Being out for a walk at 5: 30 in the morning reveals a whole different San Francisco. Within a block of my apartment there are folks on bicycles, mostly guys in hoodies and caps. Their faces are obscured, their purpose is nefarious. These guys are prowling on the sidewalks, looking for something on a car seat that will give them an excuse to break the window. They ride their bikes very slowly up and down looking from car to car. If they see someone else, they quickly backpedal. I imagine they have the neighborhood cut up into territories and I’m sure there is a Fagin somewhere collecting from each of these less than artful dodgers. If you’ve ever left your car alone for five minutes and returned to a pile of glass, you’ve these to thank.
Another block further along there’s a second round of folks, these are selling and buying sex. The shoppers are often construction workers slowly driving around in their pickup trucks. The sellers and their district managers can be found chatting in the shadows on smoke breaks or walking the retail floor one by one or congregating at crossroads. On drizzly mornings, there is a coffee clatch in the not-yet-open garage where they attract the attention of headlighted drivers by their sheer numbers, like tradesmen in the lot at Home Depot. One or two have seen me so often they smile. The construction workers, however, do not make eye contact.
Turning a corner reveals a very different crowd. Here there are men on a very different quest. They are going to Salat al-Fajr at the Masjid. I find them sitting in their cars reading papers or listening to the radio and smoking. Out of all the folks Ive seen so far, I feel the closet connection with these men. For we are about the same business. At noon time, especially on Fridays, Salat az-Zhur draws so many men of all races here. It is a blessing to see. Some see me as well, with my beard and Rosary. We nod.
I’ve only walked five blocks.
Beyond the Masjid, there are three groups of folks on the street. The first are the gymbound or those leaving the gym to head homeward. They are always wearing too few clothes, no matter what the weather. They carry gym bags and headsets. They are oblivious to the world around them. They have replaced a religious tithe of time with a more material one.
The second are the cab-hailers. They have luggage and they are usually near their hotels, but not always. At this hour SFO is prepping for many first-thing flights that won’t get to the East Coast until early evening, but it’s prime time for business folks who need to be at a meeting and either are paid too much to take a redeye or too little to pay for the extra night in a hotel.
Third are our City’s dirty little secret. We are used to seeing homeless in the Tenderloin or. Midmarket areas. Civic Center is a veritable campground, as are parts of Soma. But the truth is the entire city is filled with the homeless. There are people sleeping on sidewalks and curbstones all over the city. They are far enough away from streetlights as to be ignored, and they are often alone. One shapeless lump in the dark is far less visible to the cops and sweepers, but also more at risk. For these areas are filled with the bros who value property values more than people. So the price of a quiet night’s sleep may be a suited kicking or a Permit Patty-type phone call to the police. These folks are usually a bit more wounded, it seems to me, than their community-dwelling counterparts in tents downtown. They walk around Japantown without seeing me as I pass, and on the abandoned streets they yell whispers at unseen foes.
At the last, within a couple of blocks of my goal, I begin to see folks who are on my path and we have a common end in sight: the elderly couple praying the Rosary as they walk, the hotel worker who has also come from Nob Hill, albeit at a slower pace, the workers and students, teachers, and retirees who make at 6:30 Mass in St Dominic’s Church their breakfast. If I make it here before 6 we are gathered at the locked door, waiting. There is whispered chat, and prayers that needing finishing. They have come from many directions, but they see the same folks as did I.
When the door opens we say our howdies to Doug and reverently enter, taking holy water and discussing the weather in the Narthex. Then through the inner doors in ones and twos, we all genuflect and get about our devotions. For as all of this gathered in the door has been a walk through God’s morning world, now we offer it up: the Walkers and Shoppers, the Prowlers and Prayers, the Homeless and the Howling, in the great sacrifice of the Cross, in the great mystery of deicide and salvation. Here, suffering is made holy, here healing flows out in endless waves rolling on the world’s ocean; crafted by the Spirit’s wind in the morning sunrise. God’s world broken at our hands and made holy by his.