The intention was to use the close proximity underground station to head of to a different corner of the town for dinner. An intention which did not play out. Rather like the petrol stations the approach to coaxing a ticket from the machines was an acquired knowledge, i cant recall exactly what it was about it that was hard to grasp but i believe the money being put in came before the ticket selection or something like that.. it was the petrol station all over again, entirely backwards and the wrong way round. Least the advantages of toppling the more familiar process and reconstructing it on its head were lost on us, to the point where in the few seconds we were granted to consider what was we were expected to do, we were instead stupefied. We had only moment in that state before being approached, a person with local knowledge, large and less than entirely fresh scented had zeroed in and was suggesting we give him our money so he might buy the ticket for us.
Its hard to gauge how to be in such situations, embrace the warmth of man and his desire to assist those caught in unfamiliar territory or risking being paranoid through the tainted view of skepticism toward their motives. Had he been dressed in different attire, less eager, more fresh of scent or perhaps had we not be so recoiled from this whole area, then perhaps we might have opted for showing this random our tourist wallets and money but not today. Instead and i cant recall exactly in what way, we extracted ourselves from this conversation, headed away from the ticket dispensing machines and eventually opted to head back out onto the street.
Either now or on the way back, perhaps it was later as we headed home one of the abiding memories of San Francisco was formed, it summed this city up in many ways. As we walked along there were many destitute, dispossessed and excluded people, abandoned by their society, the extent of this was frankly what made it stand out for all places seem to have some aspect of this. Among the many was a chap in a wheel chair, presumably trying to sleep, a rankly unpleasant sleeping bag was draped over him. Ive never seen this before, it was a new low, a disgraceful low, the people of this town, of this state and country, i was ashamed for them, what kind of place with any sort of means to prevent it allows itself to fall so low? Not even in developing countries were the excuses for allowing it would be rich and ample to choose, had i seen something such as this, San Francisco was not a great bridge, it was not the steep rolling hills, it was an remains this – the utter and clearly deliberate, unapologetic neglect of so many and those so clearly in need of better. Shame and sadness, what have we allowed our selves to become that we can fall so low. But not all of these thoughts occurred there and then, some came later as the contrast and ketteling became clear and the systematic deliberacy of this was revealed. For now then there was just this chap, his chair and sleeping back that was cast over him, it was a horribly sad thing to see reflecting back at the abundance around us.
There was much of San Francisco that had more in common with developing world places than developed, the aged look of the public transport, the grime and dirt of the streets, the disrepair of many quarters and the streets lined with the disadvantaged.
The nearest thing i had seen to this before now was probably Glasgow, it too was a place of great shame though it was also a poor city by the standards of such things, there was no justification for it. I would go there on Family visits, head into half way – the not city center but nearest cluster of shops and commercial things and there would always be too many people, wondering about. These were working days and working hours but instead the pasty white faces with sunken eyes wondered about, the streets were never that clean with packets of fried chicken or the remnants of chips scattering some corner or another. The metal railings of the parks had once been green but the paint now fell away in slices of green, while the metal rusted. It was a city in need of quite a lot, the politics of the area were socialist yet nothing got any better. The Labour party had been in power unchallenged for so very long, the common view was you could stick a red rosette on a jobby and it would likely win. The place needed a freshen up, it needed money and a deliberate and concerted effort to move it past the loss of its industries, it received none of those things and like a times lapse video my visits to Glasgow witnessed further decline.
Yet this, San Francisco it had all places beat and it wore no hint of its shame.
We were headed to the north bit, past the China town area to see what we could see in the way of places to go out and first to have dinner. Some walking and some ups, downs and ups again later we had emerged roughly where we had been headed and a flourish of Italian inspired restaurants greeted us.
Dinner was a kind of little more bar snack like than a full meal, the service was friendly though I’m somewhat short on detail about all this. In leaving Mitch as is customary at this juncture queried the waiting staff for information on places or areas worth a visit.
There were apparently some places just around the corner, though between left and right turn instructions and first vs not first corners, something was clearly not entirely as it should be. The road had grown notably smaller, the open places had grown decidedly closeder .. and for legitimate reasons, they were residential and more broadly there was little sign of very much in terms of out options.
Corners were revisited, lefts were righted until the inexplicably taxing challenge of the grid system were overcome and the lights of prospective watering holes located. Initially we hesitated on the the Tupelo bar, it has Karaoke, always a particular treat that.
While in the Tupelo bar we came upon a conclusion.
The conclusion sprung from whatever was going on in here, it was not Karaoke as we knew it, the mic was not being gripped in catatonic fear, strangled like a security blanket pulled in real close, the mic stand was serving no purpose as the walking stick remaining standing upright aid for which it was clearly intended..
The performances were not fueled by alcohols own bravery, the blinker of the tenth pint, a good four pints later than when the ears had last had any track of tone and the tongue any notion of enunciating anything in its mouth. As we looked on, struck by what was going on, people were doing multiple performances and these people were drinking water, they were all using the Mic as a sort of performance prop, looking out at the audience, busting moves and giving it large. It was impressive stuff, entertaining, disconcertingly so, people are meant to be roundly a bit shit, a bit volunteer circus freak, persuaded by intoxication to get over their well founded inhibitions enough to get them to the stage but not always through the performance. Then there was this… Either there was something very odd going on in San Francisco, the world outside the UK was awash with any number of people looking and sounding like the pop icons of tomorrow or…. and this was the conclusion, somewhere around here there was some sort of drama school and this lot, they were its spores.
The other bar we ended up at was either next door or pretty much next door, which may convey something of the selection criteria … it was there, it was open and we didn’t what else there was or where it might be.. that’s not to say these were not fine bars, its merely that neither reputation nor amazing magnetism neon lights were at play in our considerations.
They had a band on.. The audience was dancing about, the two or three of them, they were really into it and had something about them which suggested they were perhaps, part of the bands of stage social circle.
This pub had cider though, the same little mini bottles you get when in continental Europe… before 2000 cider had been a bit of a side issue, 5L bottles of diamond white consumed in park land..then came the Alcho-Pop and all that changed and Cider discovered a new market niche as the summer refreshment of choice.. Being a beer none appreciator this flourish of Cider choices was gratefully received but it seemed reticent to spread overseas, aside from these, the mini magners.