I live in the SF Bay Area and I proclaim the public sidewalk is for: pedestrians, wheelchair users, pets on leashes and babies in strollers, that’s it. No eclectic scooters, bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, or mobs of joggers are allowed. They’re on the pedestrian sidewalk probably because they’re afraid of death by commute, but they can’t just appropriate our space. We need better options for all of us…but pedestrians should take priority.
I don’t drive a car intentionally for several reasons: I think the world is polluted enough, traffic congestion and parking is maddening in the Bay Area and car insurance/upkeep is unreasonable on an artist’s income. Sometimes I ride on public transit, depending on whether I need to be at my destination on time or not. But it’s often a nauseating experience. Public transit used to be a common transportation method for the general public but with the introduction of subway trains, buses have become the less desired, “poor peoples” option, patronized mostly by the poor: the elderly, the disabled, struggling immigrant and blue collar families and the homeless.
I shun social hierarchies and elitism, excessive wealth repulses me, so I ride the bus with a silent power to the people pride. I feel that these are the people I can empathize with the most even though I was raised in an affluent, nearly all white environment. I was one of four Asians in my high school senior class. My family lived in a gorgeous sky-lighted house with acres of private land in northern Maryland, surrounded by doctors, lawyers, admirals, even a famous writer lived next door; but we were blue collar immigrants that lived with minimal things, no vacations or extra items, every penny went to the home mortgage.
When I first moved to SF, I was walking behind a homeless man who was pushing a shopping cart full of plaid orange sofa cushions that looked like they were teleported from the 70s. It was a windy day and somehow one of the cushions flew off the cart and smacked me directly in the face with the stench of mold, mildew and accumulated body odor. Welcome to SF, I laughed to myself despite feeling disgusted. After living here for over two decades, I’ve acclimated to seeing extreme decadence right next to decrepit poverty. SF has more human waste on the street than some third world countries. It’s not that I stopped caring, it’s that I’ve grown complacent to the inequality. I feel powerless in the mechanism of Capitalism. I do what I can within my circle of influence, and try not to contribute to the problem of human greed and competition, but I feel powerless in the grand reality.
Walking is my small political action. The motion of walking, self-propelled, weaving through a shadow maze of people on my commute from Embarcadero or Montgomery Bart stations through urban parks, skyscrapers, the TransAmerica pyramid, past the pizzeria, taqueria and hipster bars and seedy strip clubs to my job in North Beach is a physical and poetic exercise of observation. It’s a thirty minute catering paced stroll (power walker speed) winding through Telegraph Hill, an urban park where ex-hippie homeless sit like mini mountain mounds in the manicured grass, wrapped in pee and feces stained blankets and woolen-like matted hair.
In the wind shaken trees are wild green parrots bickering and swooping for territory on favorite natural growing skyscraper branches. They dive fly and perch in their aerial kingdom achieving the best of both worlds, wildness and domestication. During the day local bird lovers feed them seeds by hand, their only worry are predator hawks who occasionally swoop down to hunt them, otherwise they’re free to do what they want. They started out as captured pets who were lost or released into the wild and somehow they learned to adapt to a non-native climate. SF has a micro climate but is far from being a tropical rainforest. The wild parrots of telegraph are living the life compared to their homeless neighbors, who have all the time in the world but no resources to live on.
SF has always been notoriously unaffordable although it attracts young artists, seekers and activists from everywhere in America. I suppose when you’re young you think everything will work out eventually and so you take giant leaps of faith. I made dramatic and courageous choices when I was in my early twenties straight out of college, that I would never attempt to do again. I came to the Bay Area with only $70, what was I thinking? But I survived my foolish bravery after all.
San Francisco is an eclectic portal. Living here is a surreal experience that will alter your brainwaves, open you up to new realities and may transform you, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s what tourists will never understand while riding the red double decker tour buses, the famous sites are meaningless, dead, places because they represent expired eras. Beatniks made North Beach poetically and politically hip during a time of extreme conservatism but the spirit of that time has died many lifetimes ago.
Seekers keep coming here thinking they’ll find liberal shelter and freedom of expression but the majority of people that can afford to inhabit San Francisco are old money Gentry or new bourgeois Techies. Trust funded aristocrats inherited their billion dollar mansions or stole their wealth through shady means. I’m not describing wealthy professionals who actually work as professional doctors or lawyers, I’m talking about the mega-rich who have never had to buy their own groceries, the ones who live sheltered existences in immaculate luxury.
Electric scooter, c Judy Eun Kyung Kim
Techies are the offspring of wealthy professionals, they probably went to private schools and came from the same white privilege, suburban neighborhoods that I grew up in. The parents of their generation convinced them that they were special and entitled to everything. So now they’re racing by on eclectic scooters, or blocking the sidewalk by jogging in group formation (because their trendy gym feels entitled to use it as if it’s their own private track, not a public sidewalk). It’s not just a few meat head joggers, it’s a gang of 10-15 people running in both directions, on one sidewalk, leaving a thin alley of space for pedestrians to squeeze through like a gauntlet.
The local trendy gym that encourages their members to block the sidewalk with jogging exercises, c Judy Eun Kyung Kim
Both bicyclists and electric scooters have run into me on sidewalks. Go brave your lazy need to glide vs walk, on the street’s bike path, you can’t have it both ways! If you’re too afraid of traffic collisions, then walk. Why have we gotten so lazy? We’re supposed to pay for a trendy gym membership, (contorting and moving in unnatural motions) but stop natural movement like walking? Walking is a landmark event of childhood, those first steps symbolize our human evolution from walking on all fours, but it’s outdated now?
I’d like to see SF as it used to be, lit by the crisp warmth of sun merged with wind, with people walking together in conversation, not addicted to their phones. I want the classic, old school SF Bay Area that I travelled to from the east coast for, with her Indian Summer sunsets, bathing in the lush grass in mystical sun-tipped gold. I want San Francisco to feel like a home again, a refuge for artists, activists and geniuses.