A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Beauty and ugliness at the Golden Gate

San Francisco has always been a favorite city. It has so much beauty, both natural and man-made, and the natural and the man-made coexist so well. The great symbol of this is, of course, the Golden Gate bridge, its beautiful symmetry linking the city to the glories of Marin County, rising above the bay, perhaps enveloped by clouds.

This is the first time I’ve lived in the city, though, and I think what has struck me most has been the people–there are lots of ’em, and many different kinds. No surprise there, of course. But because there are so many, one sees human tragedy frequently. The past two days a loud, bilingual man has ridden the same bus as I. I first noticed him because he was talking so loudly to his friend; then I noticed he wasn’t talking to his friend, but to someone only he could see–sometimes raising his voice loudly, sometimes speaking softly, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. If he catches his reflection in a window, he’s likely to rage at his reflection. This evening as I was walking down from the bus stop, a young toddler was getting away from her mother. The mother told her to stop, told her again, then shouted at her to stop, ran up to her, and began spanking her and swearing and berating her–why were you running away? What if some stranger were to snatch you up (she said as she snatched her up), what would you do? The usual tragically homeless, sleeping in doorways. A son somewhat estranged from his father, having failed at a special program to spend a year away. A woman, kind and intelligent, whose husband became angry when she decided to return to a Christian life, heartbroken because her husband is so angry and threatening; threatening to take her children away, in fact.

One sees the beauty of humanity as well. The delightful enthusiasms of the very young, and their unabashable honesty. The strength and beauty of the young; the strength and beauty (of a different kind) of the old. Sitting on the train with a woman I’d almost swear was a woman I knew over 30 years ago, except this woman could barely be 30. A waiter at the Vietnamese restaurant who took pains to describe how he drank Starbucks coffee instead of traditional Vietnamese coffee (very strong, served over sweetened condensed milk) and who was kind enough to not bring my bill until I’d finished reading my newspaper.

So, rather than the landmarks of San Francisco, my head is full of people today.


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