A Wake Up Call in San Francisco

Recently, I was at the 24th Street BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) buying a ticket to Walnut Creek. A middle-aged woman came up to me at the machine and tried to get my attention several times. I did not register what she was saying to me because I was focusing on buying my ticket, and I was also trying to ignore someone who I thought was trying to hit me up for money. She eventually stood closer to me and just stared at me as I finished my transaction. I told her, “staring at me is not going to change the fact that I have no money to give you.” She then said, “I just need help. I have the money.” It was at that point that I realized she came from a different country and didn’t understand how to work the machine. As you can imagine, I felt a deep sense of shame. At that moment she got a little upset with me, and I deserved it. She went on for a while in broken English asking me over and over again why I thought she was a vagrant. I calmed her down, helped her buy her ticket, and showed her the train she needed to board. It wasn’t so much a “good deed” as the least I could do considering my previous behavior.

I spent my commute on the train that day trying to figure out why I was so callous towards her. It is true that I get hit up a lot in San Francisco by people looking for money or change. Actually, I also get hit up by people who are walking down the street and offering drugs to everyone that goes by. When someone approaches me, my reaction is to not make eye contact and move quickly down the street.

Why do I behave in this way? Fear! Yep, Fear! One of the things I don’t want to do is open my wallet on the street and show someone my cash. I also don’t want to be targeted as a person who has cash on them and is willing to give it out. In addition, I don’t want to get too close to some of the people who approach me on the street for safety reasons. For example, there was a recent case of a guy who was stabbing people on the MUNI bus system.

What is the solution? I used to carry granola bars on me and give those out when I was approached, and I may go back to doing that. Just because I don’t want to be targeted as a person with cash on me doesn’t mean I can’t have some food that I give out. Many people, me included, will take comfort in the fact that people without choices can get a hot meal and maybe a place to stay at a homeless shelter. But how many of us, me included, actually write a check or donate to these shelters on a regular basis?

This happened about a week ago, and it still bothers me a little. Partly because I didn’t initially listen to a person who needed help, and partly because of how callous I have become towards homeless individuals. I think it was a wake up call for me. Now, do I do something with it or just wait for the guilt to subside? Do I do something or just go back to my previous behavior and justify it with fear?



Filed under Human Nature, San Francisco

2 responses to “A Wake Up Call in San Francisco

  1. I think, big cities like SF are indeed more dangerous and people have to take big caution to protect them self. I understand your concerns and thoughts. I think, the idea with the candy bars is a good one. I would probably do the same. I was alone by myself in SF traveling – as a foreigner – and I had never any connections with those people. I was probably not long enough there also. Living there or traveling are two pair different shoes, right? :)Nice post, thanks for sharing your thoughts.Susanne

  2. I understand where you are coming from. It is unfortunate that one is pushed into a situations like the one you described through the anti social behaviour of "homeless" and criminal elements. However, I no longer have any feelings of guilt or remorse. I know of too many "homeless" elements who live on the street rather than work, because they earn more from scamming people than working. I live in a country that is riddled with crime and have been a victim far too many times.Quite recently I was shadowed by a mugger, who eventually gave up when he saw I was not going to be an easy target. I know who he is and if he tries a stunt like that I will challenge him.Some chancer tried to scam me at an an ATM once, but after I told him to "piss off" he disappeared.These days I am usually armed with a stunner or pepper spray hoping for opportunities to use them – this is not who I am, I have has enough. If you follow the crime links on my blog you will see why.I have to often curb my cynicism and differentiate between who is legitimate and who is not.