The commute to my half-time library assistant job, Tuesday through Thursday 10 to 4, began with a half-mile stroll through the redwoods from my studio apartment to the Golden Gate Transit bus stop next to the plaza in downtown Mill Valley. Usually I arrived early for my bus and sat next to the two old-growth coastal sequoias watching squirrels hiding acorns under oak leaves that were later confiscated by scrub jays and crows. Sometimes I just stood in the sun staring at Mt. Tamalpais or the fog hovering on the Marin Headlands ridge.
At 8:42, I queued with the money managers and secretaries for the #4 San Francisco Financial District and tore a pink ticket from my book to stick in the toll box. Most days I day dreamed for the hour-long ride past Sausalito and over the bridge, but some mornings were so brilliant with gentle surf breaking below Sea Cliff and the Presidio that my free-ranging was refocused on pelicans and tugboats.
At the corner of Pine & Battery we were disgorged into the city’s morning bustle amidst the aromas of coffee and sweet rolls where I fell into the brisk pace of the crowd headed for the Montgomery Street BART Station two blocks away across Sutter from See’s Candies. Occasionally I’d grab “poetry for a buck” from the old guy in a trench coat in front of Noah’s Bagels. The first week of the month, I always stopped to buy a copy of the newspaper on homelessness from the disabled Vietnam vet who leaned on his cane or a parking meter in front of Citibank.
As I descended into the subway, I could tell who was playing for coins by the music that wafted up the staircase. Beethoven on violin meant the octogenarian former symphony player was picking up something for his meds not covered by Medicare. A rich Iberian guitar was the fellow from Spain about my age who was hoping to cut a CD, but could never quite afford the studio time due to the illness his mother came down with the previous year. If I had a buck to spare I’d give it to them, but I never passed without pausing to ask how they were and dropping in a coin or two.
When the train arrived at my stop at 16th & Mission, it was often quiet, but now and then the Irish guy played his fiddle and tapped his foot next to the escalator. At the top, Mayans and Mestizos sold flowers for five bucks. But at this point in my trip, I saved my remaining alms for Rose, the elderly black woman with diabetes and no teeth who hung out in front of Muddy Waters Coffee on Valencia Street. In some strange way, even though I’m white, she reminded me of my grandmother. Maybe it was her cheery smile and positive attitude despite her circumstances. Who knows?
Sitting outside the campus café across from the library I often found Paul, my Lakota buddy who was thinking about writing a book about when he and Dennis Banks were at Wounded Knee surrounded by the U.S. Army and later took a group of young Sioux cross-country runners around the world on a goodwill tour. I usually asked him about his latest art project. He mostly commented on my clothes being out of date and reading books being a waste of time.
Later in the day, when his blood sugar was readjusted, he’d ask me why groups of young co-eds squealed before scurrying across to the humanities building, and then stopped to laugh after reaching the other side. I told him I had no idea.