Monday, January 28, 2013

Wandering on Potrero Hill

Wandering on Potrero Hill, I become fascinated with juxtapositions of this world in transition. One side of the Hill is pure pleasure: beautiful, smart, serene. It attracts me from the first moment arriving here last week as I meet likeminded and upbeat folks. Then someone tells me of the other side of the Hill, the one housing the projects where gets unsafe. 

Today, up top by the park, I see a young couple wearing grey sweats with a baby held in the woman's arms. They enter a ramshackle one-story apartment building. I look downhill and see what must be the projects. I turn and exit the park.

Added to the mix in this neighborhood are signs of its history, the wealthier side anyway, having been a working class neighborhood. Traces of this remain as if time traveling, subtle in spots while noticeable. 

I am reminded of Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land." Then something remarkable happens. I'm walking downhill, a steep hill, in bright while crisply cool sunshine. I hear an old woman's voice cry out, "Can someone help me?" As I turn around to assess where it is coming from, I hear her cry out again and again.

I walk back uphill a few steps and look into her open doorway, a Victorian home several steps up from the sidewalk. A woman with long, unbrushed, grey hair is sitting in a wheelchair holding what appears to be some kind of housecleaning spray bottle. The interior seems ancient and neglected. In the distance, faded light grey carpeting in what looks to be a messy bedroom stands out behind the worn wooden floor in the front hall. Hanging on the bannister leading upstairs are clothes drying. The musty smell is palpable as I walk up the few steps to meet her.

I ask what she needs. She asks me to unscrew the bottle top. Takes a few tries yet I manage to do so. She thanks me. I introduce myself and ask her name. She tells me. I tell her just moved and am exploring the neighborhood. She says, "yeah, I don't know why people want to move here." I reply, "sounds like you've been here a long time." She says, drawing out the words, "oh yeah." I ask, "what do you like about it here?" She pauses, sighs as she smiles then says with a trace of melancholy, "Oh, I'd be lost anywhere else."

We chat for a minute more and I turn to go. She thanks me again, I reply, "my pleasure" and head down the steps. As I turn downhill, I hear her door close and see a 49ers flag flying from someone's rooftop with the stunning cityscape shimmering below. I see a couple of boys throwing a ball back and forth. I take a deep breath, cool and clean. Not knowing what street I'm on, I do the only thing that seems natural. I keep moving.

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