"Did you know the most crime-ridden intersection in the state of California is right here at Turk and Taylor?" exclaimed Del Seymour, founder of the one-man show Tenderloin Walking Tours. I pondered this thought for a few seconds, imagining the expanse of California stretching out for miles on end, and digested the fact that within a stone's throw of where I spend a good number of my waking hours, all too many San Franciscans fall victim to a relentless wave of crime statistics. I couldn't dwell on this thought for long, as Del continued to inform me that right across the street in a building that now houses a state-run halfway home sat the Compton Café, the birthplace of the Gay Rights movement as we know it today. According to Wikipedia, in 1966, a group of "cross-dressers, hustlers, and street queens" protested the Café's refusal to serve them and engaged in a riot with police, triggering an event that now is remembered as the pre-cursor to the Stonewall riots.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending a morning with Del here at St. Anthony's. It is my job as the Communications Manager to situate our organization in the topsy-turvy world of media relations, particularly with issues that address poverty, social justice and quality of life for all residents of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Within this world, there is a constant stream of blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and instagrams pouring into every nook and cranny of our information sphere. In rare cases do we get to hear directly from the people who live, work and breathe these stories every day of their lives.
I could have stayed in my office all day chatting with Del. I've spent over 10 years working for St. Anthony's and in 10 minutes, I felt as if I had walked into the Tenderloin for the first time. Nearly every week, Del walks people around the neighborhood, opening eyes and doors into what is one of the most complicated, diverse and bustling 20 blocks in the country.
The origin of Tenderloin Walking Tours, much like the neighborhood itself, evolved from worlds colliding. It began on an ill-fated day in Del's previous life as a cab driver when he ran three timed, red lights on Folsom street, trying to pacify an unruly customer. While he lost his license to drive, he gained a fast pass into a job that comes to Del as naturally as ice cream on a hot summer day.
"I love this city," Del emphatically explains. "If I see a tourist with a map, I'll ask them, 'Hey, you need some help? Let me show you the way.'" Through his tours, Del has shown people the way into the heart of the Tenderloin and San Francisco.
To sign up for a tour yourself, check out his website, www.tlwalkingtours.com. If you're like me, you'll gladly forgo your own map of the city and let Del show you the way.