Yesterday, I walked from the Powel Street Bart Station in San Francisco to 5th and Townsend at 5:30 in the afternoon. I grew up in San Francisco and had walked those same streets many times, but the flavor of the city has changed. It’s younger and cleaner–the contrasts more striking. Black men in their 30’s selling drugs on the corner of the alleys, highly educated young white men working from home out to walk their dogs in long baggy cut offs promoting their calf tattoos, Central America men congregating under the freeway, and a twenty sophisticated black woman in moonstone earrings and I walking towards the train station.
I arrived at Betsy Burrough’s Future Catalyst Brainstorming Salon, a monthly event where people mingle and share hors d’oeuvre and wine and post ideas for brainstorming that others respond to. Once inside the memory of the walk vanishes. I’m in a world of accomplished professionals with a social conscious. My thoughts turn to brainstorming. I’m engrossed in a world of new ideas.
On the BART ride home an elderly man walks through the train stinking with his hat in his hand saying, “Help me” “Please help me”. Like all the other passengers I pretend not to notice. I’m too busy writing in my notebook, plus, I can’t stand the idea of fumbling through my purse, finding my wallet and pulling out money on the crowded BART train. It makes me feel to vulnerable. He stops next to me and again says, “Please help me.” The man in front of me turns and glares at me as if to say, “Don’t even think about giving him money.” I am consumed with guilt and at the same time the pressure to conform and pretend it is not happening. The woman behind breaks the unbearable guilt and tension. She says, “I’ll help you. I’ll pray for you.” He leaves defeated and moves on to the next train.
As I add fare to my ticket at the other end two teen age girls ask for fifty cents to get out of the station. I hand two quarters I find in my open change purse, the trying to reconcile my feelings. I still feel bad for not helping the old stinky man. Lost in my thought and the darkness on the way to my car a young Central American woman pushing two large rolling suitcases and laundry bag startles me. In the saddest most vulnerable voice she and asks for money. I say, “sorry” and walk on. Again, I feel bad.
I think next time I attend Betsy’s salon, I’ll keep a few dollars in my coat pocket to help the needy and spend my blog time writing about the great contacts and breakthroughs I made while talking to people at the salon.