The Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, that ugly, smelly, scary eyesore, home to many homeless folks, has been demolished, preparing the way for the building of a modern new facility which will better serve the Bay Area. I passed the rubble this week, enjoying the now accessible skylight and the sense of change in the air.
I have some strong associations with that terminal. My first real job at age 19, after boldly and naively moving to Berkeley to start a new life, was at North Beach Leather in San Francisco, where I had the job of glueing open seams on custom made extravagant leather garments for affluent hippies and celebrities. (I will never forget working on two jackets Barbra Streisand had ordered for a tour.) In stark contrast to the lives of the customers who could order these expensive leather garments was my life, the life of a self-supporting confused but ambitious college dropout trying to figure out what was going to come next. To get to my job, I alternated between carpooling and taking the bus across the Bay. The bus,around fifty cents for a ride, was too expensive for me to take everyday, thus my being a rider in a car.
The inevitable happened one day. My ride forgot to pick me up after work, I was left to get home by myself, and I had no money. No fifty cents. Nothing. I walked the long walk to the bus terminal, and began the humiliating act of panhandling. I had never done that before, and it was awful. I got to experience what it is like when people completely ignore you, pretending you don't exist. I tried telling my story, but it fell on deaf ears. No one would give me a dime, and all I needed was fifty cents. Finally, someone with whom I often rode on the morning bus recognized me, believed me, and fronted me the money. Mortified, grateful, chastened, and scared to my soul to think of what might have happened if no one had given me money,
I got on the bus and made it home, never ever leaving again without some money in my pocket.
I am somewhat affluent now, and thankfully will probably never be in that situation again - penniless, alone, with no one to turn to. Sometimes one of my kids will confess to being out and about with no money and it makes me nuts, thinking back to my experience at the Transbay Terminal, hoping that neither of my kids will have to experience that, yet knowing that I learned so much from it. But I bid farewell to that building with relief, relief that there but for fortune went I in that moment.