Sunday, June 4, 2017

Neighborhood Pleasures


It was in 1972 crammed in a Volkswagen bug with three other people that I first crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the city of San Francisco. Once in the city, the first stop we made was at a health food store on 9th and Irving to buy food for a picnic in Golden Gate Park, five minutes from where I live now and have since 1982. It was a moment of synchronistic prophecy that my life here began seven blocks from my house and that the Inner Sunset District has been my hood for most of my adult life.

Even before I moved to the neighborhood, I lived close by and often ended my habitual wanderings through the park with a visit to some of the neighborhood shops. Buy an Uncle Gaylord’s ice cream for 20 cents or browse in 9th Avenue bookstore or get a sub sandwich at the Yellow Submarine. When the kids were small, we took them for treats at Heidi’s bakery with a real Austrian woman named Heidi who gave them some free samples. We dined at the family-owned Greek restaurant Stoyanoff’s and started combing the aisles of Le Video, the best video store ever! We knew the shoemaker and the woman at Sunset Stationary and the man at Irving 5 and 10 Cent store, always getting a dose of friendly neighborhood feeling alongside our purchases.

Like everywhere, rents began to rise, a few chains showed up, certain businesses, like the Five and Dime and so sadly, Le Video dried up, three bookstores closed and horror of all horrors, Burger King snuck in and Blockbuster video tried to. But despite all the Mom and Pop casualties, we held steady (Burger King left) and to this day, neither gentrification nor mall-dom have taken root. The Yellow Submarine and Pascuale’s Pizza are holding steady, Green Apple books took over the Le Video space, a Sunday Farmer’s Market appeared, the worker-owned cooperative Arizmendi is doing a booming business and plenty of one-of-a-kind restaurants are thriving. We still have a post office, a non-Walgreen’s pharmacy and though I know they’re probably involved in some dirty and dark money, my neighborhood Bank of America still feels homey to me. And now, with Warrior Fever in full throttle (14 straight playoff victories, only two to go!!!), the waitress at Yancey’s Saloon knows me by sight.

In short, it feels good to have the sense of a small town within the city. It’s healthy. It brings heart and character to the daily round of shopping and errands and makes life something far richer than mere online or mega-store purchases. As a country, we’ve sold our soul to the Walmarts and mega-plex Cinemas and such and I believe it has something to do with the emptiness in our hearts masquerading as real life. A shopping mall parking lot is not the same as the village piazza or town square. Brightly-lit aisles with massive amounts of stuff to be consumed and storeworkers with no relationship to the products, be they books or vegetables and no relationship to the customers, begins to numb our senses and gnaw away at our sense of belonging. We end up with a lot of stuff, but have little sense of connection to it or value of the people who produced it and the friendly folks who sold it.

And so my ode to the Inner Sunset district in San Francisco. May you prosper and thrive!

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