Guardian Angels 30 Years Later.

Is this 1979? Am I on the New York Subway? No. I’m walking down Mission Street somewhere between 24th and 20th and I see the white t-shirts and red berets of the Guardian Angels strutting confidently single file and weaving through pedestrian traffic. I found it interesting that a two of them, one man, one woman, looked to be in their early 60s. On the corner of the next block I saw at least 4 more. In my 9 years living in San Francisco, I have never seen a Guardian Angel. Have they always been around in areas I don’t frequent or is this just a reaction to the growing crime rate? I wonder about the effectiveness of a group walking the streets with a uniform publically declaring that they’re not gonna put up with any shenanigans. Back in the day, Ed Koch was opposed to the idea but the fact that they were unarmed seemed to save them. I guess I don’t know enough so I’m somewhere between admiration and suspicion. I always support anyone who can stand up to thugary but I’m curious if there is any kind of screening process to separate those who are willing to fight from those who are “itching” to fight.

In my personal experience, I have seen direct effects of the bad economy. The first 6 years I lived in San Francisco from 2000, I felt pretty safe. But then I had a car broken into then saw a purse snatching attempt in the BART station and a more brazen and a bit violent purse snatching right on the bus in front of security cameras. Thinking back on the purse snatching, I can’t help feel that I could have done something. I know that in retrospect time slows down and there was lots of confusion but still I don’t know if I froze or didn’t have any time to react. At first it just looked like a guy lost his footing and fell against this young woman but when he got up he had her purse and she tried to grab it back. Someone even tackled the guy at the bus door and the snatcher was on the ground again but he was first to get up and take off running. I know the amount of time where I knew what was going on must have been only a second but helping the girl hold on to the purse was probably all that was needed to make the guy give up. To act in that moment would have required a complete shift in my frame of mind. I never thought anyone would be stupid enough to snatch a purse with the bus security cameras going. Still when I play it back in my mind I feel shame. I felt there was enough time to do something. I won’t know if it really did happen that fast or if I just wasn’t fast enough to react. The crook had surprise as his advantage so also I wonder if he looked around the bus and saw a red beret, would he have thought twice just knowing that someone wouldn’t be surprised.

The Guardian Angels still exists and a quick visit to their website shows an almost comical picture of the familiar face of the Guardians, Curtis Sliwa, wearing a grey suit and tie but still wearing the raspberry beret. I saw that Curtis teaches seminars to kids about dealing with bullies and I wondered why this was never part of my education. The catholic school dogma of “turn the other cheek” only hurt me in the long run. No quick and easy answers here but seeing a 60 year old woman confidently walking with her red beret gave me some things to think about.

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San Francisco Moments 5 (x3)

These were all very short. If I had a camera I would have just taken pictures but I’m too to shy get in peoples faces with the camera. Maybe when I learn to shut of the noisy camera snapping sound from my Blackberry I can take them discretely.

1) On Super bowl Sunday I was walking on a side street downtown when I saw two clean cut young men, one pale white and one dark Hispanic who were the exact same height, with the exact same haircut and with the identical backpacks worn on their front each with an identical grey furred puppy sticking its head out the top.

2) On a street corner a standard brown haired women in a dark blue business suit was having a perfectly mundane conversation with a tall young man wearing baggy jeans with suspenders. His hair was bald except for short pentagonal orange tufts that made his head into a soccer ball pattern.

3) In front of me in the elevator today stood a six foot two woman with long magenta hair dressed all in black and sporting a large purse that included a big flap with a 5 by 5 grid of 3 inch long black rubber spikes. Standing next to her was a short Filipino woman and as the elevator became more crowed she was pushed closer and closer toward the rubber spikes and she clearly didn’t want to touch them.

San Francisco Moment 4

I had to do some skillful one handed maneuvering to get my fastpass out of my wallet while holding on to my two dark pink roses for A. Out the gate and up the long escalator ride to 24th street, I noticed that bright shiny Venus had moved in recent weeks from over the left shoulder of the escalator riders in front of me to over their heads. I switched to auto pilot when I got onto the bus my only goal being to keep the roses safe. As the bus got close to the hill I looked up to notice a teen couple standing by the door. The boy was a six foot pink cheeked brown haired white boy wearing a slightly tattered grey hoodie and the bracelet on one of his wrists was made from a bicycle chain. The girl came up to the boy’s chest and was a wholesome looking ABC wearing a black hoodie, a frilly black skirt fanning out and black stockings peppered with a scull and crossbones pattern. They were focused on each other but seemed to be contemplating something; perhaps their next move. Then the bus lights cut out. Now backlit from the glass bus door the girl was a silhouette with cat ears that I hadn’t noticed before. The lights came back on and I faced forward. The bus moved a few feet and the lights went off again. This time everything in the bus was silhouette but the light from the window behind me managed to come in at the right angle to light up the just the roses.

San Francisco Moment 3

On a Bart train, the seats facing the doors, black wool buttoned all the way up listening to Liquid State; doors open and small Vans™ with a tropical fish design attached to red cotton leggings step in. One foot stamps down on a discarded newspaper and then step swish step swish step swish over to me. The feet then turn the paper right side up and open the first page without picking the newspaper up off the floor. After two deft page turns by feet I gotta look up. She’s a short haired petite Chinese woman in a beanie and small coat and, yes, she does have arms and they are both supporting a tall (not the Starbucks drink size but the old fashioned adjective) paper tea cup with a green and red snowflake design. At the next stop the seats to the left of us open up and, step swish step swish step swish, occupies them. I guess she didn’t like me blogging about here in the future. She continues to read the paper on the floor hunched over the chair and she aint letting go of that tea cup for nothin’. My stop comes and as I’m walking out she gives a loud short “YIP!” for everyone to hear.

San Francisco Moment 2

This might be more of a 21st century moment in that it’s probably more ubiquitous in space but not so much in time. I was feeling icky on this day so I was going in late to work waiting at the bus stop at around 11:30 on a Friday. Groggy as I was, I forgot headphones so I had an ipod in the backpack but no way to connect it to my head. I’d grown so used to the constant chatter of podcasts’ news/education/infotainment and occasional music that I felt a bit off standing there with just the wind. I thought this might be a nice chance to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood, appreciate the bits of nature dispersed throughout the city and. . . nah, I really wanted my headphones the lack of other voices in my head was making me edgy. Then I heard and “excuse me!” the kind of excuse me that precedes “commin’ through.”

A six foot human male with brown hair wearing grey nylon jogging shorts, matching shirt and grey and black headphones attached to a content delivery mechanism that I couldn’t see (wait for the verb) was quickly jogging down the hill and pushing a three wheeled sports baby carriage. You know the kind of carriage; handle bars, inflatable tires, encased in flashy REI nylon (couldn’t tell if the kid had a blue ray display inside, wasn’t a lot of space so he probably just had on demand with a wireless connection). This may not have seemed all that unusual but I found it interesting because if you turn the clock back 30+ years, well to the time traveling 1950s native this would look all kinds of strange. First of all, it’s a man pushing a baby around by himself. Second, it’s a man who has the free time to push a baby around on a weekday so he either works from home or has vacation time and wouldn’t that be an odd way to spend vacation time? But the big thing I chose to notice was all the multi-tasking. He is not content sitting at home and listening to audio content. Neither is he content taking the baby for a stroll. And think of all the time he would be wasting if he just went for a jog; not our 21st century man. No, He’s jogging while receiving his content and taking the baby for a brisk stroll. I bet this slacker probably had a dog at home too that would have loved to have been going for a run and he had a hand free that could have been texting but he was in his 30s so three things was probably enough for him. So he jogged down to the flat part of the hill, turned the sports baby carriage to face him and held onto the sides for a lunge stretch while making faces at the baby. If you just stretch you’re missing a golden opportunity to play with your toddler while receiving content through your headphones. I wish I had the omnipresence to know what was in those headphones because it could have been stock reports or an audio book which would have added more layers of complexity but for all I know it was the best of Hootie and the Blowfish. Who has time for music anymore? Crap, what am I gonna do for a whole day without headphones.

San Francisco Moment 1

I slip into the busy bright BART train at the last second before the door closes.  No seats so I hold on and settle in for the ride when I am shocked into wakefulness but an unearthly amazing voice.  I know amazing can be taken lots of ways, so let me add that it was not a smooth and lyrical songbird or an exotic compelling foreign accent.  Think of the shock more like someone sneaking up behind you and splitting open the sidewalk with a jackhammer.  This guy’s voice made Louis Armstrong sound like Enya.  I look around wide eyed at the other passengers as if you say: “are you hearing this too?”   A few seats over, the source was a giant bald African American man.  A head that could have easily weighed 80 pounds swayed above a flaring parka that spanned two seats; think Michael Clarke Duncan but not as “dainty.”  There was an eager silence and he spoke again and I could swear that he was gargling rocks, not the tiny gravel of a fish tank but the small stones often used in a garden where a handful is no more than four. If only I had a recording device!  Then I remembered my blackberry; it would have to do.  I moved as close as I could and pretended to be really into reading something on my blackberry and hit the “send voice note” application.  Part of me wanted to have a microphone and just ask him: “What do you think about everything!” just to see how long I could withstand the assault on my ears that was both terrifying and sublime in its pure. . . I can’t even think of a word but the image of magma creatures howling deep in the belly of the earth comes to mind.  The recording doesn’t do him justice but he makes and appearance both in the middle and the end of the recording as he offers advice to a buddy who’s headed to the hospital. (see link below)

Gravel Man