I wuz robbed

Today I was in a hurry, walking down to my local subway station, the 16th and Mission BART, and, as usual when I'm too late to take Valencia, this took me past the cluster of drug-dealers who hang out on my corner, in the north Mission. I was wearing the groovy MiG goggles I'd bought last month in London at the Camden Market and have been using as shades, and this big drug dealer cornered me and started harassing me to try them on. Then he started rambling about what he does for a living, just talking a load of really boring rounder horseshit that probably sounds good and Elmore Leonardy when you say it to yourself in your head but just sounds banal and incoherent when you're standing on a corner.

He's a big guy and so I "let" him try on my shades. Then it transpires that he wants me to buy drugs from him in exchange for my goggles. I explain that I'm not in the market for drugs, but he won't give back my shades and he's talking more bullshit. Finally I say, "So, you're robbing me, right?" and more bullshit ensues. I repeat the question a couple times, then walk off.

I'm really pissed. Really, really pissed. I really liked those goggles and clearly this guy decided he wanted to just fuck with me for the hell of it. Short of flying to London, I can't replace them, ever. (Update: an alert reader pointed out a mail-order site, so I've replaced them)

I could go to the cops, but here's the thing: if I do, he'll know who did it and he might shoot me.

If I don't go to the cops, though, I am going to walk past this guy twice a day for the rest of my tenure in this apartment and he's going to know that I'm a soft touch and I'm bound to be in for more harassment.

This corner is visible from a nearby police station -- cops who park their cars there can easily and continuously see the swarms of crack, heroin and grass dealers who congregate on my corner. It sure doesn't feel like reporting a petty robbery is going to make a difference.

I asked the advice of two transit cops whom I ran into on BART. They said that cops see busting the dealers in the north Mission as a futile exercise, since the system just dumps them back out on the street. They recommended writing to the SF District Attorney's office, just let him know that there's political will to do something about this.

This is the kind of thing that drives me completely nuts about San Francisco. There is visible corruption, felony crimes, and human degradation everywhere, far more so than any other city I've been to in North America or Europe (excluding Naples). There are people squatting and taking dumps, there are streets whose sidewalks are lined with tents and whose gutters are lined with sealed, fermenting 40 oz. malt liquor bottles filled with urine deposited by tent-dwellers who don't want to live in their own piss. Everywhere you go in the city, you step through drifts of discarded pipes, needles, condoms.

The taxes here are extraordinary -- comparable to Ontario, certainly -- but the evidence of government spending is nowhere to be seen, from the potholes to the prostitutes, from the limping transit to the visible and desperate pervasive poverty.

OK, I'm ranting here. Getting robbed -- even getting robbed in such a minor and meaningless way -- sucks, and it rattles you and makes you bitter and angry. This crap makes me want to move, if not back to Toronto then at least to some yuppies-and-dogs neighborhood like Noe Valley or Pacific Heights, where my rent will be even more extortionate (you would not believe how much money I pay for my tiny apartment in my filthy, dangerous, feces-strewn neighborhood).

OK. I'll stop now. Thanks for reading.

Update: a few hours later.

Let me clarify here that I'm not advocating any kind of round-em-up-and-ship-em-off policy. I am no great fan of the penal system, the war on some drugs, nor am I unaware of the social factors that give rise to the problems in my neighborhood.

But there are damned few places where these problems are this visible and dramatic. I don't have a solution, but I do know that other cities in this state, country and continent don't suffer to this degree. There must be a lesson in one of them.

There are many things to love about SF and about the Mission. First and foremost, there's the EFF, as good a reason to stay here as any I can imagine -- working for the EFF is a dream come true, and the benefits thereof far outweigh the problems of this neighborhood.

There's the concentration of amazing, witty, intelligent, thoughtful and technically literate people in the Bay Area. On a good day, SF is a geek's Shangri-La, with excellent nerd and art culture on every corner.

There's the vibrancy of the Mission, the vast majority of good people who are running small businesses, making merry and who greet me with a smile when I walk past.

Getting robbed makes you bitter. If I could have stepped around this guy, I would have, but I couldn't and I ended up getting robbed. I've written to the SF District Attorney's office to point out the drug-dealers on my corner and their seeming truce with law enforcement. There's a great sushi joint, Country Station Sushi, right on the corner where I was robbed. The family that runs it are world-champion taiko drummers, and I feel for them, feel for their struggling business that is effectively barricaded by the dealers on the corner. It's not fair.

I don't have a solution, but it doesn't seem like the city can go on like this. Link Discuss