In My New Neighborhood
I just moved to San Francisco. And it frightens me.
My new neighborhood is the Lower Haight. Two dozen or so blocks from here is Ashbury street, where the summer of love started 27 years ago. Now, where I live, the streets are divided. The white buildings where the white people live are on one side of Buchanan Street, the black people in the brown projects are on the other. I'm on the white side.
When I got this apartment, I started to get cryptic warnings from everyone around me. "Be careful," they said. "Watch your back."
My building manager gave me a written list when I moved in. "Keep your wits about you when you're outside," it read. "The Projects, which are still with us for now unfortunately, do attract some shady characters. For all of our security, please close doors and be careful of who you buzz inside."
There are two doors between me and the outside and I have to buzz both of them to let someone in. It's like a cultural decompression tank.
The day I moved in, I parked the 15-foot Budget rental truck out front in the loading zone. Four of my friends showed up to help me move my stuff inside (thank goodness), and between the five of us it only took a couple of hours.
We made sure that one of us was always at the truck. Again, I'd been warned.
With all my belongings finally in my apartment and my friends all swilling beers safely inside, I ventured out alone to move the truck to an actual parking space. I was tired - and scared.
I climbed into the gargantuan truck and started it up.
These trucks all have rear-view mirrors on the windshield, though who knows why. All you can see in them is the dark inside of the truck. I'd almost run someone off highway 17 on the way out of Santa Cruz because I couldn't see where I was going. It's a wonder that all of Budget's trucks aren't sitting at the bottom of the mountains that separate Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
I pulled the truck onto Buchanan Street to begin the arduous process of Looking For Parking. Suddenly, not ten feet away was the mother of all truck parking spaces. It was a good 15 feet long and on a corner. It was perfect.
In a rush of parking lust, I barreled the van into the space - and that's when it happened. A car - a Buick, I think - had been pulling into the same spot in reverse. The driver, a black woman, threw her head out of the window and began screaming at me. Her passenger did the same.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And everyone's advice came screaming back.
I wanted out of this parking space - out of this confrontation. I blindly threw the truck into reverse and turned my head to look into the useless side mirrors and that's when I saw him.
This man - this black man from the projects across the street - was standing next to my open window.
"Watch your back."I wanted out. Fear flashed across my face. I know he could see it.
"Hey," he said.
I started to back up. I wanted out.
"Hey hey hey!" He said. I finally turned and looked him in the eye. He wore old clothes and had old eyes but he probably wasn't that much older than me.
"There's a car behind you," he said.
I glanced behind him and, sure enough, a car tore around us and skidded up the street. I felt my fear dissipate, slowly being replaced with embarrassment.
I looked him, still unable to speak, but my eyes said thank you.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I took a deep breath, smiled, and said "I'm cool, I'm cool."
The man nodded and turned to walk back to the projects, his home. I drove down the street, found a place to park, and headed back to mine. Our homes are still separated by Buchanan Street, but now they felt a little closer together.