A difficult set of corners to get a bead on, this. The intersection of Leavenworth and Golden Gate is overwhelmed on the northwestern corner by the august former YMCA; kitty corner, the shell of what had been a Tenderloin clinic. The southwest corner is taken up with Union business--SEIU 87 and Local 2--while on the northeast, the bilingual Big Boy Market/ Niño Grande attracts a crowd suspicious of interlopers. It’s not a place to linger, outsiders unwelcome. But do we do things the hard way or the easy way?

If you’ve walked by a hotel during the high season, you’re familliar with Local 2. Well-funded and strong, the organization maintains a regular picketing schedule and a boycott list that helps tourists stay on the right side of labor.
San Francisco, being a closed shop town, is thick with unions. SEIU is one of the largest and fastest growing unions in the country, in no small part thanks to our country's reliance on a service economy. Healthcare, custodial services, government workers: over 2 million workers are united by SEIU. It is interesting to note that SEIU was the single largest contributor to Obama’s 2008 campaign, with the organization pitching in $28 million. We’re leery of the one good review for Local 2 on Yelp, and SEIU doesn't fare much better. Also, reviews of unions on Yelp?

Although San Francisco ranks third in the nation for the size of its homeless population, it is home to the largest population per capita in the country. Think we have too many shelters, too many SROs, too many services? You’d have more to concern yourself with stepping in if we didn’t. If you’ve almost been homeless, or if the current economic climate worsens, you’ll want to know that you have resources worth turning to. For those who suggest that the shelters exacerbate the problem, we suggest this: if there were no homeless, there would be no need for homeless shelters. Which brings us to the YMCA.

Behold, the glory that was the former Shih Yu-Lang YMCA, née the Central YMCA: draped like a widow waiting to throw off its mourning veil, it was honored by the presence of President Taft in 1909, who set the salvaged, fire-scorched cornerstone of the old Mason and Ellis YMCA into its current location. Its 105 rooms, fine hardwood details, swimming pool, and grand design recommended it as one of the finest of Ys, but essential earthquake retrofitting and maintenance proved too costly for the non-profit organization. The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation is behind the $95 million campaign to rehabilitate the building into the Kelly Cullen Community. Named for the late activist monk responsible for turning the TNDC into a powerful and effective non-profit; the new complex is expected to open in October, and will be the largest undertaking of its kind in city history. The Shih Yu-lang Central YMCA picked up and moved into U.C. Hastings' retail space off of Larkin Street...next door to a Subway.

Big Boy, you have an identity crisis. Part of the reason we settled on corners for this project is that this is where the action happens, and sometimes we get a bit more action than we bargain for. Which, if you're in it for the stories, is fine. But El Niño Grande/Big Boy Market is a deeply unhappy place, which is too bad, seeing as how the Market itself is one of the few locations to offer fresh (if wilting) vegetables: heads of lettuce that have gone soggy, apples in summer that were picked last fall. A little enclave of the store is stocked with Latino foodstuffs, catering to families in the area who have limited access to fresh produce outside the bi-weekly farmers' market in U.N. Plaza. Again, we're at the point of reminding those who spend scant time here that if the only potatoes you grow up on are fried and dusted with cheese flavor, it's no wonder that the American physique is less than svelte. But trans-fats on this corner are less a danger than the sharp-eyed men who, despite general Tenderloin friendliness, wonder at your presence if you're not a lost tourist or looking to buy. It is not suggested that you try to take photographs of people here.

A house on the verge of collapse, things just a bit off, the beauty of things falling apart: the quality that the Japanese call wabi sabi is absent here, for there is no romancing this corner. And it does not want for romancing.