Falafel stop

As I came in to off the street, a woman is standing there, neither in nor outside of the tiny shop, reddened, cloaked eyes asking for help. She holds out her hand and the guy in front of me says “sorry, no cash,” and looks back at his phone. The woman pauses and then replies brightly, “you got your phone, I got Venmo!”

Sixth and Market, never a good place to be, not in my life, probably not in anyone’s life. Not in the early 80’s when I would cut out from Everett Middle School to go pump quarters into the arcade at the Transbay bus terminal, dodging the same shambling men and grimy puddles on the brick pavers that I stepped over today. Not in the late 90’s when I would commute by skateboard around the Embarcadero from Mike Toy’s flat in North Beach to WIRED at 660 Third—why cut through the alien, congested financial district when I could ride that wide, sunny boardwalk and be blown along by the fresh salt air? More recently, as the billions roiling through the City’s bloodstream have finally started to show up on the ground, both ends of O’Farrell’s cut growing cleaner and greener by the month, even mid-Market starting to feel the effects of another massive injection of capital, still, the heart of the city stews and rots, and the injections that I see this evening are done in filthy doorways. 

I had been hopeful too, about this little joint. I gave the place a once-over, and although I didn’t see the special little falafel tool which looks like a small ice-cream scoop, the mise at the back of the prep board was colorful and fresh. Two men worked the compact space, a front man taking orders and another behind him, assembling. Not as efficient as Taqueria Cancun, nobody yelling “caracoles!” to hustle the line, but they had a system. I would have liked to hear the sound of frying in hot oil—instead it was the chatter of the Postmates guy, anxious for his pickup. 

When I was sixteen all of the coolest people I knew, or so I thought, worked as bike messengers downtown. Their lingo, costumes, radios and rituals ruled the scene, Ben Davis pants pegged to avoid chain snag, Friday checks cashed at a messenger-friendly corner store in SOMA. I once mustered up the courage to go down and apply, and washed out on the first question: what is the sequence of streets parallel to Market as you go south? How was I to know, kid from Noe Valley: Mission, Howard, Folsom, Harrison, Bryant, Brannan, Townsend—and King, for extra credit. This modern-day doppelgänger, no tattoos, no chain grease, was talking to his girlfriend, his partner, or who knows, his co-founder—a different species evolved for a different era. 

I shifted the ring that Kate had given me on my right middle finger. A going-away present, not that she intended it that way, or a go-away present, which is probably more what it meant by the time we picked it up, a ring that I’ll have for the rest of my life. One of Danny Mac’s dot rings, an art deco masterpiece, an artifact of North Beach history and of love. It often feels that I’ve lost more than I’ve found in that department, but the shelves are full either way, the library doesn’t care how the stories end. 

Outside, the light was fading into early evening and bits of sidewalk trash shifted in the breeze. I tried not to smell anything from outside, focusing on the falafel man’s pudgy hands as he wrapped my pita in deli paper. My eyes shining, heart-broken and feeling the sandwich cold in my hands, I stepped over the streetcar tracks and said hello to the night.