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Letter from Santa Clara

Dumpster-Santa Splits City By The Bay

By Bill Costley

I do get up to San Francisco, but only for job interviews. On the way, I see what I can on/from the train, at the CalTrain station (at 6th & Folsom), on/from the MUNI-buses, and on the block I'm going to. Like most San Franciscans', my sightseeing's utilitarian. The city will (maybe) always be there, we imagine (forgetting 1906, etc.).

A week before Xmas, I went up to interview for a PR job at an architectural firm (specializing in hospitals, many of them Asian now), with a spectacular panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. When I reached the peak of the street, I stood mesmerized as a massive containerized freighter passed under the bridge: a spectacular view I'd never seen {live} unobstructed before, making the port of S.F. come alive. Most outsiders only know the bridge from the distance & maybe the Trans-Am tower (but not the Asian museum at its base & its surrounding parklet where oldfolks play chess & do their tai-chi.) Then I lamely zig-zagged thru the sitting-gardens & abrupt descent of the 300s segment of Vallejo Street: an Asian girl was reading a book on a bench in one of them as I hobbled, painfully, angularly down them, slowly right to left, back & forth.

At the bottom of Vallejo street's steep descent, just across the next cross st., in a narrow building at 222, the firm (KMD) occupies the whole 4th floor. The elevator opened onto a stark, cement-brutalist lobby with a gilded grate from an actual Louis Sullivan Chicago elevator on the wall opposite it. I interviewed with someone also from Massachusetts. No surprise, post-WW2, hip Bostonians gravitated to San Francisco & still do.

After that initial interview, as I was heading for the nearest MUNI-bus, I looked into an alley & saw a large woven bamboo basket sitting beside a dumpster, so I rummaged for 2 more baskets & an antique-style swivel-neck floor-lamp (new wiring, intact). Dragging my load to the street & up to the next corner, I stopped to look into the first level of the building where wait-staffers clustered at the door of a large reception hall, watching the noisy early Friday afternoon office party. Grim-looking young office-partyers walked past me, each carrying identical company presents.

At the next corner, the driver of the #10 bus suddenly told me "I am not a service!" (which I somehow wilfully misheard as "I am going out of service") so I waited for & flagged the next #10, whose driver asked me "Are those heavy?" I told him — No, light, but I'll haul them on myself — & did.

As I dragged them off at 6th & Folsom, I began to worry that next, I might not be able to take them onto the CalTrain. As I dragged them up the sidewalk, a female conductor talking on a cellphone waved frantically to me; I assumed, I'll finally have to abandon them here, but as I got up to her she asked me: "Would you be willing to sell me that lamp?" Of course, I gave it to her (plus baskets); we hauled them to the caboose of her waiting train that was going my way. She asked me to stash them next to the group of seats reserved for bicyclists & watch them for the duration of my trip (down to Santa Clara; she was heading all the way down to Gilroy & back).

Bicyclists are a humanoidal semi-species (Carolin calls them "insects") in their tight-spandex exoskeletons, drinking Beck's & playing jr. high-school tricks on each other, e.g., pretending to scratch each other’s narrow, expensive warp-around sun-glasses. My unchic Vuarnets were safe in my Louis Jourdan briefcase, rather than my exposed Brooks Brothers' jacket pocket. (btw, my olive-grey waterproof plastic, leather-trimmed, cas de bref is a Charles (not Louis) Jourdan, found discarded in Wellesley Sq. years ago, pissed all over! (priced then at USD$225 in their now long-defunct shop in The Copley Plaza, Copley Sq., opp. Back Bay Station.) I only use it as an intimidator on hi-brow interviews; it's serious overkill anytime/where else.)

As we approached Santa Clara, the conductor (Kathy) & I chatted, way-buzzing up an incoming insect, who buzzed to get by me to join the now growing buzz, buzzing me off. When the doors opened, Kathy detrained with me as Carolin walked up, saying, knowingly, "I hope you didn't bring anything you found back!" "No, there it all is," I said, pointing to the buzzing caboose. Smiling, Kathy said, "He gave it all to me."