The Mission

I still feel adrift in San Francisco, knowing few people and having nothing that approximates a real job. And there is that other thing that happens with time, vis-à-vis age. Whatever is happening in this town, most of it is not about me…or my generation. The boom and its consequences, including cuisine and nightspots and action is about thirtysomethings. Plus or minus. Thing is, I have decades of practice at being out of it. I have been limping or rolling so conspicuously for so long, I’m used to standing out and being out…of the mainstream.

And oddly enough, at this point in life, I am more capable of relishing propinquity where I find it. Take San Francisco’s 24th and Mission Streets. There’s a subway station here, and on the brick plaza a man has crawled up against the sloping pavement. It’s actually a rather imaginative view of hardscape, this use of paving material for pillow. He is drunk or more seriously lost, and since no one else is worrying about him, I hurry on to my bank.

The week’s cash withdrawn, I head in search of shopping and lunch. There is a Salvadorian place just across the street, discovered and frequently touted by my sister who lives in the southwest. So what the hell?

Yes, the place is wonderful. It is also packed after 2 PM p.m. on a weekday afternoon. Cash only, sign reads. And, unspoken, Latinos only too. Yet, I sense, the latter has occurred by default, rather than design. There is something basic about this place. Linoleum, Formica tables and naugahyde booths, the plastic materials of yesterday. The décor seems quite welcoming, being an old guy naturally into passé.

But what’s really welcoming is the people. Surrounded by 220 pounds of steel, I can only barge into a small place like this one. At first, my heart sinks at the sight of all the chairs tightly packed. But in a way that is swift, silent and impressive, everyone makes way. One man scoots his chair forward, the woman at the table behind motions for her kids to do the same. I experience this crowding-into-restaurants thing all the time and I can vouch for the general politeness of my neighbors in this, what’s left of San Francisco’s Mission District. Oh, and the food? Actually better than the Salvadorian restaurant my sister takes me to in Mesa, Arizona.

And since I’m on an ethnic roll, why not do a little shopping down the street? Jane comes home late this evening, and my plans call for easy-to-assemble tostadas. Sure enough, it’s all there at the Mercado on 25th St. True, I can’t find poblano chilies. But I do have plenty of opportunity to talk to the staff, generally clog the aisles, and learn a thing or two about food. You want poblano chilies? Not this time of year, the cashier seems to be telling me. Instead, she produces three large dried things. They do have a chile shape. And they have a red-maroon color. I’m not sure what to do with them, but that is Jane’s department. My department is to see and watch and remember that as this neighborhood gets”wealthier,” without the people who have just served me lunch and helped me shop, it would be much poorer. Just something to keep in mind in these boom days in San Francisco.

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