by Cameron Casalta, staff reporter
Briny waves of deep blue crashed against the pier before dispersing into white foamy bubbles. The boardwalk stank of sea salt, fried fish, Ghirardelli’s chocolate and other confectioneries. Ahead stood Fisherman’s Wharf, a collection of picturesque boutiques that sold Golden Gate Bridge merchandise, tacky trinkets, and sweets, all of which were trying too hard. Tourists in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors decorated the boardwalk, all wearing uniforms of floral Hawaiian button ups, activity tank tops and Bermuda shorts; they snapped photos of the tasteful tourist trap.
I held my mother’s hand as we swam through a sea of people. I knew I was well past the age of hand-holding while crossing the street but it was more for my mother’s peace of mind than for my own benefit. She still held onto the parental fear of me being swept away by the crowd of disgruntled natives and jovial, sticky tourists. However I knew deep-down that these were not my mother’s main concerns. My mother’s eyes darted back and forth every few steps.
The sun slowly sank to its knees to meet the horizon, creating hues of orange and fuchsia. We walked through the crowded streets, passing men with scraggy beards, dingy clothes without washing, and worn out faces with dirt in the creases, and women with matted hair, torn clothing dark with filth and an emptiness in their eyes. We kept our eyes forward and we quickened our pace. Every block, more of these men and women appeared. They sat on the pavement in circles, some playing cards, others staring silently at each other but they did not see what was in front of them, some saw their misery, but most not even that.
Not far from us, we could still hear the jingle of boutique doors shutting for the night, a screeching mixture of childish delight and uproarious bellows of adult laughter while the displaced remained mute except for the occasional moan of the sick and the whisper of those still young enough to have something left to say. Tourists licked ice cream cones and stuffed themselves with Ghiradelli fudge brownies while the despondent pulled their thin, beaten windbreakers closer to themselves, shivering and others chewed on scraps of edible food found left by the wasteful and the ungrateful. Others had none.
My mother and I marched forward, eager to get out of the chilly night air, into the comfort of our warm made beds in our hotel room. A few feet from our hotel sat a young man, who looked to be only a few years older than myself. He was curled up in a large grey hoodie and a darker grey beanie. The sleeves were balled up to shield his hands from the cold. He had dirty platinum blonde hair with dull blue eyes. He may have been handsome if his face was not covered in grime. He had his kneels pulled up to his chest and a sign in his hands. “Please anything will help, cash, food, a job”. I read it as my mother and I passed the young man and his sign. I replayed the words in my mind, Please anything will help, cash, food, a job. We were a foot away from the hotel lobby. My mother’s face was a cold mask of indifference, my greatest fear was that my mother was not wearing a mask. I looked back at the young man, his face too shone with indifference. However this young man was not indifferent to us, he was indifferent to his own poverty and suffering, his face was not a mask but an empty shell. I choked and faced forward, tears streaming down my face. With a shutter, I followed my mother into the lobby.