In the evening, after we’d biked the bridge and had some fun, we went down to the Mission, an area named for the Catholic missions built a couple of hundred years ago in an attempt to convert the natives, but now famed for its Mexican food. In particular, burritos.
We caught the bus down. As it pulled up on the corner of 16th Street, we realised that this, too, was an, ahem, “interesting” part of town: the square above the metro station where the bus had stopped was just like you’d see on some American movie when they want to show a rundown downtown. It was just what I’d imagined LA would be like, actually–lots of people pushing around shopping carts containing their worldy goods, and others just sitting around drinking, taking drugs, and panhandling for change. They weren’t quite crowding round those drum fire things that you see on the TV, but it was definitely in that ballpark. It’s not as if London and the UK don’t have their fair share of homelessness and poverty, of course, but there’s something about poverty in America (when you encounter it) that’s just on a different scale altogether. Then again, maybe you just don’t expect to go to the world’s richest country, and see such a gap between rich and poor.
(The burritos were great, by the way…)
The following morning we went back to The Mission. As we waited to catch the bus near our hotel, a guy approached us and struck up a conversation. He looked like a rocker from way back in his black skinny jeans and leather jacket. Might have been in his 40s, I suppose, and he had the kind of worn, leathery face that suggested he been around the block a few times. Maybe he’d roadied for Ossie Osbourne, or the like. When he found out we were from London he started telling us all his stories. How he’d been there in the 80s and stayed in some hotel in Kensington for about £3.50 a night in a massive room where, he had been told, “Lord something or other used to bring his tarts”. “I didn’t know what a tart was,” he told us, “but I found out soon enough”.
He probably had many more stories to tell, but then our bus arrived to whisk us away–back to The Mission, where we headed straight for Mission Dolores, one of the oldest missions in the area, and which gave it’s official name (San Francisco de Asis) to the city. Luckily when we arrived we just managed to beat a double-decker coach tour, and so we were able to wander around alone; only as we were leaving did the coach open its doors and flood the tiny, previously tranquil, church with its cargo of bumbag-wearing turistics.
We kept moving, to Castro–home of the city’s gay community. On the advice of our Time Out guidebook, we stopped in at a deli on the high street, got lunch “to go” and made our way up a steep, steep road to the park, Corona Heights, for a stunning view of Castro, the Mission, and the city beyond:
On our way up to find a lunch spot, after climbing up a road with one of the steepest inclines we’d seen so far in the city, we stopped to take a breather. Suddenly, from nowhere came a piercing siren, like an air-raid warning.
We both looked at each other. We were both thinking the same thing: Oh my god, there must be an earthquake coming… what do we do? Should we stay put, out in the open, or was it better to go somewhere and shelter? I looked up–we were standing directly underneath some power cables and a telegraph pole, but we were both rooted to the spot, unsure what to do…
Then, from out of nowhere, two old ladies were suddenly walking towards us.
“Excuse me,” said Sal. “Do you know what that noise meant?”
“Oh yes dear,” came the reply. “It’s 12 o’clock.”