I was in San Francisco the other day, in front of the Goodwill Store on Clement Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It was a warmer day than usual for early March, but even so it was surprising to see this guy with his shirt off in the middle of the day. He was unleashing a series of martial arts kicks upon an unresponsive parking meter…
He didn’t appear to actually be kicking the meter, just feathering his foot close enough to show the meter he meant business in case things got ugly…
Things didn’t get ugly, though, and when the man realized he was being photographed he was pretty cool about it. San Francisco’s a great town for observing people doing weird but benign things…
(Clement Street between 9th and 19th Avenues, San Francisco, California 2017)
when you drive by the beach
you see big bastard machines
and boys on skateboards
you don’t know if
one is going to crush the other
but you figure
what the hell
you might as well stop
have a look
and wait to find out.
(Erosion control @ Ocean Beach, San Francisco 2016. This photo is also on Flickr.)
As of August 31st, 2016, I have been in California for 27 years. I moved here with my best friend Brian, who had accepted a job offer in San Francisco a few months after graduating from Lehigh University. Knowing that I didn’t like my job in Maryland just outside the D.C. Beltway, and that I was losing my free room and board because my parents were moving back to Dallas, Brian suggested I move to San Francisco with him.
I thought about it for five minutes, said “What the hell, I’m in”, and by the second week of August, 1989 we were heading west from the Jersey shore in a Ford Aerostar minivan loaded with clothing, minimal furniture, and Coors Extra Gold. We drove the southern route and saw a lot of weird shit in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. This old scanned photograph from a campground near the Grand Canyon is just one example…
By now I have lived in California longer than any other place in my 52 years. If I could I would trade some of the shitty times during my 27 years here (like being a poor student in Santa Barbara in 1991) for an extra year or so in Singapore when I was a teenager and in Tokyo when I was in my twenties.
But I met my wife here, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. And I finally found a rich creative life here, after several crummy careers that didn’t suit me or that I didn’t suit. Yep, I have my wife and her love, and my view of the world through a camera held by the man that California has helped me become. And barring a couple of chronic physical ailments and psychological quirks, I am often at peace with who I am and who I still want to be.
So for me it’s California. It’s good here.
(Picture taken at Flintstones Bedrock City, Williams, Arizona, August 1989)
She was sitting on a Japantown sidewalk, on Webster Street around the corner from Nijiya Market. She looked displaced, like a woman who’d just left a difficult relationship and the apartment that went with it. But she also did not look frantic, and I hoped that meant she had friends who could let her crash on a couch for however long she needed to.
Then there was the dog, Buddy. He may well have been the reason she was holding it together, not freaking out, while she figured out how to use the city to take care of them both…
(Japantown, San Francisco 2016)
A few weeks ago in mid-May, I photographed a wedding at San Francisco City Hall. Afterwards the bride and one of her brothers walked past this guy standing by himself in Civic Center Plaza, obviously protesting gay marriage. The bride was in a happy, jaunty frame of mind, and it was humorously ironic she and some of her wedding party walked by the solitary, disgruntled man…
(San Francisco, 2016)
The Recology buyback recycling center in San Francisco is only a couple of miles from my house in Brisbane. I drove over there today to unload a bunch of aluminum cans that had piled up in my basement in the last year during periodic late nights watching movies and playing video games. It’s an interesting place, and I thought you’d like to have a look around…
A woman bringing her bags of recyclables to the facility on foot. ↑
Cars and pedestrians waiting to get in. ↑
Where recyclables are weighed to determine their cash value. ↑
This guy had many cans and plastic bottles. ↑
The very cool Recology guy who weighed my aluminum. ↑
(San Francisco 2016)
You don’t normally look at these women. Be honest, you don’t.
They’re drifting-though-the-street crazy, as far as you know, so you don’t look. But you should. They’re the reason women are often superior to men. This black lady, for example, in the first photograph, she asked me for pocket change when I was loitering outside Original Joe’s in North Beach. And I gave her all I had, which was around three bucks. She was so appreciative. She hugged me and I hugged her back, for she was so warm and the night was cold and I figured the warmth she gave me was worth way more than the money I’d just given to her.
When our street business concluded she turned to walk away up Stockton Street and said “May the Force be with you” like she meant it. I considered myself blessed.
Then a few days later I was at Tanforan Mall when this lady walked up to me. She also asked me for money. I gave her all the coins in my pocket, which this time was about two bucks.
If you’ve ever imagined your favorite piece of candy speaking to you in the most beautifully cartoony female voice in the world, that’s how this lady spoke. And her hair was so luxuriously silver she could have killed werewolves with it. She was sweetness personified.
So pay attention to people, to the weird ones whom you think you know everything about. The biggest threat to us all isn’t anger or wariness, but withholding compassion.
(North Beach, San Francisco and San Bruno, California 2016)