Saturday, February 20, 2010


Long walk with a friend under dark skies on Saturday afternoon. Rain seems imminent, but no rain falls. We meet at a coffee house on Polk Street. The gilded tooth above causes some discussion, there being no dentist anywhere near. A Mexican restaurant occupies the ground floor of the building where it hangs. Tiny apartments on the upper floors. Polk Street overall looks more prosperous than it used to, with a good many new sleek hangouts for the affluent young, but the buildings themselves remain reassuringly seedy.

The direction of our walk takes us into the Tenderloin, where the vintage seediness extends all the way down to ground level, largely unremodeled and unredeemed. Building owners in the Tenderloin put all their efforts into painting over tagging. The original texture of many walls in the Tenderloin is all but obscured by layer upon layer of tag-covering paint.

But it is not only tagging that gets painted over. Art students swarm in the Tenderloin (just as they do in the Mission) and they decorate the walls too. Such efforts are more tolerated in the Mission, but even in the Tenderloin (as above) the occasional art student contribution to the urban landscape is permitted to survive and not be painted over or hacked away.

The big 3 below designates a working fire station. The firemen rush around in the street and halt traffic with impressive nonchalance whenever they want to get one of those long fire trucks backed in through the relatively narrow red door. When the same truck wants to come out again the firemen do not rush around and block the street. Instead, the fire truck just makes a lot of noise and flashes a lot of lights and comes roaring out.

And I am surprised to have any pictures at all (like those below) of this peeling turquoise paint because the window frame is above my head and I can only take its picture by holding the camera up as high as I can reach and then taking pictures blind. How they manage to come out even halfway in focus is just one more Tenderloin mystery.

No visuals of comparable intensity cross our paths after we emerge from the Tenderloin and head toward the Embarcadero. Near the waterfront the best I can do is the pair of WPA door handles below on the landmark Rincon Annex Post Office building dating back to 1940. I wonder if their design provenance is not vaguely Egyptian.

And at last we reach the oily-looking, sludgy-seeming waters of San Francisco Bay, with a better view of the same low sky that dominates the day, forever promising rain it does not deliver.