Wednesday, November 25, 2009
At about Fourth and "C" Street I noticed an electric cart curbside with a woman who looked to be a city worker sitting inside making some adjustment to a piece of equipment. I paused and called out "hello" to her. Then I said, "My church assigned a bunch of us to go out into the neighborhood and meet people--so could I talk to you for just a minute?" "Sure, why not," she replied. To my inquiry, she told me her name was Tina. From my conversation with her I learned that she didn't work for the city, but for A Clean and Safe San Diego, an agency of the CCDC--the Center City Development Corporation. Tina works about 30 hours a week and is responsible for cleaning sidewalks, storefronts and where ever there are messes needing to be cleaned up on her beat. She works 6:30 a.m.to 3:00p.m. four days a week. I was surprised to learn that the CCDC deploys a clean up crew 24-hours a day. I never knew. I thanked Tina and made my way one block over to my destination--the public restrooms at 3rd and "C" streets.
Her daddy was waiting to take his little 3-year-old girl into the women's bathroom. As he waited for the Women's room to be vacated, he was talking sports with the attendant. His little girl's outfit was as neat and attractive as the corn rows which some miticulous person had done and finished each row off with a colorful bead about he size of an cherry pit. While I waited to talk to the attendant, the little girl looked up at me and said, "I'm scared." I knelt doen to ask her what she was afraid of but she couldn't quite articulate it--or I couldn't make it out. She was a bright, talkative and bold little girl. As we talked, she carefully, slowely pulled my pen from my hand and asked if she could write on the large index card I was holding. I told her she could and I held the card for her. She scribbled as I asked, "What's your name?" "Bella" she said softly but quite clearly. She then began to push my pen back in my hand and asked me to write her name. When I finished, she wanted to try and copy what I'd written. Just when she finished, her father called her because the bathroom was now available. When they came out, I heard him sat you Bella as they left, "C'mon Bella," we've got to catch the troly and get to church. Off they raced as the arriving trolly came to a noisy stop a half a block away.
As I walked the length of the little piece of Date Street which fronts our church and turned south on Fourth Avenue, I saw, once again, the banners advertising, "Solara Lofts 3.5% down." and thought to myself, again, and with a sigh, "It would sure be nice to live here downtown so close to the church." But alas, for now we are way upside down in our Normal Heights condo. That's because we bought back in 2005 at the exact top of the market. I guess I'll never make a good real estate "flipper"--just haven't got the timing down.
Anyway, walking down Fourth Avenue along-side Saint Joseph's catholic Church I see a woman who appears to be in her fifties, standing a couple of feet inside a sort of alley-way between two buildings. As I approach her she asks, "spare change?" I tell her I don't have any and ask her name. "My name is Laura," she says and smiles at me with a big toothy grin which shows she is missing almost every other tooth. There is something strange but pleasant and almost peaceful about her. Her face and demeanor are that of a homeless person, but her outfit, odd as it is, is very clean. It looks like a nurses' uniform she has on and it is as spotless and bright white as anything I've ever seen. She is wearing shiny two-tone black and gray pointed ladies dress shoes with white socks. Over the nurses' uniform she is wearing a big black leather jacket. I ask her if this is her church and she tells me it is. "Yes, I've been coming here for twenty years now" she exclaims. I ask if the church minds her panhandling and she says, "No, not really." But then adds, "Well, except that new woman they got. She told me I had to move it." In answer to another inquiry she tells me she has lived in National City for the past ten years. By this time, a few people have begun to trickle out of the sanctuary and down the little breezeway toward Fourth Avenue. She asks each one for spare change. A few give her something. One middle-aged woman hands her a few bills folded together, looks at her and says warmly, "God bless you Laura." By now I feel we have a bit of rapport going so I ask her, "If someone wanted to know you, what is the one thing they'd need to know to understand who Laura really is?" "They should know I have mental problems," she says, "paranoid schizophrenia." This she says without any shame and very matter-of-factly. By now the main body of the congregation is filing past and Laura turns from me so as not to miss the crowd she'd been waiting for. I say goodbye to a now distracted Laura and, as I walk away I can hear, "Spare change? Spare change? Spare change?"
Yes, I was kicked out of my own church this past Sunday. It was the leader of our adult Sunday School class who did it. Of course I could storm into the pastor's office tomorrow morning and make a complaint, but then I'd only be ratting on myself. You see, it was I who was leading the Sunday school class last Sunday and I who told me to leave. At least I didn't holler, "and never come back!" at myself as I left. What I did say (to the whole class) was, "Be back here by 10:35 and let me know what you saw, who you met and what insights you may have gained on your little downtown journey. The exercise we were being assigned was to walk the streets of downtown San Diego to see and observe the life of our city and to, hopefully, gain some insight in the process.
The downtown church I go to is getting "edgier" and edgier these days--but in a good way. And this new edginess in spite of the fact we are theologically conservative/Reformed and essentially orthodox. OK, I confess (We Presbyterians have made an art form of confessing) I take my share of responsibility for some of the more edgy happenings at First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of late. Perhaps I'll save for some future post telling you about how inviting homeless people into the church for worship has gone over, or about our recent field trip to a Buddhist temple. But for this, the very first post on SanDiegoSeen, I want to tell you about the experience I had last Sunday, November 22nd.
I challenged the class, myself included, to spend our allotted class time in a new and, well, unconventional way: walking downtown city streets in search of observations, encounters and insights. I called this The First Annual West Room Field Trip Contest. It was a contest in that I offered a prize (lunch at Pierre's) to each of the best three entries. Each person was given a 4" x 6" card which, on the front, had room for three observations and related insights. On the back was space for listing, "The people I met."
I let the class know they could rack up extra points by various means. For example, one could get extra points for specificity: "At the Starbucks in Little Italy I had a conversation with a young woman who had fourteen tattoos--and that was just on her arms." They could also get extra points for conducting multiple interviews or for doing an especially in-depth interview. And, if they used their cell phone to get a photo of their subject, extra points for that too. One could also score extra points for interviewing two or more people. Sill more extra points would be given to anyone turning their assignment in via Facebook, Twitter or email. "But the most bonus points," I announced, "will be given for anyone who uses his/her notes to start a blog." I'm not holding my breath on that one, but nonetheless it would be really cool to hatch some new bloggers this way.
In my next post I will let you know just where in downtown I wound up going and who I met there...