Sunday, January 16, 2011

"I stay here."

Doing welfare rights in San Francisco in the early '90s, I met a lot of people who lived in crummy downtown hotels. Some would sleep in the same room for years at a time without ever saying they "lived" there. They'd say, for example, "I stay at the Delta." The Delta Hotel on Sixth Street (now renovated as Bayanihan House) was no kind of place for a person to own up to living in permanently. Home? Home was elsewhere -- in a smaller town or at a family house -- somewhere else in memory if not in present fact. Anywhere but a place like the Delta Hotel.

One time I drove a guy over to Oakland for an appointment. We came home on the top deck of the Bay Bridge, in nice late-afternoon light, with downtown San Francisco looking its best in front of us. My client, a Southern transplant, felt a moment of pride in his adopted city.

"I stay here," he said, wondering at the place, as we all do once in a while. Cool gray city of twinkling hills and crappy SROs. He might not have felt ready to say he lived in San Francisco, but he was glad to say where he found himself for the present.

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