February 5, 2020•549 words
I get off the train at Civic Center Station in San Francisco. A company that provides therapy via an app has bought all of the ad space in the station this month, and the campaign features pictures of Michael Phelps extolling the benefits he has received from therapy. In one ad, plastered on the station floor directly in front of the escalators, Mr. Phelps has been defaced with a rather well-drawn Captain-Morgan’s-style mustache.
The app charges $70 a week via an auto-renewing subscription. To cancel that subscription, you must give notice at least 24 hours in advance of the next billing cycle date or your subscription will be automatically renewed.
As I ascend to street level I see that it is raining, and I remember I did not check the app on my own phone that predicts the weather for the day. I do not have an umbrella.
The rain has chased the street-living and transient population of the Civic Center area underneath the roof covering the subway entrance, as well as the awning above the door to the CVS. There is a layer of cigarette smoke in the air that seems unaffected by the rain.
Until a few months ago, most of the people huddled here—-one of the few dry spots on public property-—would congregate on the other side of Market Street in UN Plaza. But shortly after the current mayor took office, a “Mobile Command” trailer for the SFPD was installed in the plaza by the large water fountain; the water fountain itself was fenced off. Now everyone hangs out here on this side of Market.
As I walk the few blocks to work, I see and hear the familiar things: music playing from portable Bluetooth speakers, people yelling (at each other and more generally), clumps of blankets that just betray that a person is underneath. It is a concentrated area of misery.
The two expanding centers of gentrification—Twitter to the South, Dropbox and financial firms to the North—have gradually limited the space in which this population is tolerated. The current boundaries are roughly between 8th and 5th streets. The Carl’s Junior in UN center plaza closed last year. I was told by a police officer it was the result of pressure from City Hall, claiming it was an open market for selling stolen goods. And maybe it was; I never went in. Carl's Junior has been replaced by large “For Lease” signs have been in the windows.
In the evening I make the walk in reverse. The rain stopped hours ago, and the streets are cleaner than usual, though syringes are still easy to see. The crowd around the entrance to the subway has expanded its circumference, now thoroughly blocking the sidewalk in addition to the subway entrance. I need to pick a route through that avoids bumping into anyone. There is only one drug deal occurring on the stairs to the platform. Behind me, on 7th street, two hotels have opened in the past year that charge upwards of $400 per night for a room. One advertises that it has a rooftop bar, the other has signs in the lobby window that the “rooftop bar is coming soon!”
On the train ride home most everyone is staring down at their phone, checking Twitter and Facebook.