Standing at the corner of Ellis and Polk Street in San Francisco, looking at the combination KFC/Taco Bell restaurant, thinking. Do I want greasy fried chicken? That’d give me heartburn, but Taco Bell is so much what the f–k did I just eat? Maybe I should go somewhere else, get a slice of pizza at the place up the street. I glance left where crack dealers work the corner, the way the crack dealers always work the corner. To my right approaches a shirtless man, skinny, covered with a neighborhood grime working into his unwashed hair. He makes dull eye contact.
“Hey Peter*,” I smile.
He looks back at me, eyes sharpening, a pleading.
“Peter,” I nod, “How are you doing?”
He leans forward; his shoulders heave. I realize the man is sobbing.
“Hey man,” I step closer, “You okay?”
He raises his head, tears cut through the streets on his expression, “Do you know how long it’s been since somebody called me by my name?”
I nod, “Yeah. Hey now, come on up to the shelter tomorrow. Ask for me and let’s see what we can do, okay?”
I watch him shuffle away, down Polk Street. At the time I’d been doing mental health at a homeless shelter and Peter had been someone I worked with for a couple of weeks before he disappeared, as so often happens. People would come and go. Peter had left the shelter probably a year prior. He didn’t come the next day.
A simple, albeit true story. Connection is important, so is being seen. It’s also a reminder of why I do what I do with my days.
Seeing the city, one person at a time.
Sitting here in my Chicago apartment, I realize how few people here know my real name. The last time I lived in San Francisco I had three, it happened that way. One name for creativity, one for my professional life and one for the streets. I knew a lot of people back then, in a lot of different worlds.
Chicago is very different, but I still do the work.
Connection is important, however it can be found.
Have a nice day,
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