Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Hate San Francisco

Without question, one of my favorite bookstores is City Lights in San Francisco.  The store is essentially unchanged from when the Beat writers used it as their base of operations.  Black and white photographs of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Cassidy, and Bob Dylan at the store dot the walls showing that as times have changed, City Lights has not.  I have spent hours in there trying to decide which subversive books I can cram in my luggage home.  I bought a hardcover copy of “Howl” there once while staring at a photo of Ginsberg making the infamous first reading with his cadre of contemporaries hooting him on enthusiastically.  What could be better than “Howl” actually bought at City Lights?  I wonder where that book is now?

Next door is the bar Vesuvio.  It’s a grimy little place where I usually stop for an Anchor Steam and wonder if the place has ever been re-painted since indoor smoking was outlawed in California.  I was hoping to watch the end of the Steeler game, but in true Vesuvio fashion the single old TV played a re-run of “Bosom Buddies” no one paid attention to.  I wondered if I should ask the groovy bartender woman if she could change the channel to the game, but felt the possibility of consternation about even acknowledging the television or sports as a whole placed me at risk for expulsion.  Instead I talked to a couple of Irish guys I could barely understand that sat next to me.  I would have preferred the game.

I had to walk through Chinatown to get back to my hotel.  Store after store has absolute garbage for sale, each one trying to undercut the other.  I assume they are all owned by some Chinese crime syndicate that chops off the store owner's thumbs when sales dip.  Low quality t-shirts, plastic waving paw cat clocks, throwing stars, knock off luggage, and desperate little restaurants plead for business.  I considered realizing the dream of every 12 year old boy that walks through the area by purchasing a samurai sword.  It is true I would have limited use for a samurai sword and would tire of it quickly.  Still, isn't it my Constitutional right to have a sword?  My thought is that if people can conceal carry military grade pistols, I don’t know why I can’t walk around with a poorly made samurai sword.  I couldn’t work up the energy to haggle with a shop owner over the price, so I just kept moving.   

A block before the Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown is a street with an extremely steep hill.  It was Sunday at about 830p so it was relatively quiet.  Traffic was light.  There was an Asian couple across the street waiting to cross.  I stood at the signal waiting for the light to change while clutching my stack of books.  That’s when I heard the noise at the top of the hill coming my direction.  I wouldn’t call it a scream exactly.  It was more like a woman’s voice making an excited yell.  It was a middle ground between panic and thrill. 

I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing at first.  But as she wooshed by it became crystal clear.  A middle aged Asian woman was on one of those scooter type contraptions that are used when you have a leg injury.  The injured leg is placed on a kneeling position on the padded seat and the other leg propels the scooter.  (see above photo)  This woman, extremely conservative and “normal” from what I could gather, was flying down this amazingly steep hill on this scooter yelling out “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!” as she shot through the intersection at about 25 mph and proceeded down the next graduation down the multi block slope.  It was odd though as I couldn't decide if she was terrified or had done it on a dare and was excited. 

I cannot undersell to you the steepness of these hills.  There is no way I could ride a bike up it.  My heart would burst.  People ski on less on Ohio and New York.  I have never seen anything like this woman flying past.  It was like a combination of some Chinese mother in trouble and a Mountain Dew TV advertisement.  It was maybe the most radical thing I have ever seen.  The woman's "Ahhhh!!!!" faded with distance.  The other couple and I looked at each other after she flew by and descended down the hill.  Then we both pretended it didn't happen.

I walked though the intersection and passed the couple.  They looked down on the ground to avoid eye contact with me.  They were no help.  I wanted to speculate.  I need to know what happened.  I find it hard to believe that this woman after cooking Sunday supper for her family decided to hobble down to the street with her broken ankle and just get crazy.  "Listen everyone.  After we finish this spicy chicken, I'm going to do something totally rad!  Come on out front!"  Alternately, it seems impossible that Mrs. Chen could have been trying to wheel across the street a few blocks away and things just got away from her.  Could she have been wheeling over to the bank and then became incapacitated with fear as she gathered speed rolling downhill?  Yet, it had to be one of those two options.  Then, the moment had passed.  Traffic resumed and people walked past like the incident was a fever vision.

I walked another block past the Hotel Triton where I had once stayed in the room with the Kerouac scroll wallpaper and been serenaded by homeless drifters all night.  It was quiet tonight.  I paused to look in the window of the hotel lobby.  When I turned to resume walking, a dirty homeless guy with a mustache sauntered towards me.  He pointed to me and smiled.  He made a thumbs up.  “Looking good man!”  I laughed.  No, you’re looking good my man!”  He nodded his head as he walked by.  “You got that right.”

San Francisco is a great town.      


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