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Walking the line

Reflection self portrait on Mission St

I’m the master of many modes of transportation. Growing up, I rode horses every week, both in the arena and occasionally on the rural road that the horse rescue I volunteered at was nestled on. I’m perfectly comfortable behind the wheel of a car. I’m even somewhat competent on the back of a motorcycle, though it’s been over a year since I rode due to not being able to afford the high cost of insurance.

And yet, something about riding a bicycle in San Francisco terrifies me. I figure that all after the years I’ve somehow managed to not kill myself riding horses and motorcycles, I’ve kind of used up my luck when it comes to potentially hazardous modes of transportation.

So the result is that I walk. Everywhere. All the time. It is, hands down, my preferred mode of transportation. Even if there is a bus line that goes from where I am to where I am trying to go, nine times out of ten I’ll pick a nice long walk instead.

So, naturally, I spend a lot of time walking around SoMa. Which, by definition, is a very walkable neighborhood. My apartment scores a blistering 95 on Walk Score, and the whole neighborhood comes in with an impressive 94 points.

Walking keeps me in touch with this neighborhood. It gives me a front row seat to the constantly evolving landscape I occupy. It gives me a chance to watch the perpetual, transient opera of storefronts that come and go, restaurants that open and close, and street people who simply shift between which alley they sleep on from month to month.

Walking in SoMa is also the easiest way to keep in touch with the things that just aren’t right about this hood. Though I’ve grown to accept it, it’s not like I don’t notice the heaps of human shit, piles of puke, and garbage that line the alley I live on. I try not to let it get to me, but it makes me angry. I’m not angry at the humans who are creating this obstacle course, since I can’t begin to imagine the horror of being dope sick and heaving your guts out onto the street that you call home. I also can’t hate a homeless person who doesn’t have a trash can for leaving piles of cardboard and torn up clothes on the sidewalk. Like it or not, the people who are leaving these smudges on my sidewalk are my neighbors too. They live here as much as I do.

I guess I’m angry at the whole system that has created this mess. I’m angry that housing assistance is left to a few institutions that are denied the resources and funding to have any meaningful impact. I’m angry that having a drug addiction in this country is a criminal offense, and angry at how that line of thinking keeps people sleeping on my alley instead of seeking help. I’m angry that the city puts more of a priority on moving big companies like Twitter into derelict buildings in my neighborhood instead of sending people out onto these streets to reach out to those who need help (or at least clean up some of the garbage).

I’m angry that “shit on the sidewalks” has become a trope, a stereotype, when people talk about SoMa instead of something that serves as an example of how badly things need to change in this neighborhood. I’m angry that for people who don’t live in the neighborhood, it’s all they see. I’m angry that for people who do live here, we just shrug it off as an impossible thing to change. A sort of visual tax for calling this place home.

Most of all, I’m just angry that I don’t even know how to begin fixing this on my own.

Categories: SoMa
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