March 7 – March 13
Sometimes the 2, usually the 3. Both Muni lines run along Sutter Street and begin at the stop right in front of my office. Stormy evenings, hot stiff afternoons– I’m there. When the twilight descends over downtown, I’m usually right at the center of the magic.
For 15 minutes I get to see such funny, livening sights. Usually I’m alone, sometimes I’m riding with my neighbor who lives next door in #6. Don’t think he likes me very much. I don’t see him tonight, relieved instead that I’m rewarded with the presence of a great Doberman who’s finding it hard to sit near the back of the bus. Dogs disturbing the peace– that’s OK. Humans, no.
The first distinctive fuss you directly notice is the students crowding the dorm entrances that belong to the Academy of Art. Some are smoking and others just sit on the stoops. A few migrate to a block down where Matador Tequileria is, always projecting old Latino films on its outer walls. There’s a liquor store on every other corner that students might scatter to for their quick conveniences, a reminder that in one of them last spring a bunch of your colleagues split the tab between two mini bottles of whiskey and one of Bailey’s just for myself. What a colorful night that was, strange and exotic for an idyllic night out consuming mini scotches, exotic like the the names of the apartment buildings I pass: Belgravia, Lucerne, and Commodore.
The bus moves along and the dog, men in suits, women carrying burlap grocery bags filled with papers drop off at their respective stops. Where I go, it’s beyond downtown, the cable cars and Nob Hill where the Tenderloin can barely spill into its streets on the uphill slant. The halfway point lies at Cup O’ Joe coffeehouse, an ugly name but not in the slightest an ugly spot. I’ve sat there a few times, once alone and another on a Sunday afternoon where I shared a table by the window with a friend who had happened to walk in for an afternoon spent reading. They have the best beer deals too, $3 until 10PM. After that is the The Carlton Hotel with its red neon sign jotting vertically out onto the air, but whether it really is a hotel or an SRO I’m fooled. Both blend with each other so well in the inner-city. Land is priceless in the city, especially the closer you are to the hub of Union Square. That doesn’t make any of it more beautiful. The beauty flees and all of a sudden I don’t like it when we pass Halstead & Carew & English. I know that it’s the thing to cross your fingers crossing a cemetery, but does the same apply to mortuaries? I don’t bother to find out, I just keep doing it. Keeping safe and sound in the mind, that’s beautiful.
Lastly there’s the little things that give me a sign of home, any comfort of home. Places and moments that are inviting and give the sense of peace where at times this crowded bus may wreck my composure. If only one day I could act upon these feelings, like stepping off at Polk to get my hair cut at the hole-in-the-wall salon that looks straight from the 80s but more exotic with all the lush banana leaves growing about and around each stylist’s stations. Across the street is a dirty supermarket where out of its black doors comes a frail old woman who looks back, waiting for when her grown daughter can finish paying and help her lift the grocery bags in her two small hands.
The bus I take along Sutter Street is only 15 minutes long, and when I just want to be home, I’ll find myself faced with odd little pleasures that find home in a disgusting, concrete strip. And it’s a very alive, very beautiful thing.