On my walk home from work I counted eight (8) people smoking fentanyl, concurrently, but spread about. This was between the blocks of Eddy and Ellis. Clearly, the dope dealer had just made a visit.
Well before sunset Santas, Elves and scantily clad Scarlet Maidens stumbled onto and crowded lower Polk street. It was a cold day but the inebriates were clearly feeling hot, especially the ladies, because most of them where insufficient dressed for such a chilly day. By nightfall as the booziness started to wane crowds of friends huddled, shivered and ate hot slices of pizza along the sidewalk. Random drunks with glazed eyes, separated from their pack, could be found trying to steady themselves on street sign poles, fire hydrants and along walls. The volume of voices rising from the street was loud, so many people were yelling and shouting with slurred speech. At 1:30am a side show broke out at the intersection of Polk and Pine. Muscle cars with loud mufflers looped round and round, screeching loudly, burning rubber that led to rising plumes of smoke. Late night revelers ran down the street away from the obvious danger that comes with such unhinged displays. Distant cop sirens could be heard making their way to the scene and the drivers promptly took off down Van Ness. And then the party finally ended, at 2am.
I walk with my dog to and from work most days, and on Friday evening my dog was attacked by a pit bull mix breed dog. It was terrifying and traumatizing.
It was 5:30'ish and dark out. We were across the street from City Hall walking beside the Civic Center Plaza when the pit-mix approached us. It was wearing a prong collar and leash but the owner was not at the other end of the leash and was no where near the dog. The pit-mix ran up to my dog, went right up to his face and with a stiff demeanor delivered a hard stare.
My dog is not a submissive type, he never rolls over for any dogs, and he let the pit-mix know with a growl he did not welcome the look he was receiving. I gave a little tug to my dog's leash and told him, "Let's go, let's move along" and he dutifully followed my command. However, the pit-mix didn't care what I had to say and kept a stare on my dog and followed us.
So I turned to the pit-mix and commanded it to stop and stay. He looked up at me and listened, for a moment, and then returned his focus on my dog. So I started yelling at his owner to call her dog.
She was a large obese woman smoking a cigarette and was standing about 100 feet away, just watching. I yelled at her again, demanding that she call off her dog. She called him but he didn't listen to her, and then he attacked!
I started screaming and tried to run away with my dog, but he just kept attacking. My dog fought back. I kept screaming, "Get your fucking dog!" The lady started to walk over to the scene. I yelled, "Fucking get over here now! Get you dog!" She just walked and smoked.
Two homeless men who had been laying on the sidewalk started yelling at her, "Drop your cigarette bitch! Get you dog!" and then they got up and made their way over to me to help. When she saw them making their way over she started to jog and soon enough she standing beside the fight. I had yanked at my dog's leash a few times and pulled him out of the fight but her dog kept coming after my dog, and my dog was fighting back.
When she arrived to the scene she just stopped and stood there in a daze, like a zombie drug daze, cigarette in mouth, watching the fight. I screamed at her again, "Get your dog off my dog!!" The men were yelling at her, too "Grab his leash! Grab his leash!"
Again, I yanked at my dog's leash and pulled him out of the fight. This time she went to grab her dog's leash. As she picked up his leash her dog lunged at my dog's back leg and bit into it, and then she pulled at his leash, pulled him off my dog and the fight was over.
She stood there, mouth agape, silently looking into some mid-distance. The men came over to me and my dog, asking if were were okay. I began palpating my dog to assess his injuries. His back leg was wet with blood and saliva, and he was limping. I lobbied one last yelling fit, "God damn it lady! Getting your fucking shit together!!".
I thanked the men profusely for jumping in to help, and then me and my dog booked it out of there. Both of us were in shock and adrenalized. We had another mile to go before we reached the safety of home, and we desperate needed to not attract anymore trouble from the troubled people (and their dogs) on the street.
Once we were inside my dog could let his guard down and he began to tremble. I cleaned his wounds, putting pressure on them to stop the bleeding. Then I took him to the vet emergency room for an examination, pain pills and antibiotics. We were released from the vet at 1am and when we arrived home we fell asleep beside one another. Exhausted and traumatized.
I haven't been writing because I've been working long hours and weekends. I'm becoming weary and edgy. I need rest, I badly need deep rest.
The walk to and from work in recent weeks has been slightly less intense. The city is continuing to power wash the streets regularly and the practice does seem to be mitigating the formation of entrenched encampment communities. The open fentanyl use has also decreased, I'm not seeing as many people blitzed out, face down along Polk and the side streets. I suppose the arrests of drug dealers that I'm reading about in the news is also altering the scene. Now that the slumped-over street druggies are subsiding, the mental patients are coming into the foreground. So many mentally disturbed and ill people are on the streets around here. They are freaking out, living in trash piles, picking obsessively at their abscesses, walking around with their pants pulled down, talking and screaming at voices in their heads, covered in layers of grimy dirty, smelling like dog shit, and sometimes acting scary violent.
They have no where to go. The druggies and drug dealers go to jail and rehab. The mental patients have no where to go. We don't have any infrastructure for them, no where to put them where they can be cared for, and if need be, monitored for life. I don't know a single person who wants people in a such terrible state living on the street, and, no one with any means appears to have the will and ability to free America from the horrors of this newly dawning abject reality.
It was around 10pm, I was walking home from Walgreens, and the street was abnormally quiet. As I approached Pine street I cross the path of a hauntingly beautiful soundscape. Someone was playing The Doors and the acoustics were perfectly attuned to the environment and the melody resonated and reflected the mood of the hard cold urban desolation of that night.
I stopped and appreciated the moment, then began moving toward the source of the sound. I walked up Pine, towards Van Ness and about half way up the block I saw such a sad, sad situation.
A dirty and disheveled loner with his belongings strewn all about him sitting on the curb, hugging his knees and furiously rocking back and forth with his bluetooth speaker blasting the song, The Crystal Ship. What was uncommon about this scene was the noir'ness of the image. A figure rocking alone, half illuminated under an orange street lamp in a chiaroscuro sort of way, amidst cold hard concrete, tall impersonal buildings, crouched down, holding themselves, and rocking in despair to a song that dreamily portrays the pain of a journey. It was like a Jim Jarmusch moment that I can't unsee.
The 2nd Annual Music City Songwriters festival happened today. It was exactly one block long with two stages, one at each end of the block. All the bands were rocking and possessed talent. The crowd was small and the vendors were sparse but the effort to make the festival mighty but small was valiant. I'm looking forwarad to future iterations and seeing where this revitalization and redefining effort goes. There appear to be a lot work going into turning Polk street around. There are the Lower Polk , designating it the hip, rock'n, place to party
Polk street becomes an all night party on Fridays. I returned home at midnight, after an evening of working in my art studio, and the street was bustling. People were spilling out of the bars, restaurants and venues; stumbling, shouting, and laughing as they roamed from one place to another. Low rider sedans and party busses with bumping soundtracks cruise, firecrackers and muffer-less motorcycles boom.
When I first moved here I thought there would be no way I could live with the noise of a street party happening outside my place. I adapted, and now I feel comforted by it. There's a sense of reassurance in knowing Polk street is not just a place where lost souls congregate, deteriorate, and lose themselves to hard drugs; it is also a place where people come to get drunk, dance, eat, celebrate and enjoy life.
A obvious cycle of cleaning and repopulating is happening on the streets. Every 24-to-72 hours it is rinse and repeat.
Beat cops are now on the streets too. I saw a pair walking on Hyde, talking to people, being present and checking into the moments they come across. They struck me as the right tone of peace keeper and protective authority. A long overdue and needed presence in these parts of the city..
San Francisco is really trying it's best to not be a failed city state. Any studied and critical reading of the news reveals these problems are not San Francisco's alone. There are too many factors informing this crisis - structural, political, economic, cultural, State, and Federal forces - bearing down on this city. And these factors have created a scourge in other American cities, towns and regions. This crisis is not San Francisco's alone.
I suspect the reason why people are especially appalled by the overdose and mental health crisis happening on our streets is because it's ugliness is so visible and in stark contrast to San Francisco's natural beauty - a petite and vertical city with quaint neighborhood villages and stunning views of the bay. The all too visible communities of broken people, abjectly impoverished and suffering, living and dying on the streets of the Tenderloin doesn't make any sense. Especially in an achingly beautiful city overwhelmingly occupied by wealthy people living in precious, gorgeous and freshly painted Victorian and Edwardian single family homes. The blue tarp survival shelters and tent encampments that line the sidewalk live in sharp and unsightly contrast to historical, ornate and picturesque architectural sites of San Francisco . The incongruity is an aesthetic transgression, an assault on the senses, it is pure dissonance.
It's pretty much all back to the way it was before. The city was only able to keep the streets clean for three days.
The Cedar, Myrtle, Olive, Ellis and Willow Street communities are returning. Tents and handmade structures are being erected. Down and out, filthy, dirty, torn and ill fitting clothed people are increasing. Some zombies slowly ramble and others quickly shuffle.
And everyone seemed to be in good spirits, on the hottest day of the year
About a week ago the city announced they would start cleaning up the streets and urban blight, and it appears they are making a go of it.
Three days ago, on my walk to work, I passed Cedar Street as it was being power washed. No one but the power washing workers were on that street and for some weird reason the cleaning solution smelled like a Jolly Rancher candy tastes. The people who live on that street were lined up along Polk, against a wall with their stuff stacked beside them. No one seemed distressed about the situation, they just stood calmly in a waiting state.
As I walked onward I passed the habitually crumbled and nodded-out trash dwelling squatters that once lived for weeks on the corner of Polk and Ellis. I'll call them the "Squatters" because they not only squat locations but they also hold themselves in slumped over squatting positions with their long dirty hair perpetually hanging in front of their turned down faces. The Squatters were now lined up along Polk beside a building's wall, all their trash from their corner habitat was spread along the wall and they were sleeping like curled up cats amongst it.
A little further along on that walk I saw that some of the long standing tarp shelters that lined the north side of Ellis were not there. And Willow Street, on either side of Polk, was now only sparsely populated with people and tents.
Yesterday's walk to work revealed that the clean up effort was holding. There were still addicts crouching about on the side streets smoking fentynal and crack, but not as many as usual, and the tents were still limited in number.
Today no one was camped nor hanging out along Cedar Street, it was clean. Along the north side of Ellis, in front side of the Civic Center Inn, there were now only one or two tents. All the the ensconced handmade shelters that occupied that sidewalk were gone. Seeing this change blew me away! The side walk was clear, reclaimed, and returned to an accessible and safe place to stroll along. For the past few years and only just days ago that site had been severely congested, desperate, disturbing and filthy. That community was now gone.
As I crossed Eddy the usual gathering of addicts and mental patients were loitering in a daze outside the Shanti Project, taking turns meeting their water needs at the curbside dispenser. When I reached Willow Street I was astonished. The deranged scene that dominated the west side had disappeared! While the east side appeared to only accommodate a small spillover of loiterers from Shanti.
On my walk home from work I saw that the Civic Center Inn, a boarded up and broken looking motel covered in graffiti and surrounded by street dwellers, had a new look. In just one day the place had been restored with a fresh coat of paint featuring light-toned manila accented with dark grey. The parked cars that lined the motel's backside lot, cars with busted windows and broken bodies, were no longer there either. All that remained in that parking lot were two guys taking apart bicycles.
The Squatters had moved again too. Their pile of refuse had been relocated further north along Polk. They now lived beside the curb of the sidewalk, their 20+ feet of flotsam and jetsam lined half the sidewalk all the way to the corner of Geary. They had created a new narrow path for pedestrians to traverse, one that that required a witnessing and careful navigation of their fragmented mess. The Squatters were a scene unto themselves, untouchables, that could not be cleaned up by the city.
A full force clean up happened this morning. The city mobilized its crews. Power washing was happening at Geary and Polk. The men in sleeping bags who line the south side were gone. No one was there, it was now a vacant and wet side walk that smelled like bleach water. A few street folk stood about watching the workers transform the space.
Willow and Polk were taken over by the city too. Both sides of the alley where being treated. The deeply entrenched community on the west side of Willow was dispersed about - shuffling, standing, mumbling and looking dazed; watching the sweeping, washing and destruction of their scene. The tents and trash the lived in were gone.
Strangely the displaced did not appear disturbed by the cities actions. That is, more disturbed than their usual disturbed nature. Oddly no one was acting irate, indigent, bereft.
No one was crying. I never see people crying on these streets. I'm sure there are lots of tears shed along Polk street, but the predominant emotions regularly expressed are rage and confusion.
At dusk some of the street folks had reestablished themselves in their places. The eastern side of Willow was re-occupied by lone street losers smoking opiates, crumpled about in various states of consciousness. The west side had two tents erected. A few of the Geary folks had realigned themselves along the south side sidewalk, sitting up against the clean building getting high.
Later in the evening, under the massively glow'y full moon, Polk, Willow and Geary were in a full bloom hustle and bustle. The night felt warm and summery, perfect for cruising. Addicts, 5150's, zombies, street prostitutes, johns, and SRO loiters paced about, stumbling into the street and falling against buildings.
It appears as if some people are like water, they naturally flow to the lowest places.
Me and my coworker M. walked home together today. At Eddy and Polk a young woman - round, dirty, disheveled, red and swollen, was running towards us, looking at us and yellling, "I'm so mad!! Fuuuuuck!! I'm going to fuck you up! I want to fuck you up! Fucking want to hit you!!!". She was swinging her arms about, fighting the moment she was living through. Just as she said, "Fucking want to hit you!!!" she threw a sloppy, but clearly directed, punch at M. who ease-fully stepped aside and dodged the hit. We both moved into the street to keep a healthy distance from So Mad and continued along at our staying-alive disco pace.
Then up ahead we could see the city cleaned up the week-long street corner encampment at Ellis. A pile of debris was created on that corner by two folks with long hair that they perpetually kept draped in front of their faces. Pedestrian had to weave their way through their path of detritus littered with broken things and hunchbacked, crumpled, sleeper and picker friends whose pants rested on their knees. One morning I counted six people littered amongst the litter. Some were sleeping in the trash other were picking through it. They all seemed like rather gentle and quiet hoarders, albeit wholly obstructive. It got the point where pedestrians had to walk into the street to carry on.
Crossing Ms. Mad was a disturbing moment that quickly transitioned into a moment of cheer and hope upon seeing the corner of Ellis and Polk cleaned up. This neighborhood requires moment to moment awareness, it demands to be witnessed.
Something strong and deadly was in the drugs today.
At 9:00am I passed at least 4 people who were completely checked out. Zonked. Splayed in somnolence. Gently twitching in a dream state.
Belonging is essential. We belong on earth. We belong here, now.
I see the downtrodden street dwellers haphazardly nurturing one another, huddling together, belonging with one another.
I have long suffered from a longing to belong. To find myself in a place where i am deeply seen, understood and genuinely accepted. I think this is a very common and ancient longing amongst most humans.
It's not uncommon to feel like you don't belong to the family that raised you, or the school you were forced to go to, or the company that you work at. Sometimes you just don't feel like you belong here, now.
We / You / Me belong to this earth. This time. This moment.
And when we feel and know we don't belong somewhere we instinctually seek out a place to belong. For a swelling population of mentally broken and drug addicted loners the dirty streets of SF's blighted neighborhoods have become places of belonging.
I see groups of fentanyl smokers slumped together, tweakers picking through detritus together, odd selections of people huddling along dead zone alleyways passing lighters, fidgeting and laughing together. To be with more than your Self is the way to survive and to belong.
I have heard that the fentanyl overdose crisis is fueled by loneliness. A lot of people are dying alone on SF's streets. And I see a lot of people trying to survive, simply accepting that they belong here, now.
Me and a work mate were walking home from work together along Polk, and as we began to cross Post we see a fight break out ahead of us. Men are tussling and pushing about in the entry of an electronics shop. Then the fight spills onto the sidewalk.
There are about 5-6 bystanders holding a semi circle around the scene. We hold back, stay on the corner and keep a distance.
It's two against one. One guy swings a bag at a grubby and disheveled looking shirtless man wearing an all black oversized mens suit. Another guy waves a stick in the air at the grubby one. The scene is clear, its local shop keepers fighting off petty crime and defending their livelihood.
The grubby one quickly gives up the fight and runs into the street, looking around at the scene, he turns his back on it all and walks away.
Today was just disturbing.
An old man with no teeth gruffly mumbled something to me as he held out his hand in a "please give" gesture. I had no words for the man and returned a gesture of turned up hands that signaled I had nothing to give at the moment. He became irate with me and more loudly gruffled incomprehensible sounds towards me. I continued past him and he followed me.
He followed me to the nearest corner. Gruffly, mumbly, yelling at me and thrusting his hat at me. I asked him to please back off, I asked him again, and at the corner I told him, "You need to leave me alone and back off now!". A doughy, gentle looking man, with headphones was standing at corner and looked over nervously. The gruffly mumbler lean towards me and screamed, "Bitch!"
The light turned green and I quickly walked away. Adrenalized. Just hoping an assault would be averted. It was. I made it to the other side safe and sound, albeit a bit shaken.
I was waiting at the corner of Polk and O'Farrell for the the light to turn green when I heard a stern voice from behind me say, "Don't look at me."
Then a man walked up to my side and said again, "I'm serious, don't look at me."
I had no idea who he was talking to and out of mild curiosity and confusion I glanced over in the mans direction and he said, "I don't want to be seen."
He was wearing clean dark clothes. Nothing designer. Fresh tennis shoes, baggy sweat pants, a baseball jacket, baseball cap and a black gator covering his face.
I cooly said, "I don't want to look at you and I don't need to look at you and I know what it's like to not want to be seen.
He said, "Yeah, that's it I don't want to be seen today, it's just one of those days."
I looked down at his shoes and quickly scanned his outfit, "You're clothes look clean. You look like you are okay. It could worse, at least you're not all dirty and face down in the gutter like some of the people around here."
With a bit of indignation he said, "A few days ago I was there."
The street light changed and I got on my way. He kept pace with me and kept the conversation going. He may not want to have been, but he most certainly needed to be heard.
For the next two blocks we walked and talked about the need to feel invisible sometimes, our mutual anger at the hardships of life, the importance of accepting the normalcy of melancholy, and feeling hopelessly frustrated with those who try to tell us to "Cheer up. Look on the bright side." and other toxic positivity bologna that people try to assuage one another with.
For two grimy city blocks we waxed deep and bonded over our existential woes. A true empathic connection forged through an understanding of the human condition.
Ironically, he let me 'see' him for a moment and then he had to go, turning left on Eddy. Just then another man who didn't want to be seen crossed in front of us. He was wearing clean dark clothes. Nothing designer. Fresh tennis shoes, baggy sweat pants, a baseball jacket, baseball cap and a black gator covering his face. And then I thought, "Are these men undercover cops? Is this a new mens fashion trend? What is going on?"
Stepped out this morning, walked down Polk, and the side streets were devoid of most of the people that had built up over the past 3 weeks.
Today the city cleaned up. Streets and sidewalks were washed. A lot of tents were gone. Trash trucks and clean up crews were out and about. There weren't a bunch of near dead people lined up outside the nonprofits that try to mitigate their abject misery.
Today the streets looked tidy and actually smelled better.
Two days in a row, on my walk to work, two different street bums told me they loved me and I was beautiful. I thanked them and offered them a devotional bow. They both said, "You're welcome."
The days are getting warmer and that summertime feeling is softening peoples hearts. Hard men are pausing to share gratitude and kindness and love. May we welcome and share moments of loving kindness, however they may show up.
Mind you, living in this area, there is easily another way I could have experienced those dirty street zombies. I could have interpreted those moments as experiences of harassment and unwelcome attention, because I was also also walking through a scary, dirty, smelly dystopia.
The streets off of lower Polk are becoming filthier and more crowded everyday with drug addicts, mental asylum seekers and people who are unable to care for themselves. There's just more dog shit too.
I read the Summer of Love wasn't that much different from these times. It the Tenderloin today's Haight Ashbury (without the green space)?
About two weeks ago it appeared that SF was really making a good faith effort to clean up the streets. I commend them for trying, again and again. The city does make an effort - sometimes.
And I find it completely mind-numbingly. logic defyingly, and really fucked-up that the clean-ups only last for about a week (if that!). It doesn't take long for the alleyways and lower Polk to repopulate with broken down people getting high. People sprawled across sidewalks, unconscious, twisted and disheveled, trashed, stuff spilling from their bags and carts.
It's so obvious when another round of fentanyl is dispersed because a wake of living dead flows into the streets and drops to the ground. Last Thursday, I was walking home from work and saw people lining streets that had been previously cleared. Streets that had been held in a suspended state of magical thinking that maybe, maybe this time San Francisco was actually showing signs of improvement. Nope. The reality is a new crop of addicts arrived last Thursday. Sitting, lined up, along the grime stained, piss scented (but cleared of debris) streets falling into oblivion as they get high.
There's a man who limps around the neighborhood, and he is seriously sick. I'm going to call him Mr. Leg. He fashions himself in shorts, a t-shirt, cavas baseball cap and flip-flops - like as a surfer, or a tennis player, or disheveled prepster. He is dirty all over and his right leg is a gargantuan stiffly swollen red and purple abscess ridden mess. It looks like it will surely be amputated and/or be a major factor in his demise sooner than later. Every time I see this fellow limping across an intersection he is all smiles and positive energy (except for that leg). Go figure.
I recently saw him sitting on the sidewalk in front of Frank's Shoe Repair. A good citizen - a genuinely concerned and disturbed gentleman - was standing over him and calling for emergency services to come take care of Mr. Leg. While on hold with the operator the gentleman would say to Mr. Leg, "You can't go on like this.... This is not okay.... You need help..... "
I gave the gentleman a nod of acknowledgment and he thanked me for witnessing his good deed.
An hour later I saw Mr. Leg, limping across California street with fresh bandages on his leg. Emergency medical services came and went, and Mr. Leg had taken their handiwork and repurposed the bandages into a what appeared to be a tourniquet tied around the upper portion of his leg, all those grapefruit sized weeping accesses were uncovered and on display. And he was all smiles.
The wine bar is loud.
They like to amplify onto the street their patron's laughing, singing and boozy rants. Karaoke reverberates on the buildings, it echos through the street and wafts into the orange'y light polluted night sky. When it's karaoke night I get to hear off key, out of tune, top 40 schlock being broken down by a gaggle of slushy ladies.
Tonight there's a man on the mic, saying clever things, using comedic timing in his delivery and garnering laughter and applause from a small crowd of winos. I am grateful that he is not yelling nor singing loudly, as the ladies often do. He sounds civilized. Then again, all I can hear is his tone. For all I know his words could be ghastly.
I had alway imagined a wine bar to be a quiet, relaxed, plush and sophisticated environment. A place with soft leather, wood paneling and pleasant acoustics. Nope. Not here.
The wine bar is loud.
I moved to Frank Norris a month ago and upon arrival I started having a nagging thought, "Blog: Frank Norris Chronicles".