Within mere blocks of 826 Valencia lies an open underworld of drugs, prostitutes, and assorted refuse. Cadaverous figures huddle within the shadows, shooting up what they’ve managed to collect, greed and addiction flickering within their eyes. What will they get today or tomorrow?
Endless trash covers the streets. Fast food wrappers, leaflets that have drifted from the northwest, bottles rolling under the tires of cars. Skeletal women dressed in nearly nothing, with dark red streaks covering their faces, their arms covered with the tell-tale blotches of a bad heroin habit. These ladies wander to the ends of alleys, looking to spread their legs for a quick score. Cars pass by. Horny bargain hunters who have no problem getting off into victims open their doors. For twenty dollars and a reduction of standards, they jism into an overused orifice.
It is almost impossible to walk down some sections of Shotwell or Capp Streets and not encounter cracked vials or used syringes. It is almost impossible not to be propositioned or hectored by those who would suck cock for a pittance to maintain their addiction.
And then there’s the fascinating Hispanic/Caucasian culture war that’s been going down since the mid-1990s. Walk along the edges of 16th Street at night and you will find brightly lit neon restaurants and bars that are clearly trying to compete with the urban identity that came before. The telltale signs are through the windows. Smug, pomaded white boys with their pearly whites sitting in their inner sanctums, ordering for their girls from an overpriced menu and ready to hightail it to Marin so they can get the hell out of this godforsaken strange land. Upscale sushi joints adjacent to biker bars, tattoo parlors next to ridiculous oxygen bars. Steel grilles over windows next to walls plastered with flyers for some musical act from Berkeley next to a pizza-by-the-slice joint that welcomes all. But mainly we’re talking the doctrine of separate but equal. More delineated than ever before.
But when these white boys saunter down the streets, you can see the fear in their eyes. And it’s not just the fact that many of them can’t speak a word of Spanish (although they try). You can see them curl their gym-toned arms around the shoulders of their honeys. You see them sidestep around blacks or Latinos raising a ruckus. These white boys are intimidated by volume. They can’t seem to distinguish timbre, between folks having a good time and folks trying to intimidate. While it’s true that addicts can be found looming in certain quarters, in the eyes of the privileged (for they blow a few Franklins on a Friday night without a second thought) nearly everyone of color is an addict. Addicted perhaps to having a good time, in most cases.
I mention all this because, as I said, this world is within a few blocks of 826 Valencia. It’s a fascinating world. And I love it. You can learn a lot about human beings just by standing on the corner of 16th and Valencia for a few hours.
But for all of Dave Eggers’ purported streetcred by way of the locale, not once have I seen him dwell upon this cultural microcosm. In fact, in the latest McSweeney’s, he boasts about editing the issue at some Northern California B&B. And there is also mention of Daly City, a suburb south of San Francisco that is really no different from any other minimall magnet.
Which makes me wonder what the hell he’s doing in San Francisco. I’m pretty hard-pressed to demonize a guy who managed to get William Vollmann’s longass treatise fact-checked and published. But if he’s so ignorant of the culture that surrounds him, if he cannot recognize the fascinating struggles and conflicts and characters that populate this majestic sector of the City, then frankly he has no business being here.