The Tenderloin, San Francisco

tying their arms to shoot up

I find myself at a loss for words walking through the Tenderloin – seeing people defecating on the sidewalks, tying their arms to shoot up, hobbling on canes, crutches, and wheelchairs due to lack of healthcare, hollering across the street at anything with a pair of legs as you are reminded that you too, have a pair of legs. You see people sleeping next to piles of abandoned trash and think where am I? Am I in San Francisco? Am I in California? Am I in America?

But you are.

And I am. I’m about 30 minutes, give or take, from my apartment. And believe me, it’s easy to get sucked into the thought of the Tenderloin taking on the character of a forgotten, bastard child of some third world country and just avoid it all together. And in this day and age with gentrification (higher income residents deciding to settle in urban areas subsequently pricing out lower income residents), becoming more and more of an issue (especially in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area) it’s also easy for me to parallel it, throw my big-wig suit on and stamp the TL as “up and coming”. Trade in the drugs dealers and prostitutes for a new Whole Foods and call it a day. But I won’t, though people will try.


I like to take the Tenderloin for what it is. Take it for its serious-as-cancer bluntness that you don’t exactly see in surrounding San Francisco neighborhoods.

Of course it’s not hard to notice people have obviously given up and succumbed to the pressures of their vices here, but it’s also hard not to notice the hussle. It’s the same hussle you will find in the financial district. People jetting from one street to another attached to their cell phones talking to potential clients or banking their next sale. The only difference is in the Tenderloin, these business men and women are not entering San Francisco’s infamous skyscrapers, going up to the 33rd floor and wooing their clients with memorized note cards and power point presentations. Instead, they are going to the parked hooptie around the corner, and exchanging their product for cash through the driver’s side window. Legal or illegal, clean or dirty, safe or unsafe, right or wrong – it’s a business that many people find themselves in.

On the other hand, if you believe this “hussle” is bullshit and the people sleeping on the streets of the Tenderloin, struggling to provide for their family need help then believe me, there is no need to shell out thousands of dollars to go to someplace like Guatemala to teach your brat teenager a lesson about appreciating what you have. Walking around the TL for a day, even an hour, is a sure shot reminder  that you don’t need to travel to help the sick, underprivileged, and homeless (not saying you shouldn’t either) but that the same problems of poverty and mental illness are here too, and they’re give or take, 30 minutes away.