When we hit Broadway, looking for some place decent to stay, I was not aware of just how little some things have changed in San Francisco. I had read about the insanity that surrounded the city back when it was in the grips of the opium dragon’s teeth, during mid-to-late 1800’s, but I had assumed that lifestyle had been replaced by technophiles and aging hippies. Eh, not so much.
Broadway in the North Beach district, in year 2000 of the Christians, was definite evidence that the tendency of San Fran to dip into addiction had not been pushed out by internet or hemp developments. Standing on the street, trying to find the storefront of a youth hostel we were told was nearby, I noted a man lying on the sidewalk across the way. To the left of him was a porn theatre, to the right was some closed shop, presumably a liquor store. He was eagle-spread on his back in front of an alley opening, resting his head on the sidewalk curb. He was indeed alive. Well, in some sense he was alive. I could see him squirming a bit, loosening the rope on his trousers so he could piss. While still lying down.
The stream moved its way to the gutter, along and through the dirty cracks of the pavement. Passersby simply stepped over the urine flow, as if they had some sort of auto-sensor for such things. I watched in awe, alone, at how this man was comfortable enough to LAY in the middle of a sidewalk, in front of a public alleyway, as if this was normal and acceptable behavior. And on top of that: he was so relaxed with it all, that whipping out his dick to relieve himself in front of anyone interested to watch was of no concern to him.
I realize that there is a segment of every population, in every major city, which falls under the definition of “homeless”, and I would guess that this man would fit the requirements. But in every other city I have visited, before and since San Fran, I have never seen one produce any sort of excrement or urine like that without any fanfare, police intervention, or at least some mild scolding from a local business owner. Nothing. He finished pissing all over that little piece of civilization, and rolled over, just slightly, to fish something out from beneath him.
And it was then that I was truly taken aback.
He sat up slowly, stretched out his left arm, and plunged a syringe into it… like, no big deal.
I have a thing with needles. And by “thing” I mean: desperate fear.