My part of town

Tonight I took another walking tour of my neighborhood — San Francisco's lovely north Mission area. God, I love it here. This will be my home turf for as long as I can afford a rez hotel, the rest of my life if I'm lucky. If you haven't been here, dear reader, you're invited to accompany me on the walk, not literally, but literarily…

Let's begin right outside the door of the Hotel McMillan, at a loud corner of Mission Street. Next door, a few stories under my room, is the Wang Fat Fish Market, and you wouldn't mistake the scent for anything else. When the weather and wind are just wrong, I can smell the fish in my room.

At the corner is the Section 8 Cafe, where drunks and derelicts enjoy a reasonably-priced breakfast when they don't need the money for booze. I've eaten at the Section 8, and give it a thumbs-up, mostly for the prices, but the food is OK too. The modern-bum ambiance is provided by the customers.

On the other three corners, there's a mom & pop grocery, a mom & pop hardware store, and a mom & pop plastic crap store, like an indy Kmart. The moms & pops are as diverse as the area — one couple's black, one's Hispanic, and one's Asian. 

My walk took me four blocks north, south, east, and west of the hotel, and I counted half a dozen full-service Mexican restaurants, and another half-dozen fast-food taquerias (burrito dives). There's almost an equal number of Chinese restaurants and noodle stops, and you'll also find four Thai restaurants, four Salvadorean, four pizzerias, three sushi bars, three Indian restaurants, two Vietnamese, two American-style diners, two Peruvian restaurants, two Arabian, two barbecue joints, two old-fashioned luncheonettes, a Cajun restaurant, a Cuban, a Guatemalan, a Filipino, a Mediterranean, an Irish, an Italian, a Spanish, a Korean, a vegan, and a French restaurant, and a British bar & grill, and a bizarre military-themed restaurant where the staff wears combat fatigues and the meals are served on aluminum trays.

There's also a Greek deli, an Italian deli, a Mexican deli, two more delis of no particular ethnicity, a Philly cheesesteak place, a Turkish coffee shop, and a burger joint cleverly called Burger Joint.

What's amazing is that I could afford to eat at most of these places, long as I don't make a habit of it. From the menus in the windows, there are dozens of places where you can eat a mean for six bucks or less. If my meager income allows it, I hope to try all of these eateries before I die, though of course, the Sincere Cafe is nearby too, and it always beckons.

There are nine ordinary groceries plus five bodegas, an Indian grocery, two Chinese groceries, and two healthy/hippie stores. There are eight thrift stores, and five used bookstores, offering trashy paperbacks for 50¢ and trashy hardbacks for a dollar (actual literature is priced slightly higher).

I counted nineteen liquor stores, sixteen bars, ten coin-operated laundromats, eight check-cashing places, four copy shops, three pawnbrokers, two funeral parlors, and a college. 

There's a wide array of drug stores, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and small doctors' offices (the offices are small, not necessarily the doctors).

There a composting shop, a pool hall, a zine store that sells Pathetic Life (and pays the author!), and a typewriter repair shop that says they're experts on the brand I'm banging this on. 

There's a tiny public park and it's not overrun with bums and hypodermics, and there are two post offices, and of course the Good Vibrations sex toy store. There's a police station on Valencia, so there are four doughnut shops.

And of course, there are other businesses I'll never have any need for — banks, butchers, auto body shops, barbers and beauty salons, jewelers, clothiers, manicurists, churches, etc. A few stores are boarded up, but really, surprisingly few.

From the hotel it's two blocks to BART, and there are several buses headed downtown, two crosstown, and one to Palo Alto. By train or bus, I can quick and easy get to six different theaters that show old movies, and two more, the Roxie and the A.T.A., are so close I can easily walk. 

Here's a tragedy, though. The Tower Cinema, which used to show second-run double features with Spanish subtitles, is now a church. The marquee says JESUCRISTO ES EL SENOR, which I clumsily translate as "Jesus is the man," but my Spanish sucks so correct me if I'm wrong. Certainly, they're wrong.

There are three more dead movie houses on my stretch of Mission Street. One is shuttered, one is an import shop, and one is a damned parking lot — they gutted the building, and now people lock and leave their cars where the seats used to be, under the intricately-carved walls of what one once a swanky auditorium. It's an abomination, and I crossed to the other side of the street to keep my distance.

During my long walk, I was panhandled 22 times, offered drugs four times, but saw only one obvious hooker and two certain psychos. There's not as much graffiti around the area as you might expect, and a few of the buildings have beautiful murals painted on them, which even the vandals seem to respect. 

This being San Francisco, there was even a protest. A dozen Hispanic women marched past me on Mission, and later they came the other way down Valencia, carrying bilingual placards, Spanish on one side, English on the other. Most of the ladies were in their 20s or 30s, many were pushing strollers, and one of their signs said, "Moms for Kids." Their other signs said things like, "Stay in school — it's important," and, "Don't give up."

Hell, I dropped out and gave up twenty years ago, but the message wasn't meant for me, obviously.

So there's the neighborhood. By comparison, if I'd walked a similar distance in Berkeley, there'd be a liquor store, an old folks' home, and a Walgreens, and a whole lot of boring houses full of boring people. Give me the Mission, any day, every day.

And then, the smell of fish told me I was home. I smiled and waved at the doomed crabs swimming in the window of Wang Fat's, turned a key and climbed four flights of stairs, took off my clothes and typed all about it.

From Pathetic Life #23
Thursday, April 18, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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