Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Broken Heart In San Francisco

It is not uncommon, as that hoary cliche goes, to leave one's heart in San Francisco ... I leave a broken heart here as someone who loved the city, or the image of what the city was in my memory. I usually do a chatty list of places we went to and things we did when we travel. I can't do that exclusively in good conscience this time.

I had been warned by a good friend who had recently travelled here. She said that the Mission District where our hotel was located was "sketchy" and was shocked at the number of homeless people she saw there. She carefully advised no night time trips alone. 

As beautiful and exciting as the city is in some quarters something has gone desperately wrong. The much touted Mission district is filled with the truly destitute - more than just men and women who look like they have slept in the rough a few nights. These people have been on the streets for years and they are entirely destitute - very unclean, bedraggled, torn and dirty clothes in utter ruins and clearly mentally ill - talking to themselves, initiating arguments with the real and the imaginary.

As we stepped off the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), luggage in hand, walking to our hotel, a man kneeling and facing a building storefront, doing I know not what, turned around, looked at the three of us and said, "This is a very violent neighbourhood." We looked at each other and walked on, tongue-tied.

Granted I have not been in San Francisco for decades ... R and I had ventured here in the 1990s and stayed in a hotel in Oakland, CA courtesy of a business sponsored trip I was offered at the time. Even then we were warned to not walk about on the streets in Oakland so we dutifully travelled by transit or cab to SF for our daily exploits. Then, it was Oakland that was considered risky for tourists, not San Francisco. 

Sadly it reminds me of NYC in the 1980s - garbage strewn everywhere, the smell of urine permeates, many homeless, truly desperate people in a thriving tourist area overrun with us tourists. 

I met a lovely man in bookstore who said he was a former monk and now the owner of the store. He had an elaborate explanation about the increase in homelessness involving no less than several right wing local politicians, the slithery Karl Rove (yes, that Karl Rove) and the selling of a portion of the city's real estate to Chinese nationals. I could not fathom what was true and what was not ... but I do know the situation seems very much worse than I recall and it makes me rethink if this is where I want to spend my money if the local pols are going to blithely let the situation regarding the homeless continue. 

Hopefully I can add these entries with a little more sensitivity as to what the city is truly like. 

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