Part I: Sixth Street has been updated with new photographs and text, including several accounts of some unforgettable people. The following narrative will eventually be incorporated into Part III: The Tenderloin.
What is Important, What is Not?
Sunsets in San Francisco are often splendorous, even under cloudless skies. I photographed this one on a cold October evening, on my way to visit a friend. Most people had already returned from work to their homes. The UN Plaza, normally bustling with activity, was a barren red-brick plain, windswept and unwelcoming. The sun’s coronal fire had made the air luminous, bathing the surrounding architecture in a soft lambency and casting into stark relief the equestrian statue of a triumphant Simon Bolivar. Swallowed up by this grandeur were two figures at the statue’s base, a man and a woman, homeless, heedless of one another, preparing for the long, dark night ahead.
The man moved quickly, clothing himself against the cold. As he stalked away toward the Tenderloin, I watched the woman, who sat motionless, her eyes fixed on something I could not see. I wondered where she would go after nightfall; she seemed so utterly isolated and alone, a mote in the sunset. Before moving on I approached her and asked if she was all right. My query must have startled her, for when she looked up to see who I was, I saw fear and confusion in her eyes. I apologized for intruding, but as I started to walk away I heard a little voice say, “I’m okay.”
When I stopped to look back at her, she averted her eyes. I caught the glimmer of a fleeting smile as she said very quietly, “Thank you for asking.”
I left her then, for there was nothing more I could do, but I left with the memory of her smile.