Tenderloin to Castro

tenderloin

After a pleasant flight to San Francisco, my boyfriend and I took a long Lyft ride into the city, sharing the car with another couple, two lawyers from Los Angeles, in town for “my middle school best friend’s baby shower!” The flight had been relaxed and comfortable, the plane only about 1/8th full, giving everyone plenty of space to spread out and relax.

We had pre-arranged a place to stay in the Tenderloin, an area on the north-eastern side of San Francisco, weeks before. It was described as a comfortable condo in an up-and-coming neighborhood. It was only later that we had learned from friends that this was one of the more dangerous areas of town. The Lyft driver let us off in front of the entrance to our condo, a gated doorway nestled in between an Chinese laundromat and an ethnic food store of some kind. A man in bandages sat on the sidewalk outside, a woman in a wheelchair was bundled up in tattered blankets, and a man with no teeth eyed our suitcases suspiciously.

Our host met us at the door, jogging down the block toward us from his work like some kind of super model. He was tall, lithe, and black, well-dressed with an incredible smile. He was also very straight. He greeted us with enthusiasm, said his name was Taye, and showed us into his tiny condo. He lived here, he explained, and worked at a start-up company down the road, one that was launching a new merchandise-sharing app. He liked to rent his condo out to guests and then go stay with his fiancee at her place. He showed us how to use the shower, invited us to eat the food in his fridge, and then rushed off back to work.

The condo was small. A kitchen counter with appliances, a sofa bed, a window, and a small enclosed bathroom. But this was San Francisco, and the place would do. The boyfriend, however, felt nervous in this neighborhood, and wondered if we would feel safe coming and going at any time of day. I wondered how I would spend my time in the 2 hours after I woke up and before he did without a different room to move into. Those early morning hours can be both a blessing and a curse for me.

After a few minutes, we realized how cold it was in the condo, and noticed there was only one blanket on the bed. I messaged Taye quickly about it, and he responded quickly that the heater was broken. He said that if we get cold, we were welcome to run the oven at a high temperature an just open the door, that it could warm the place up. I told him I didn’t feel safe doing that for three full days, then he recommended that I rent a heater. His start-up company liked to connect people with each other. I would just need to provide him with my Email address and full name, then download an app, and he could get a heater lined up for me that could be delivered in 1 to 4 hours, and I quickly responded that I would not be doing that.

The boyfriend and I had a good laugh for a bit. The last time we traveled together, to Minneapolis, we had an extremely negative experience with Airbnb. We had paid for a room and the host had never shown up, and it had taken the company several hours to get us new accommodations, ones that turned out to be extremely inconvenient. But between the sketchy neighborhood and the very cold room with no blankets, I decided to call and complain. The suggestion to run the oven, and the instruction to download an app, it all just suddenly felt very weird.

Airbnb took our complaint, and noted that the listing online had indeed advertised that a heater was in the room, something that I felt shouldn’t have to be requested at the prices we had already paid. They then reached out to Taye, giving him a deadline to call back within. Taye then called me, wondering why I was calling the company when he had been trying to help. He said he would order the heater for us, fine, we just had to wait there for it for 1 to 4 hours, and I told him we wouldn’t ┬ábe willing to do that as we were on vacation. He then frustratedly said he would find a way to get it there. Then Airbnb called back, saying Taye hadn’t called them back and that they were changing our reservations.

It happened quickly after that. I sent Taye a message explaining what had happened, and I left 10 dollars on his counter because we had used his shower. I felt bad right away, he was going to be out the money we had already paid, and likely fined by Airbnb for not having a heater. (The oven, the app, I reminded myself, but I still felt bad.) Suddenly we were being moved to a nicer area of town, our unpacked bags being put into a new Lyft to the Castro. Rushing away from Taye’s place, I felt like I had stolen something and needed to get out of the store before the employees noticed. We rushed hurriedly out the door, dreading the possibility of seeing him.

Before we arrived at the new accommodations, I received a series of frustrated messages from Taye. He said he hadn’t done anything wrong, that he had gone out of his way to bring us a heater because we had complained, and that he had entered the apartment to find a ‘measly ten dollar bill and a note’ waiting. Initially, I felt terrible and awkward, but soon we were being introduced to Jose, a kind man who lived with his husband and rented out his beautiful basement apartment. There was coffee and snacks, a huge beautiful bathroom, a comfy large bed with pillows and blankets, and a living room where two giant stuffed bears sat on the couch. It was inviting, spacious, and comfortable, like a home away from home should be.

Ho Chi Minh City

hochiminh

“It all for her, everything. She lucky girl.”

My Viatnamese Lyft driver, Tuan, beamed as he talked about his daughter, navigating the car through the mild hills of San Diego. I smiled back.

“How old is she?”

“Oh, she 12. Her name Lina.” He indicated a photo of her that he kept nearby of a beautiful young Viatnamese girl, black hair and bright smile. “Her mother and I, we work always just for her, just so she can focus on education, have a different life.”

I commented on how beautiful Lina was, and Tuan asked if I had children. I mentioned I had two sons, ages 8 and 5, and he laughed heartily.

“Oh, two boys! They so busy, I guess! Girls more focused, more emotional. You lucky.”

We both laughed.

When Tuan asked, I told him I was a therapist, and he gave a cooing sound for a moment, seemingly impressed. He went on to explain how he worked as a driver all day long, stopping only to eat and relieve himself, and how his wife worked impossible hours as a nail technician. “We both work hard, too hard, but it good for us, for our family. We take care of Lina.”

I looked surprised, raising my eyebrows slightly as we sat at the stop light. “With you both gone all day, who takes care of Lina?”

“Oh! I should have said,” he laughed again. “My mother and father, they live in home with us. Mother is 84, father is 91, but they in good health. They wake Lina, take to school, pick up and feed. We take care of them, they take care of Lina. Wife parents still back in Viet Nam, but we not visit, too far, 20 hours by plane. Lina want to go to Viet Nam all the time, but we cannot go. We cannot even travel California, too expensive, have to pay bills and raise family. Education what important.”

I found myself asking the obligatory American question, the same question any white person has of any person from another country, before I could stop myself. “Oh, how long have you been in the United States?”

Tuan grinned broadly again, the smile almost constantly on his thin face. “We be here almost 20 year. I met my wife back in Ho Chi Minh City, where we grow up. It hot there, too hot, California nice weather. I meet her on a date with another girl, she was dating my friend, but I like her. We get married and move to San Diego, bring my parents here. Have our daughter. We citizens now. Very happy family now, but we work too hard, I think.”

Tuan asked me where I was from, and I said that I’d grown up in the Midwest but that my current home was in Salt Lake City.

He laughed. “Oh, that place have lot of mountains and lot of Mormons. Big families, lots of kids!”

I found myself laughing back. “Yes, that describes Utah very well.”

We drove through several more lights as Tuan talked about the San Diego weather, the seasons, the tourists, and driving. I muttered a few questions from time to time, but had difficulty slowing my own thoughts. I found myself wanting to ask a hundred questions, but refused to ask any of them, thrilled at Tuan’s narration of his own story. I thought of recent immigration policies, of the vastness and beauty of the world, of the rhetoric and fear spreading through the Hispanic and African and Latino and Middle Eastern people I know in central Utah as they wondered what would happen to their families in today’s America.

We pulled up to my lodging, the little Airbnb I would be staying for the weekend, and Tuan gave me a hearty handshake. “You enjoy those boys of yours,” he smiled.

I grinned back. “Thank you, Tuan, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for telling me about your family.”

“I am lucky man,” he said, “but must go back to work. You enjoy vacation in San Diego. Maybe someday I visit Salt Lake City. And maybe someday you visit Ho Chi Minh City, too.”

“I’d like that,” I said, and closed the door as he drove away. I gave a quick wave, one proud dad to another, and both Americans.