All Photos by Theo Slavin
I ride BART to my eye doctor's office in San Francisco. I have glaucoma, which has stabilized after numerous treatments. Because I ride the train and walk to the doctor's office, I have time to be an observer of people along the way.
I love being in San Francisco, or any city, but just for a visit. The quirkiness, the bustle, the surges of people all become a cacophony of jumbled noises and sights. It is then that I begin to notice the waste paper, the general dirtiness of the streets, and the homeless, some of them with wild eyes, long grizzled beards, shivering bodies, and incoherent speech.
On my way home one day, I heard a young woman behind me talking with great urgency on her cell phone.
"Can you pick me up at the BART station? I don't want to go inside that house. I want to go see Granma."
Her pleas made me think of other women who find themselves in situations where they are afraid. At least, the young woman was speaking up and asking for help. My tendency would be to remain silent and find my own way through a problem.
Another young woman caught my eye as I was walking down Market Street. She was a Latina with long, dark, curly hair and a beautiful face that was turned towards me as she and her partner brushed by me. He was small, but tough looking. He reminded me of the gang members I had seen as a juror on a murder trial several years ago. The couple were as close together as physics would allow two objects to be. They were not aware of anyone else around them, but there was something wrong in the way they walked. As the three of us neared the BART station at Montgomery, the woman suddenly veered to the left and ran down the steps to the station below. The man, in a fury, dashed after her, wheeling from one side of the stairs to the other until he stopped in front of her, face touching face.
He growled, "You know I don't like to act this way."
My heart cringed at the statement and I wondered what he was prepared to do.
"Stop and come back with me, " he demanded.
They stood still, pushing with their hands close to their chests, one against the other, as I walked cautiously by them. I thought: I could do something. I could yell at him to leave her alone. But he was intense and scary and I walked on by -- another human afraid to interfere where help could be needed. I walked through the station to the turnstile and looked back at the couple. They were still in the same position.
I was back in the City for another doctor's appointment. I arrived at the New Montgomery station just as the escalator closed down and the trains stopped. Smoke had surfaced on another escalator so all of them had been turned off. Everyone in the station had to climb the two flights to the ground level, which reminded me of living in Tokyo and the older stations there that had no escalators. We had to climb two or three flights of stairs to exit. Today I felt smug as I passed younger people on the stairs. I was still fit to climb.
As I came up the Montgomery Station steps, my mind went back to the couple. I thought again: I could have talked with the station agent. I could have asked the couple a question, "Could you help me? I'm lost." Maybe that interruption could have defused the anger that was building on the steps, but I will never know.
As I came up to the street, a few drops of rain hit me. I saw a young woman with wild, red curly hair, partly secure in a snood at the top of her head. The rest cascaded down her shoulders like steel wool, contrasting with the bright green of her wool coat and dark orange socks that were pulled up to her knees. She rushed by as I continued to my doctor's office.
Later as I left his office, I clung to the sides of the buildings, hoping to miss the raindrops that began to fall. It was cold and wet and I was not prepared for rain. It had been warm and mild the day before. I left my umbrella in the car and wore my coat without a hood. I liked walking in the City, so I didn't really care if I got wet, but the cold was swiftly going through me.
When I turned the corner, I saw a middle-aged man sitting on a tarp on the sidewalk. His face was weathered, but he looked at me with sympathy on his face. I guessed he expected me to have rain gear. He was more prepared than I was. Besides the tarp, he had a wide-brimmed hat and a voluminous coat. We nodded and I crossed to Walgreen's to buy an umbrella. I thought of the 500 Yen (about a $5 at the time) umbrellas in Japan that popped up outside every store as soon as it started to rain in Tokyo. The umbrellas were one of the few cheap items in Tokyo and I collected several each summer.
Theo Slavin created the photos that illustrate my essay. If you would like to see more of Theo's work, check out http://theoslavin.tumblr.com
Thank you for reading this longer than usual essay today. Stay warm and dry.