In the Middle of Gentrification: Meandering Through the Mission
I have a flirtatious play with the Mission. I'm often falling in and out of love with this San Francisco neighborhood. But working remote I have quickly realized unless I place myself in different spaces inspirations fade. So while I love my neighboring hoods and consider myself a frequent Divis mosier, I headed to the Mish for something fresh.
The Mission district of San Francisco is the heart of Latino culture and Mexican heritage. Named after Mission Dolores, this space holds a long history of cultural institutions, mostly founded in the 60's and 70's and centered around Latino aesthetics. Artists and activists have since worked to build community here. Though recently with rent rising and the rows of hip restaurants and barber shops catering to a new demographic, many locals and creatives have had to consider moving to Oakland- or at least a change in lifestyle. My mention of the current tech boom in relation to these changes is sure to rouse opinions and stir emotions.
I took Muni and hop off at Mission and 16th. As I stroll South I'm catcalled in Spanish, glance the bedazzled denim on mannequins with impressive booties, pass electronics sprawled on blankets and hear a mic blasting a sermon from the one room church.
I stop at my favorite taqueria. It's bright yellow, lined in color streamers and has an alter for the Lady of Guadeloupe, whose surrounded with oranges and coins. A young Mexican man wearing black and draped in gold chains stops in front of her to cross himself. I am moved by this. I enjoy my lunch very much and wrap up half of my burrito for later.
I take Clarion Alley over to Valencia Street. Valencia is just one street West but it caters to a different world. The alley is covered in murals- artists regularly pass down space so the content is always evolving. The juxtaposition of an image of Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, and the anarchist messages of "evict Google" or the less political "try not to puke" convey the identity crisis of SF. I usually pause to look at what's new, but nothing caught my eye- other than the tourists taking photos- so I just kept pace.
I ended up in a small shop on Valencia where a pair of Frida Kahlo socks in the window had caught my attention. I decided to buy these for a friend who made a lovely Frida for Halloween. I thought about how I was participating within a commodification of culture, but then felt too tired to go beyond that so I made the purchase. Looking out I became frustrated by the line of upscale bars starring back at me, until I noticed the boy sitting at my feet painting skateboards.
I had worn an old vintage dress with a huge collar and bright red sweater because I felt an itch to get funky. Lots of people wear black in this city. And headphones.
I found my crystal lady on the corner. She's an exotic beauty- large eyebrows and a glow that radiates calm. Perhaps it's partially her lit sage that soothes me. She wouldn't tell you she sells crystals, rather she connects people with crystals. I have been inspired by her magic since moving to SF. We chatted about how's she's completely sober- not even coffee or herb- and how she's been finding lucky dollars on the street. A young back man in a magnificent outfit- layered pants with clashing patterns, beaded bracelets and round spectacles joined us. I instantly liked him. He mentioned the possibility of a music gig in Berlin then choose a wallet size Ganesh image and cedar to light as as tokens of luck.
I ended up in a coffee shop with the most productive atmosphere I have yet to come across. And I can tell you about coffee shops across this city. The walls were grey with only a couple posters. There were two rows of tables where workers sat typing to computer screens. Toward the back there was one wall of study cubicles, which reminded me of the library at Cal when I had to read an entire Marx reader in a day. I felt equal parts repulsed and excited to know of such a space.
As it turned to dark I decided to take the long walk home. Stopping at Mission Dolores I paused in front of the Virgin Mary statue. I'm not Catholic, but something about the work delirium, mixed with privilege guilt, and a desire for a somehow more authentic San Francisco, I kneeled down and began to pray. Before I could fully give into this private moment a group of hipsters walked my way, and embarrassed I quickly turned down the side street lining the church. I sat in the warm of the street light peering into the graveyard and unwrapped the second half of my burrito.
I was bathed in a mix of contradictory feelings about the Mission but I liked (almost to my embarrassment) my new work spot. I headed back again. This time the taqueria was closed and my crystal beauty was nowhere to be found. It was a quieter day and I felt more at ease.
I paused at a corner to adjust my bag to my other shoulder and noticed a man sitting on a step in a narrow street. He had speckles of gray in his hair, wore a backpack, and with a cigarette in hand drank from an old school coke bottle. I decided I should like to speak to him. Upon asking if he could spare a cigarette, he lit one for me and we began to chat.
He liked my giant amethyst ring. I told him I felt that it helped to heal my hand injury. He agreed saying, "Yeah- it can be whatever you want it to be." And I said, "Yeah- I guess we imbue meaning into things and so give them power."
We talked about a cult he visited that covered their walls in copper because of its healing properties. They lived in a carved out mountain side in Italy. Supposedly this spot and Nepal are the only places in the world where three of something cross- making them very sacred somehow-- He reassured me he was not part of a cult and had heard about it from a fellow traveler in Croatia who convinced him it was worth the treck to see.
I mentioned my trip to Croatia a year ago to visit my Serbian roots. As it turned out he was a quarter Serb. I'm half. After I finished the cigarette he asked my name, told me it was lovely to meet and we parted ways. Only I had to walk the same direction as he, so I slowed down to let him stay in front of me.
When I turned the corner after him he was nowhere to be seen. I was left with a nicotine headache and smile.
After a decent writing session at the cafe and distracted by hunger, I headed out to my second favorite taqueria. Walking deeper South down Mission Street I meandered behind two giggling Latina girls with long ponytails- they matched in their school uniforms of white polos and navy pants. Upon my arrival I stood in line behind a young black couple. She wore a short white mini skirt and his face was covered in tattoos- which she kissed sweetly and often. I waited for my order next to the table where an asian man in shiny black shoes worked on his computer and occasionally bit into his massive burrito. I sat down across from a white dude with a beard, flannel and guitar propped up against the table.
As I unwrapped my burrito the way the light caught my amethyst ring felt like a powerful magic.