Rock Bottom in SF’s South Bay
As I write (August 20, 2020)this I’m sitting in a Residence Inn (appropriate) in the South Bay area of San Francisco. I’m just passing through on my way home to LA from Portland mid-pandemic and decided to stop in town to visit a friend around the corner. One of the first things that happened to me after checking in and getting into my little studio, I decided to take my pup for a walk around the complex as she was getting increasingly anxious after a 6-hour stint in the car from our previous hotel.
After a good 15-minute lap weaving in and out and sniffing bushes, we kind of came to the conclusion that this wasn’t exactly what we thought it was; something was off. I was not as uncomfortable but it felt like accidentally finding the employee break room at some vacation town summer attraction. When met by the gaze of the regulars, they give you that look, like they see your fall from grace, your hopeful optimism that you will escape this place, but nobody ever does. It’s the Hotel California in a way.
It’s the same look you get when you see someone crawl out of a car wreck. You see them as ghosts.
I’m in a downstairs unit that’s four units on the bottom floor with four on top. The guy above me was making a ton of noise. It sounded as anyone that’s ever had upstairs neighbors would expect it to sound. I walked out the door to take my dog for another walk because the noise was upsetting her and it was immediately greeted by someone asking me a million questions about my dog and her breed. Nobody ever sees an Alaskan Klee Kai and knows what it is so there are so many questions.
Do you live here now, how long are you staying?
This is an interesting question because within a couple of more questions back and forth it seems that the person asking the question has lived here for quite some time. I’m not sure about the housing shortage in San Francisco especially considering people are fleeing the city in droves to work remotely now. But there I stood face with someone asking me if I was going to become a permanent resident here like he was, and apparently like so many others.
By the end of the conversation I was invited to come and hang out by a fire pit that was inoperable. That was the option because the pool and the rec center had been closed due to the coronavirus. There is definitely a community here, something where people are living their own life and their own story that made this pandemic. It’s very strange because you can tell people are very excited at the prospect of someone new and especially with a very interesting little dog that is very outgoing.
People do live in hotels here. I mean I guess, because that’s what a few people I met said but you could definitely tell that it was not the optimal situation. All of these folks are tech workers and many of them are in their late 30s to their mid-50s. I think this is important because there are a lot of people that are living here with two incomes, and considering that it cost me about $200 a night to stay here I can’t imagine it’s actually costing $6,000 a month to stay here so there’s definitely a bulk rate and a necessity for two incomes.
On one side of the hotel there are some blue collar people living here. As you walk around the grounds you could definitely tell that some people were working on their cars in a parking spot. People had just sort of assumed this was life now as the groundskeeping and property management seem to have slid and I don’t think it was from the pandemic. They did not really care about what was happening out in the parking lot. Why maintain something when you’re not entertaining new guests daily.
The Odd Couple
There was a couple, definitely occupying the same space but not two people a matchmaker would ever set up. The guy was late 40’s, ponytail, cheap bifocals, towering over my 6' frame, olive pock-marked skin (but is probably in a sunless cube-farm) and clothes from a Ross or lower market clothing store. Someone you know never has to be seen but is probably a contractor or consultant keeping up appearances to represent their company in an otherwise casual dress code client.
The girl, and I say girl not in a demeaning way, but she looked fresh out of a Model UN debate or from some “first real job” at an Enterprise rental counter trying real hard to look like an adult. You know when people don’t look comfortable in what they are wearing, and this was a middle aged pants suit on a person that should be in a crochet top and sun dress on the way to some unnamed music festival.
I have no idea of how that works for them but it is probably of a financial convenience. They walk by my dog, eyes forward like two strangers getting on the same city bus. Curious but not a novelty here.
It’s a reality, transitional housing, transitional employment, and the pandemic is not making it easier. WFH when you are homeless is not easy. A few years ago the idea of being a digital nomad sounded awesome, but when forced to do it against your will, that sucks.
I’m sure you remember seeing people living in tricked out camper vans, looking all cool, but those folks are gone and all left are bombed out, and often flaming, buses along Silicon Beach in Venice. Nomads no longer, just mad.
In racing, before any major event, they repave the track, but don’t paint the walls often. If you see skidmarks, you look for the debris, the signs of poor braking, maybe hubris in passing someone else. Those are fresh, that just happened. The walls, those are the long term indicators of poor judgement when they think they see an opportunity. Never look at the wall. The first rule in competitive driving is look at where you want to go, enjoy the scenery and you’ll be part of it.
It is going to be uncharted territory, the only people offering advice are swinging wildly or not in a position to ever be affected by this. I have no feedback on how to keep yourself going, or how to handle life’s pitfalls. For now, I am eyes-front, staying in my lane, trying my best not to wreck, but I know, that possibility is right there.