Lunch in the Tenderloin

Stephen and I were in the Punjab…no, not the subcontinent, the restaurant in the Tenderloin…at the precise moment Donald Trump was making his latest announcement regarding immigrants. I like the Punjab. As Indian restaurants go, it’s not in the major leagues. But it’s fine for San Francisco which doesn’t know from Indian food. And it’s family-run. And the people are wonderful. And you can have a reliable go at sagh, chicken tikka and bindhi without much worry. Not knowing the immigration status of its employees, there may or may not be much worry in the kitchen. It certainly isn’t evident on the plate. Mine was lovely. $9.95 cheap. ‘Have a nice day,’ the proprietor always intones as I exit. Departing there is such sweet sorrow, for there’s a sense of leaving an ongoing party. Such is the effect of Bollywood’s finest dancing and singing their musical hearts out during one’s entire lunch.

It’s the ‘nice day’ salutation that makes me feel truly proud to be an American. After all, this is the corniest, sappiest of sentiments…and it is is somehow very much of our land. Vague. Upbeat. Unfounded. And unstoppable. I wish that Messrs. Punjab have any equally nice day and emerge onto Mason Street. I simply don’t go to this part of town. Actually, Stephen and I had a lunch date in Civic Center Plaza, site of a weekly farmers market and a convocation of food vans. Among the latter, a well regarded tamale source…with lunchtime queues stretching halfway to Oakland. Anyway, that was the plan.

But what actually happened to that plan involved a fringe manifestation of the collapse of Western civilization, vis-à-vis BART. The regional subway system. The breakdown of elevators in its metro stations is both routine and unpredictable, like the San Francisco weather. Forecasts of each are posted daily. And this particular elevator outlook involves low pressure and a series of outages moving across the system from Hayward toward Civic Center. I read this on a digital crawl as I boarded BART at my station, Glen Park. Forewarned is forearmed. Which explains why Stephen and I were lunching on Eddy Street.

Why does the American proletariat routinely vote against its own interests? This from Stephen as we emerged into the tourist throngs. I told him pundits insist that voters are expressing their values…just not for things I readily understand. Self-sufficiency. Work ethic. Don’t tread on me. Okay, I sort of made that last one up. Whatever it is American workers think they are doing by voting against unions is impossible for me to fathom. But there you have it. There they have it. And here we all have it…because so many people are hurting and angry and, let us say it, dangerous.

Even these people, seemingly thousands of them, waiting patiently in a two-block long line to ride a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. They will leave their hearts in San Francisco along with considerable sums of cash, then head home to our globally warmed heartland to vote for Donald Trump. Stephen and I pause to have a cappuccino in a coffee-bar corner of a small hotel. It’s a nice place. And that’s the thing about San Francisco…the building stock is fairly old by California standards, which still allows for individuality and charm. Few people know about this little hotel lobby café. With Union Square almost in view, it feels very urban. Thing is, I believe in the urban project. My parents’ generation voted to tax themselves quite heavily, When there were fewer people in California, living standards and expectations were lower…and massive and very expensive projects got underway at the same time. Freeways. Universities. Aqueducts. Now we can’t even fix our elevators. The cappuccino, I decide, isn’t doing the trick. I’m not sure what the trick is. But I’m going home.

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