Seeking a Renaissance in San Francisco
You may remember that I posted about the local San Francisco blog, I Live Here: SF, back in February of last year (post). The blog was started in 2009, by photographer Julie Michelle. In Julie’s own words: “The blog is an exploration of the city through the visages and stories of the people who participate, with its myriad of nano-neighborhoods and micro climates. Living in San Francisco, and the communal attachment to the city, is the common thread for the work of this project.” The blog is now being curated by the talented photographer, Bhautik Joshi, who took wonderful photographs for the piece!
My story was published back in September, and I wanted to share it with you all. Enjoy!
Golden Gate Street
It’s 3pm on the Med/Surg unit at the St. Luke’s Campus of California Pacific Medical Center, and I’m just starting my quality management rounds. It’s a Friday, and at first, all I can think about is starting my weekend. The nurses from the AM shift are wrapping up for the day. I overhear them discussing cases as they gather their belongings to head home. I’m a nurse myself, but I don’t understand anything from the chatter, except a few words here and there: “PVCs,” “92% on room air,” “discontinue Lasix.” Everything else seems to be a jumble of Tagalog, Spanish, and some Chinese. I begin to comprehend how culturally diverse San Francisco really is!
I wrap up work in the next few hours and head out the door onto Valencia Street, just in time to see a patient leaving the building with a parrot on his shoulder. “Only in San Francisco,” I think to myself. I walk over to the bus stop at the corner of Valencia and Cesar Chavez. I watch three buses go by, but not the one I need. My bus, the number 27, is late as usual, so I sneak by Anthony’s Cookies for a few of their amazing ‘cookies and cream’ cookies. The 27 finally gets in – nearly 15 minutes late – in true MUNI fashion, but I’m not complaining. I’m too busy devouring every bite of these cookies that I’ve only had here in SF.
I get on the bus and figure I should stop by 5th and Market to run a few errands. People slowly start to pile on, and I get lost in thoughts about my weekend. I’m suddenly shaken out of my daydreaming when I hear two older ladies going at each other on the bus. “Yo mama is so fat, she got arrested at the airport for ten pounds of crack!” yells one of the ladies. “Yo mama so fat her beeper went off and people thought she was backing up!” retorts the other. This is hilarious, and I can’t help but laugh; I’d definitely heard the beeper joke before. The two eventually get into a fist fight and are asked to step off the bus. I start to understand why the blog Muni Diaries exists and think about sending in a contribution.
The bus reaches Bryant and 5th, and is stalled in Bay Bridge traffic. Even though it’s only 5:30pm, I already see a long line outside of St. Vincent de Paul. The line is wrapping around 5th onto Bryant, with men and women waiting to see if they’ll score some food and a bed for the night. The line is densely speckled with wheelchairs and military gear. It strikes me that over half of the people in the line are likely veterans.
This isn’t the first time I’m hit with this realization, but I’m baffled all over again – “How does San Francisco have one of the largest homeless-veteran populations in the country?” “Why are there so many disabled, uninsured, and homeless veterans to begin with?” “Shouldn’t they be getting benefits and care they were promised after their years of service?”
Consumed in thoughts of veterans rights, I get off at Market and 5th. As I walk down Market, I already see a few people setting up signs and placards saying things like “I just want to get married too” and “Gay, Straight, Black, White, Marriage is a Civil Right.” I realize that tomorrow is the Proposition 8 Protest, and I make plans to grab my camera and march through the city, from Union Square to City Hall (here are the photos I ended up taking).
I finish my errands and decide to walk the rest of the way home. I turn the corner to Beale Street and walk past Howard, nearly tripping on abandoned gloves, a tourniquet, and a few used syringes. Having worked at Heroin rehab clinic, this scene is all too familiar. Because this part of SOMA shuts down after 5pm and is a bit more run down, it’s become a haven for IV drug users, looking for a momentary high. I realize San Francisco has such a high rate of IV drug users who pass on diseases to each other through the use of shared needles.
I keep walking and see Stan under the bridge. I smile, and he smiles back and waves. Stan is one of the few people I see everyday. He lives under the bridge between Howard and Folsom, on Beale. He was one of the first people I met in San Francisco. Stan used to be an engineer, but left that life several years ago after a rough patch. He’s now a full-time panhandler. Stan always seems eager to talk, wanting to discuss everything from politics and the economic downturn to his grievances about lack of health care and basic amenities. I spend a few minutes chatting and then continue on my way.
I reflect back on my day and think about the number of comical, social, cultural, civil rights, and economic disparities I’ve come across in a matter of a few hours. I moved to this city less than 6 months ago and I’m still getting used to the unique sights, sounds, tastes, and one-of-a-kind personalities of SF.
Now, four years later, even though so much has changed (Stan moved, I moved, we have a new president, a new economy, etc.), so much has stayed the same. The people fighting against Prop 8 are still fighting for their rights, the line at St. Vincent de Paul continues to be speckled with vets, and the chatter at work still showcases an assortment of languages. I’ve learned a lot about this city and have come to love it dearly. Every experience and every person I’ve met in my short time here has taught me something new.
As a nurse, I’ve always been interested in Public Health, and living in San Francisco has pushed me to dedicate myself to its people. I’ve been volunteering at the Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution, serving injection heroin and crack cocaine users and hope to start at SFAF’s Syringe Access program, soon. The Bay Area has seen a rise in communicable diseases, so needle exchange programs, like these, help reduce rates through harm reduction. Of course, eradicating effects of substance abuse can’t just end there. I recently started volunteering at the Walden House, serving patients in treatment for substance abuse – people who want to fight the debilitating disease and finally live their lives.
Many of the disparities and discordances I observed that day can’t be resolved, but I’ve realized that I can still do my small part for the people of this city!
Shruti was photographed in a part of the Tenderloin where she was able to live out her interests in both art (100 Days Project: Life in Red) & public service (Safe Passage Sidewalk Mural). More on Shruti here: about.me/shruti914.
[via I Live Here: SF]
All photographs by Bhautik Joshi