessing game going on I cut to the chase. I tell him I am 44.

Wait for it…

“NO WAY!!”

Yeah, anyhow. We talk some more and then they walk away. Soon there is another group and we chat, it is easy enough when plied with Lisa’s liberal pours and the general silliness of the Woo Crowd.

Pretty soon, Lisa tells us she is getting off her shift. Shame, things were really working out. But she walks over her replacement and assures us (or him?) that he will take very good care of us. The next thing I know she is standing next to us and telling me I have got to get out more. There is a lot of hugging and enthusiastic regard for all things us. I view this as a win all the way around.

The next thing I know San Diego-Seattle-History teacher dude is back. He does not have a lot of new material, but he is cute and funny. He tells me we should get out of here.

“Uh, yeah. I coud have been your teacher. I have rules about that. I mean, you are 28, and I am 44. Ew. No. We are not even existing in adjacent decades.”

He laughs. Now, again, I am confused if this is sincere, flattery, a con, or just confusion.

“No, come on it would be fun – look how much we already have in common… think what else there might be!”

Wait, what? He said that out loud.

Aiyah.

Thankfully, my friend Ken has now arrived and Bebe is in need of my assistance so I have other things to do.

“Actually, I have to go. But, thanks?”

“Aw, come on, come back in,” he says.

Seriously? No. Just no, you lovely-but-daft-man-child.

We walk out and meet AJ. AJ wants to roll with Bebe. Ken and I are suspicious. He says he wants to take her to his hotel. “Does she want to go to your hotel?” I ask. Bebe seems unconvinced, or undetermined. She says “Yes.”

“Okay, where is your hotel?”

“Right down here,” he says pointing down 24th Street. Ken and I exchange looks. As if there is any sort of “hotel” down that end of 24th. Next thing we know he is faking a phone call. TO THE MARRIOTT.

Ken and I are dying, and not even really hiding it. He really must be drunk or stupid, or I suppose, he thinks we are.

He goes through this whole song and dance on the phone about “How could they not have his reservation? He paid through the weekend!”

Dying, I am.

So the next thing you know we are walking back to my place because the “Marriott” lost AJ’s paid-in-full booking. Maybe it got lost when they had to relocate the property from downtown? At my door it becomes clear that he thinks there is a fucking chance in hell he is getting in the door.

As if.

Ken is still there and I see my Jordanian chaperones from my liquor store keeping an eye on things as well. This will not end well for AJ if he annoys me. In the end he sort of dumbly slinks away. I almost feel sorry for him but for the fake phone call for which he forgot to turn the phone on.

I get in the apartment, thank Ken, and look to Bebe, who says, “What’s the time?” As she falls into bed.

A good question I think to myself, and on seeing it is just gone midnight I feel like throwing my hands in the air and yelling ‘Woooooooooo!’

Maybe I will go out in the neighborhood again one of these weekends. Hard to say no when… wait for it…

 

Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting

Let’s set the stage: it is 2014. We are in San Francisco, California. This is not some long ago time (or not so long ago really) in some backwoods Podunk town, so I hope you get a sense of place from my limited, but precise descriptors.

I am coming home from an event downtown. I am on my own at this point around 10:00 p.m., and making my way through the Civic Center area. There are a lot of folks around. Unlike me, most of them are not going anywhere. They are making a place for themselves. They are the sense of the place. Most of them see me, and I see them. I don’t have much to offer them but a nod or a smile if they greet me. They respond in kind when they take notice. No one touches me. No one even makes a move toward me in any way.

I get on the train. Once on the train I decide I will get off one stop early and walk home since it is a nice night, and it is not too late.

I get off the train and come up to Mission Street. It is teeming with people, many of whom I have seen before: they inhabit the streets. Interactions are subtle if they happen at all.

I walk one block west so that my walk home will be on the much more well-lit, and let’s face it, bougie Valencia Street. There are hordes of people out on Valencia, but these are different types of people: not really part of the sense of place, but participating in it. Buying it.

I weave in and out as I make my way south the seven blocks I have to get home. People are talking, drunk, loud, funny, clumsy, texting, yelling, high-fiving, queuing, complaining, busy. Between 16th Street and 19th Street I am touched no fewer than three times. Two different times someone puts their hand on me as if they are guiding me through the crowd and once someone smacks (though that sounds harder than it was – taps?) my ass. I keep going, probably at a quicker gait.

I pop into one of my local markets to pick up a couple of things. There are four other people in the market, two pairs. A young Latina and an even younger Latino (she is buying the beer), and two young mixed-race men. One of the young men has a Golden State Warriors shirt draped over his shoulders. It is covered with blood. His pal is explaining to the shopkeeper and the young beer drinkers what happened.

– They kicked us out.
– Yeah, it was so wrong. This guy was hella gay, right? I mean he walked by and he grabbed his ass!
– And we were totally cool, right, we just told him that shit ain’t cool and we were gonna let it go, just went back to our seats and everything.
– But then he did it again! I mean, what the fuck, right? That is hella gay.
– And so we told him we were gonna kick his ass and it started right then.
– And we were like, someone call the police, right? I mean that is assault or some shit like that, right?
– But security was like, nah, and they wouldn’t call no one.
– And then they kicked us out, just to make it easy for them.

The shopkeeper gave all of the right affirmations and nods. The young beer drinkers were, impressed and in agreement: Yeah that shit is fucked up.

“You beat the crap out of someone because he grabbed your ass?” I ask. They look at me:

– Yeah.

“Huh.” I say as they walk out.

The shopkeeper says, “That is not right, people should not be touching people,” as he looks at me.

“I just had my ass grabbed walking to this shop, on Valencia Street. Should I have beat the crap out of the person?”

“Nobody should be touching anybody,” he says.

“Do you think that guy would have cared if I grabbed his ass?” I ask. The young beer drinkers laugh, albeit nervously (I am sure wondering what the agitated middle-aged white woman might be up to.)

“No, he probably would have liked it!” says the shopkeeper, before adding, “Nobody should be touching anybody.”

“You know how many girls that guy has probably grabbed?” I ask.

“You’re right,” the shopkeeper says. “Maybe he had it coming,” he adds, “Like karma.”

One of the young beer drinkers laughs and she says, “I know, huh?”

“So it is okay for him to grab a girl’s ass, but because he got touched by a male it is okay to assault that guy?”

“Nobody should be touching anybody,” the shopkeeper says.

“You’re right,” I say.

 

Justice = Vengeance [in a Mad World]

On my way home last night after a pretty long, though decent, week at work I saw there was some sort of demonstration going on at the middle school across the street from my building. Someone on a bullhorn was using the standard “What do we want?!” call and response technique.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!

As I have been up to my eyebrows in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution at school in my government curriculum these past few weeks (not to mention the fact that I was curious…) I stopped. I listened a little more. I am down with justice.

Justice for Rashawn!!

I walked a little further and saw three young kids with a clipboard and posters calling for Justice for Rashawn. They were talking to an older couple as I approached and I leaned in to listen. On seeing my approach as a way out, the couple quickly scooted away the moment the kids turned their attention to me.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!
Justice for Rashawn!!

‘What’s up,’ I asked them. ‘What are you guys doing out here?’

The smallest of the three, who I would soon learn was a seventh grade student at the school across the street, shoved the clipboard towards me and said, ‘We are collecting signatures to make the City try the murderer of Rashawn as an adult. He is going to get out when he is 23.’

‘How old are the suspects?’ I asked.

‘One of them is 19, so he is going to court for adults,’ said another student who had just walked up. ‘But the other one, the city says he won’t be in adult court.’

‘How old is he?’ I asked.

’14,’ they all said.

‘And so you want the 14 year old to be tried in adult court?’ I asked. ‘That is what the petition is for?’

‘Yes,’ they all replied.

The only boy among the group that was now four said, ‘You know, he planned it. He bullied Rashawn all the time and he always caused him trouble. He planned it out.’

‘But he was with a 19 year old?’ I asked.

‘Yeah, but we aren’t here about that, he is in adult court. We need to get signatures so the 14 year old will not get out of jail.’

‘Every signature makes a difference,’ the first girl said to me, looking up at me with braces and french braids framing her lovely olive complexion.

Then another passer by stopped. Probably about my age, with a thoughtful, well-worn face, he spoke with notable accent, and asked what was going on. I let the kids explain.

‘Put yourself in his mother’s shoes,’ the student who had walked up last said to me. ‘I mean, it’s not right. She deserves justice.’

I looked at the man standing next to me and he looked back at me. I wondered what his take on the justice system was, knowing that my sentiments were not going to sit well with these kids. He looked back at me and I said, to the group, ‘I am not sure I am comfortable signing this. I don’t think I support putting a 14 year old in the adult criminal system. I believe that we have the juvenile justice system for a reason.’

‘If he can act like an adult he can be punished like an adult!’ the boy said.

‘What makes you say he acted like an adult?’ I asked.

‘He planned this out. He is a bully,’ answered the one of the group who had not yet spoken.

I looked again at the man next to me, who gently shook his head.

‘Well, I am proud of you guys for standing out here in the cold for something you believe in,’ I said. ‘But I am afraid I can’t sign this petition. I just don’t believe in putting children in the adult criminal justice system.’

‘But he deserves it!’ one of the kids cried out.

‘He planned this out!’ said another.

‘All we want is justice!’ exclaimed the latecomer.

I looked at them and was overcome with sadness. Four young kids. Kids who are sure to make some pretty significant mistakes at some point in their lives – though I can only hope none that are lethal. Kids who are statistically so much more at risk than they even know. Kids of color who are fighting systems they have yet to even realize. Kids who have been taught that vengeance equals justice. Kids who have been sent out – ostensibly by adults – to elicit a particular response from the public under the guise of justice – of fairness.

I thought about how every year when I teach my sophomores about Hammurabi they are all totally down with the concept of an eye for an eye. Yeah, it’s harsh they say, but hey, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I ask them if they would actually come to my class on time if they knew the punishment was lethal. They say yes. They say that harsher punishments will reduce crime, it is only logical. But the reality is they would not be on time. They would be late and want me to hear all the circumstances as to why I should consider lenience.

They are only sophomores after all.

And here were these kids, 7th and 8th graders demanding vengeance as justice.

‘What if it was someone you loved?’ they asked me.

‘Yeah, it could be your son,’ they said.

‘If it was someone I loved I would be devastated,’ I said. ‘But ending the life of another would not make it any less devastating.’

‘We are not asking for the death penalty’, they said. ‘We just want him to be in prison for life. Like the 19 year old.’

I looked at them one last time and wished them good luck with their cause, but said I could not sign their petition.

And I turned to walk away. The man standing with us also turned to go, ‘No,’ he said, ‘I cannot sign this.’

‘Well, thanks a lot for your time!’ one of them yelled. It did not sound sincere.

Walking up my stairs I heard the bullhorn again.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!
Justice for Rashawn!!

They have no idea how likely it is that they will one day be on the other side of this equation begging for consideration and lenience for one of their own. It is such a terribly sad cycle.

If only they could see that all this effort is doing is perpetuating it.

Details of the Rashawn Williams tragedy here.