Chance Encounter

“I’m not from here, but my soul is from here,” said Erick Delgado about the Tenderloin.

Recently, one of my neighbors invited my mom and I out for dinner and drinks. After eating at Tommy’s Joynt—yes, that is how it is spelled—at Geary Street and Van Ness Ave., we stopped at Mark’s Bar at the corner of Polk and Post.

When it was my turn to order, I had no idea what to get. I do drink but not that much, so I’m not really sure yet what I like or what appeals to me. My neighbor ordered me a Cosmo, which ended up being a waste of her money. It was ruined by this sickeningly sweet fake fruity taste. I took a few sips of it, and that was too much. The best part was playing the songs “Cuckoo” and “For Your Entertainment” by my favorite singer, Adam Lambert, on the jukebox. We were there for hardly any time before my neighbor decided she would rather hang out at the Gangway, which is on Larkin between Geary and O’Farrell streets and in the Tenderloin.

I laughed when I saw someone had taped a little sign on the door that read “Lesbians Only.” When we walked in, though, I was immediately ready to walk right back out. The place was packed, and there’s not much room in there to begin with. Ugh, I hate crowds. After a while, the place emptied out when a large portion of the crowd streamed out en masse. I later learned out they were all from one of the nearby hostels and were on a pub crawl.

There was a man and a woman, who is a friend of my neighbor, on either side of me with whom I ended up having a conversation. It didn’t take long to realize she was a pro-tech hipster. She made it clear she approved of the gentrification of the city and saw any problems that result—say, evictions and skyrocketing rents—as necessary for the greater good. I almost couldn’t believe I was actually hearing someone say such things. Up until then, those who favored this quasi-technological takeover of the city had been faceless villains in news stories I read. To meet someone who is a card-carrying member of the tech/gentrification movement was a bit disconcerting.

While she was spouting her philosophy, I noticed the man looking at her like she was crazy. I made eye contact with him and gave him a look to let him know I was on his side. When he objected to her viewpoint and explained why he felt such thinking and the actions that result from it are hurting “the soul of the city,” she accused him of being small-minded and selfish and not thinking of the bigger picture or the world outside of his community.

Not much later, she went off with her friends, and the man and I got to talking on our own. I learned his name was Erick Delgado, he moved to San Francisco from Chicago about four years ago, and he lives in and loves the Tenderloin. He spoke appreciatively of the neighborhood, saying he loves how he can go in different small businesses, and they know who you are, they know what you want, “they know your name,” he said.

He told me he loves the city as a whole, but the Tenderloin is special to him because other areas just aren’t the same, in his opinion. He also feels that in some places, namely the Mission, “it’s already over” but that there is still something to fight for in this neighborhood. Delgado thinks the Tenderloin will be one of the last areas of San Francisco to change, though there already signs of things shifting.

He believes the Tenderloin is not the dangerous place it is often made out to be. “If you go looking for trouble, you’re going to find it,” he said, adding that can be true no matter where you are.

Delgado said he tries to respect the people who are grappling with poverty, homelessness, or addiction because he has been in their place and knows he could end up there again. “I know that could be me,” he said. ““I’ve been there…on the streets” and used to do drugs.

He told me he may not always be a people person, but the residents of the Tenderloin bring out the best in him. Sometimes, “I hate everybody” and “I can be misanthropic,” but these people “bring out my compassion,” Delgado said.

Because this was a chance encounter, I must admit I was unprepared—I had no pen or paper! The whole time I was paying extra close attention to his words, striving to memorize the most important points. I knew I could not let this lucky opportunity slip through my fingers. Fortunately, when I told him I was a journalism student reporting on the Tenderloin and that I would like to use him as a source, he reacted positively. He told me how important he feels the artists and journalists and other writers are to this city. He also offered to write his phone number on my arm. The last time I remember having someone’s number written on my skin was in the sixth grade. As soon as I got home, I took notes on as much as I could remember. Thankfully, my memory did not fail me as I was able to recall significant portions of what he said verbatim and enough other details on the general nature of our conversation.

It just goes to show you never know when or where you might find a source.

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