When Hyacinth came home from New York, in addition to a new-found independence, she brought with her a sprit of curiosity. No more sitting around the house all weekend. She’s determined to squeeze every ounce of fun and adventure from the daylight hours and take advantage of all that San Francisco has to offer. Even better if what she finds is free. I mentioned this to my friend, Tricia, the other day, and she recommended we try Sunday Streets, an occasional event where, for a few hours on Sunday, the city closes off a neighborhood to traffic and lets bikes and pedestrians take over. I read an article recently about a similar event in Portland, and I remember feeling a bit envious. So I was delighted when Tricia sent me the link along with a note saying Sunday Streets was happening today. I didn’t have to tell Hyacinth twice. She grabbed her purse and was out the door before I could finish my sentence.
The first thing about Sunday Streets is that unlike the Folsom or Fillmore Street Fair or even Carnaval, it isn’t really a festival. No concession stands hawking over-cooked, under-seasoned chicken skewers, no vendors selling bedazzled cell phone covers or badly silkscreened Giants T-shirts. Sunday Streets is more of a community celebration, an excuse to get out, take a stroll, and see a neighborhood on foot rather than through the car windshield. The first leg of today’s event took place in The Mission, along Valencia, otherwise known as Ground Zero for San Francisco hipsters. I like The Mission. There are lots of interesting restaurants and quirky little stores selling vintage furniture and clothing. Strolling down Valencia I passed the hoola-hoopers, blue grass bands, cyclists dressed in tweed jackets, and people riding motorized rocking horses. It was interesting, but not all that surprising since folks in The Mission tend to be funky, creative types who think outside the box.
What did surprise me was what happened when I reached the end of Valencia and turned down 24th. Sunday Streets became a whole other thing.
Here’s a little something people don’t often tell you about San Francisco: it’s a great city in many respects but it isn’t that diverse, especially compared to East Bay cities like Berkeley or Oakland. Between the real estate prices and the cost of living, most regular folks and certainly most regular folks of color can’t afford to live here. And even where there is a drop of diversity, people are still segregated by neighborhood–Chinese in the Richmond and Chinatown, black folks along a few streets in the Fillmore or pushed out to Bayview/Hunter’s Point, Japanese in Japan Town and whites everywhere else. Except in The Mission–home of the hipsters, yes, but also home to the a sizable population of Mexicans, Central Americans, and second generation Chicanos. The minute I turned onto 24th Street, the tone of Sunday Streets changed. All of a sudden, it was Panadarias, fruit markets, low-rider cars and murals instead of three dollar popsicles and six hundred dollar custom-made bikes.
I guess that means gentrification hasn’t spread completely. I wonder how much longer that will last.
The second good thing about Sunday Streets is that one is scheduled for DogPatch/Bayview, a neighborhood just south of The Mission, on the border of Hunter’s Point which is predominately black. So far, most San Francisco residents haven’t been too eager to travel that far south. I’m curious to see how that event goes.
Walking back to my car, I noticed an older gentleman riding his bike on the other side of the street. He waved, and I waved, and the next thing I knew he’d crossed over. He introduced himself as Hollywood the Magic Chef. He was one of the few black people I’d seen all day–old-school black San Francisco, right down to his porkpie hat.
“That was a pretty cool event, wasn’t it?” I said.
You can’t see it in the photo, but he had a radio, tuned to a Jazz station, in his basket. We stood under a freeway overpass, and as we talked, Jazz echoed out into the street. In a funny way, it was perfect end to the day.