Today’s San Francisco Chronicle headline is all about the loss of federal funding for the city in the wake of the Trump election. Significantly, I can’t find the same article on the Chronicle website. After all, the print edition is all of eight hours old and digital history by now. Things appear to be changing at an unprecedented rate even when they aren’t changing at all. I’m too old for this. That’s why after my weekly bodywork appointment, AKA, massage, I head up 18th St. in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. And where Shotwell Street crosses my path, I hang a right into Los Gallardos.
Everything about this restaurant seems right for this particular American week. Cash only. Fresh corn tortillas and odd menu items like quesadilla de espinaca…no, not one of those spinach-colored flour tortillas, but the fresh vegetable…and not seemingly healthy or vegetarian. Because this week, I don’t feel like being either. I feel like being here in San Francisco’s Latino quarter, playing at being ethnic. I even have a go at Spanish, conversing with the waitress about what’s on the walls. I’m staring at all these Mexican film stars. These are studio shots, portraits with the the look of the 1940s. But I suspect they could even be later, perhaps the 1960s or even the 1970s. Mexico is a little behind, if that is the word. What is the word? Pintura. The waitress applauds my dismal attempts at Spanish. So do I. Fluency is not the issue.
I wish I knew what the issue was. Supposedly it is this restaurant and its staff. Our newly elected and mentally disturbed leader wants to build a wall to keep all this out. Fortunately enough of this is already in, in me. Kindergarten spent with rural Mexican American kids in a Southern California classroom marked the happiest year of my educational life. Mike Zavala wore a button-down cowboy shirt that has forever set the standard for enviable mail attire. This was not to last, however. My mother was convinced that I was learning to ‘speak with my hands,’ somehow an undesirable trait. I said goodbye to the school.
As I now say goodbye to lunch. I can’t find the right change for a tip. So I leave the wrong change, five dollars for an eight-dollar lunch. What message am I sending? A good message. Inarticulate, but it will have to do. Outside into the globally-warmed light of day, I resolve to have lunch next time at La Tepa just down the street, although the lunchtime crowd is a little too young, hip and techy. The Mission is home to San Francisco’s exploding software industry. Money awash, these neighborhoods can’t last long, not as they are.
I cross Folsom Street to wait for the 12 Muni bus. The latter describes a sort of arc around this district, then heads right into the center of town, the high-rise financial zone. It is also infrequent, only appearing every half hour. It’s perfect for me, I decide, being on my way to my adult education class. How much more adult can one get? I share the bus stop with a portly Hispanic man. I observe that the bus is imminent, in broken Spanish and he thanks me in intact English. The bus arrives, hydraulically lifts me aboard and we trundle along. A couple of streets away a man boards or attempts to board. He is overladen with goods. A wire shopping basket forms the bulk of his load, but several paper bags precede it. These get loaded one by one, clearly fairly light, then the man moves backward up the bus steps, the wheels of his cart bouncing. This is taking a remarkable length of time. None of us on board, virtually all oldsters, seem to have pressing schedules. But one gets conditioned to this thing, the rush to get there.
The driver helps position the man, and his goods, along a bench seat. The man is old, but younger than I am. He seems to be Chinese in origin, like most of the people around me. And he is not in excellent physical condition. Still, he makes an admirable effort to pay his fare, lunging unsteadily towards the card reader when the bus stops. The bus starts up too soon, knocking him back against the seat. I wonder what he has in the bags. Everyone does. I do get a glimpse through the wireframe of his shopping cart. Little boxes of apparently the same thing. Something essential and massively on sale? Somehow I don’t think so. More likely something cheap and sellable.
I foresee quite a logjam, this man with all his goods and me with my bulky wheelchair. It’s not clear how my exit will occur. The driver must be thinking the same thing, for he asks the man for his stock. The guy responds incomprehensibly. I can’t tell if he has a very acute stutter or something else. He is trying hard, His voice conveying this. You wants us to know, But he cannot express. He is trying. He is trying. And yes, he is trying my nerves. But much less so, a few streets beyond, when he begins struggling to get off. It’s quite a production, he and his cart and his bags. And, of course, he is only trying to survive. He and the bus and the nation.