I’m sitting in a fancy new coffee shop in the South of Market neighborhood. Funky disco-house beats play as baristas make latte foam designs so lovely you almost feel bad drinking them. Pretty white girls walk by carrying yoga mats while a collection of young white and Indian dudes, in brand new Warriors gear, laugh at jokes and vape outside the kitty corner bar. We’re in the long shadow of Twitter, a hoverboard ride from Zendesk and an incredibly short Uber away from Uber.
When the police officer across the street gets into his squad car and leaves, an early 20s Latino man comes around the corner and stands right in front of the window I’m sitting at. The collection of people who’ve, until now, been hanging out in doorways and in front of the corner liquor store, flock towards him with wadded up bills in their hands. They are almost exclusively black, and the young man who just appeared is rapidly taking their crumpled cash, adding it to the four-inch-thick bank roll he brazenly keeps exposed in his hand, and then gives them crack rocks he keeps stashed in his mouth.
There is no attempt to hide the drug dealing or even be coy, and the blatant disregard for the safety of his cash stack shows the youth feels both protected from the possibility of the arrest and safeguarded from being robbed and/or killed by a rival.
A white guy in a hoodie hums by on his electric skateboard.
This Mission Street corner isn’t just a perfect microcosm of San Francisco in 2016, it is San Francisco in 2016.
The power structures that have given corporate tax breaks to nearby tech companies are the same ones bolstering policies that have allowed our African-American community to dwindle below 4 percent of The City’s population while simultaneously constituting more than 50 percent of the County Jail population.
They are the same power structures that handle our homeless crisis by allowing police and Department of Public Works employees to slash homeless people’s tents and take their meager possessions in the middle of night. The same power structures that exasperate our eviction epidemic by doing nothing while 76 percent of Airbnb hosts are acting illegally.
Across the street from the coffee shop is a Chinese food and donut place. And across from that is a liquor store, housed on the ground floor of an SRO. Looming behind all of this is a new building complex, where one-bedroom apartments go for $4,500 a month.
Looking out the window of this coffee shop, which is housed in another brand new, luxury building, you can tell which of the people participating in the scene outside live where. Well, not exactly. Not all the people buying crack are homeless or live in SROs, and not all of the girls with yoga mats live in luxury apartments. But you can bet your ass none of the tech workers are heading to an SRO, and none of the street people are coming from condos.
And here I am, caught in between.
On the one hand, I’m lucky enough to have rent control. On the other, my landlord — who is a really good dude — reasonably wants to sell the building I live in. A series of really bad decisions and unforeseen circumstances could land me on the street, while a series of really good ones could make me rich.
I guess in the meantime I’ll just sit here, watching the novella playing out in front of this window, and try to figure out how they make this latte foam look so special.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.