We return this week to your regularly scheduled installments of Urbane Studies, in which our Tenderloin correspondent digs out the finer points of city lore on individual street corners. This week: baseball lore, clandestine capitalism and being a tourist in one's own city at Leavenworth and Turk.
At Leavenworth and Turk, business is conducted expertly. Repeat customers ensure smooth transactions, the businessmen at home in their plein air offices. Interlopers stick out, stupidly, blindly--such that you’ll receive a smile that’s more smirk than how-do-you-do if you come around too often and don’t engage the capitalists in custom. Again, it's only idiots that take out a camera and start snapping away.
But we rush too quickly into the reality of place, let’s suspend it for a moment, for a little context, and remember the glory of place names on a set of corners where the men don't want to be remembered by your kind.
Once more we find ourselves on Turk Street, named for Connecticut-born Frank Turk, an adventuring 49er and former member of the New York Knickerbockers. Those with a functional knowledge of baseball history will already be nodding along, as Turk made his way west with the man considered to be the father of baseball, Alexander Cartwright. Like a well-struck fastball, Cartwright continued his westward trajectory to Hawai’i, but Turk stayed on in San Francisco, becoming vice-alcalde to John Geary. He once owned much of what is now Nob Hill, which sounds more exciting if we forget that one had to traverse many a sand dune to reach those elevated climes.
The other street on our axis is north-running Leavenworth, a mighty conduit taking us to the lofty heights of Nob Hill and beyond. The street was so named for the pioneering Thaddeus M. Leavenworth, an eccentric physician and Episcopalian minister. We know rather a few pregnant ladies who do not yet have names for their tiny progeny: may we suggest the stately Thaddeus?
But we would be wrong to linger in the old days, for the old days are gone. We must attend to what is here, and we are here and strangely ill at ease, our furtive photography a cause for alarm.
The man on the corner asks, half-knowing the answer, “You some kind of tourist or something?”
Although replying in the negative, aren’t we tourists of a sort?
"An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just passed cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness (you do not look the way they look); the physical sight of you does not please them...They do not like you. They do not like me! That thought never actually occurs to you. Still you feel a little uneasy. Still, you feel a little foolish. Still, you feel a little out of place."
—Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
Even while traveling, no one rightly wants to be called a tourist, but there are those blameless souls who own up to knowing nothing and are happy that way. The rest of us make like we're not lost, but looking up the street for a friend.
"You need directions, turista?"
No, live about a mile from here, thanks.
But a mile from the Tenderloin may as well be a world away. As the signs around the neighborhood used to say, "slow down--people live here." And many of those that live here, children, need to know the safest routes, via the yellow brick roads that have been laid out in paint by volunteers working with the Tenderloin's Community Benefit District. A good deed, and better than what we'd initially imagined, given that a portion of the yellow brick road leads directly to Market Street Cinema. Rather, these brick roads are meant to encourage the neighborhood to look out for the young. While the urbanist Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" are apparent here, the intention behind the gaze is not what she would have intended.