Im slowly getting used to how down the line the neighbourhoods are in American cities. If theres a line that says where that neighbourhood stops and the next begins on a map, then thats just exactly where it is in real life. BOOM. There it is.
No fucking about.
Youll be walking down a block surrounded by thick crowds of people bartering at supermarkets that spill out onto the streets for crazy-looking vegetables in loud, seemingly angry voices; flinching at bits of chickens hanging from hooks that you werent even sure existed; drooling at the salty smell of hot steamed buns and trying to stop yourself from buying brilliantly kitsch bits of plastic that you dont really need, while red lanterns for the coming new year swing on strings, suspended above the road next to you.
And then youll cross the road. Just one little road. One little street, and the noise and the smell and the colour will suddenly fall away, and youll find yourself standing outside a gelato parlour. And therell be someone wearing all black, drinking espresso and smoking a thin cigarette at a little metal table outside. And their little pastel scooter will be parked by the roadside. And youll suddenly want to look around and work out whether you really did just change continent, or just move a few metres.
Im used to there being a mixture of different ethnicities, influences, people, smells and sights – Im inner-city London, born and bred – Im just not used to them being so clearly marked out. Its amazing. And fascinating.
My beloved knows the city better than me, so is used to me asking incessant questions as we walk: What neighbourhood is this? Well where are we now? What about now? Now? Where are we now?
I am annoying, but he knows it helps. However, sometimes, I do not need his guidance. To whit:
There is an area in the middle of San Francisco, quite ear our house, called the Tenderloin. There are many stories about how this area got its name, many of which are very interesting, but which we will come to another time. (In the meantime it is poetry enough to mention that this particular area is next to the much posher Nob Hill, and that there is consequently a borderline neighbourhood known as TenderNob. A-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee)
The Tenderloin is a run down area, sandwiched between more affluent hotels, residential bits, shopping centres, financial districts, all of that. Its just well, full of people on quite strong drugs, mainly.
Not legal ones, no.
The Tenderloin is a bit notorious. There are hotels and good restaurants in it, bookshops and bars. But also crackheads. Many many crackheads, just hanging about, being a bit Cracky. And wondering how they might fund that.
The Tenderloin has many interesting examples of San Francisco architecture, geography, and, frankly, is right in the middle of everything and if you like walking and want to get from here to there, you will almost certainly find yourself passing through it. When we first moved here, I was intrigued by it. Suddenly, people had always told me, youll be walking through the centre of town and find yourself surrounded by people who, to put it mildly, dont honestly appear to wish you all the health and happiness in the world. One minute: shoppers and people in suits – next minute: not that. At ALL.
Again, I didnt realise, however, that it would just happen in a SNAP.
We were going for a walk. To the cinema, I think. And to get there, we had to walk straight through the Tenderloin, which we were both fine about: hes a big chap, and Im from London and therefore clearly well hard.
All the way up the road, from our flat, past Market street, I kept asking the same questions? So wheres the dividing line? Where does this bit stop and the Tenderloin start, then? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
No, not yet.
Are we there yet? Is this the Tenderloin? I asked, as we passed a line of fast food restaurants.
No, not yet
We crossed a street.
Is this it?
Not quite, no
We stepped onto the pavement and turned a corner.
Are we in the Tenderloin yet?
No, not yet
Another street crossing, and
What about now? Is THIS the Te
Suddenly, with great timing, an old man wearing three hats, goggles and pushing a shopping trolley with half the world loaded on it and held down with string walked toward us and screamed at the top of his lungs: FuuuUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURCK!!!!!
I turned to my Beloved.
Yes, Anna. We are in the Tenderloin now.
I thought it was nice of them to send out the welcome wagon.
That was all.
And then I hailed a cab.