Crossing Market Street, Then and Now

Market Street. The great starting point for San Franciscans and visitors alike. All points lead back to Market Street, like a narrative line in a history of the city it runs up the center of. Any direction you may wish to head in, you will begin your trip at some point on Market Street.  Just about every one who lives in, commutes to, visits, or  passes through, will cross, or walk the sidewalks of Market Street.

I started my first job on Market Street in the late 1980’s in my one and only office job. It didn’t last more than a year or so. My next job on Market was in the cosmetics department of the Emporium Department Store, now long gone, but never forgotten by native San Franciscans. Now, over twenty years later, I find myself walking down to Market Street each day on my lunch break.  I don’t work on Market now, but I’m  near enough to hear the ringing of the bells and the blowing of the horns of the F line streetcars as they barrel through the intersection of Grant,  O’Farrell, and Market.

For the past one hundred fifty years, my family has been in San Francisco.  Surely I follow in their footsteps when I walk down Market in the evenings after work, on the way to catch the bus home? I feel their eyes on me sometimes, watching the last of their family, and the last one of us left in the city, as I traverse the main street of the city they loved as much in their life time as I do in mine.

Each day as I walk I wonder what they would think of their city now. With its own Industrial Revolution in the form of the current Tech explosion,  the current City Hall and it’s  Mayor, the rampant and soul-wrenching evictions of the elderly and families,  and numerous displacements of their city’s long time residents. There has been a mass forced exodus of artists, creatives and non profits, and, well, the list grows daily.

Surely they weep, wherever they are watching from, to see how the soul of San Francisco,  the city of Saint Francis of Assisi,  has been washed into the streets by a Catholic cathedral, as they shamelessly rained water down upon the homeless who had taken shelter there for the night?

Any direction you may wish to head in, you will begin your trip at some point on Market Street.

Maybe they recall their city’s more auspicious history, the characters, and its memorable celebrations and devastations. Six generations of my family have been witness to this Magic Lantern show that the great museum that this city is has shown the world. And I am here to witness it now. What I have seen these past ten years has made me doubt this city at times. I have tried to give up on it and give it over to the hordes of new comers who have no sense of its history or its people. But I am unable in my heart to give up on San Francisco, and I have recently vowed anew to speak up for my city. What is our future as San Franciscans as the Twenty First Century rolls on? With a spirit of acceptance of the outsider,  giving shelter to the downtrodden and discouraged,  and of assisting and lifting the spirits of its people, we want to continue to thrive as we once did “in days of old, in days of gold.”

So, Dear Reader, welcome to Crossing Market Street. Get your car fare out and step aboard this streetcar. The destination sign may say Nowhere In Particular but we are now preparing to travel up this 120 foot wide, three-mile long boulevard through history, as we prepare to look at the present,  and into San Francisco’s future as best as we can predict.

The sand dunes have been replaced by sidewalks and paved surfaces, and buildings line up to crane their necks like a crowd at a parade to see us passing, going upwards from the Ferry Building all the way to Twin Peaks and beyond.  But underneath it all its still the city that inspired the American Dream. Is there any gold left for those who now come prospecting its streets?

This is what I intend to discover, write about, rave about, and maybe even shout about a little. And here I am, at the foot of Market, waiting for  MUNI. I’ve got my Clipper card. I wonder what type of street car is coming towards me?