In my early reporting days I used to drive through San Francisco's open-sore Tenderloin district in my Karmann Ghia convertible, top down, police scanner cranked way up. Day or night, the sound of the crackly cop dispatches used to send residents scuttering into the dark recesses like Israeli settlers responding to an air raid signal.
We investigated the area's booming porn trade -- Cleveland's Reuben Sturman owned three of four corner peep show outlets at Turk and Taylor through dummy corporations -- interviewed hookers who were learning Japanese and gang-renting BMWs to capture the wandering foreign tourist trade, and went on mercy missions to Hells Angels acquaintances dying from the legions of ailments that kind of life brings you.
It seemed I spent more time doing stories in SRO hotels than most full time residents. I hope they save me a room in one just in case this whole iPad thing doesn't save the newspaper industry.
So I have a long-standing affection for the place. And so do millions of visitors whose airporter ride takes them from SFO, up past the vomiting packs of struggling party animals on 6th Street and into the edges of the "Loin."
Even so, I nearly choked on my Puffins this morning when I read the New York Times story -- part of its local colonizing push -- about local efforts to sell the Tenderloin as its own San Francisco tourist attraction. "Ragged, druggy and determinedly dingy," wrote the Times bureau chief, who showed what I thought was admirable restraint in not surrendering completely to satire and irony.
Oh boy, ma, let's saddle up.
SF activist Randy Shaw, god bless him, is pushing a Tenderloin museum, hoping tourists will "walk, dine, [and] enjoy" the area this summer. Don't forget adrenalize and possibly die.
Other cities have red light district tours -- I'm thinking Bangkok's Patpong. But part of the problem is that the Tenderloin has lost a lot of the edgy frisson it used to have after years of heavier law enforcement, IRS hits on the porn places, the theft of some of the sex trade by more upscale joints and neighborhoods and a big influx of Asian immigrants more interested in safe playgrounds for their kids than in scoring.
Now it's mostly just poor people coping as best they can and, as Mr. Shaw correctly points out, landmarks where the Grateful Dead and other icon and nostalgia magnets hung out in the early days. But I suppose, with a little time, money and effort, we could bring back slumming.
Of course our Mayor, never one to miss a spotlight opportunity, and almost as well-covered in the Times as in his home town paper, "announced a city grant ... to promote a positive identity for the Tenderloin." As opposed to just straight police action in the Haight, nearer Mr. Newsom's house, and the site of his recent, shocking, druggie-witnessing stroll. Even though he's at least as likely to see people shooting up in one place as in the other.
Wasn't it Gavin who had the idea of bringing wealthy friends to blighted areas of the city and move them to make some neighborhood-building donations? I'll have to check the mayor's matrix to see if that's still on the to-do list.
Maybe we'll get some Green tax credits for crack heads who use vaporizers instead of pipes.
Meantime, if city officials or other citizens are in the rehabbing mood, what about the Third Street/Bayview-Hunter's Point area, which seems to lose out in the poverty tourism sweepstakes here? Residents there, poisoned, hobbled, double-crossed and otherwise forgotten by a succession of mayors, government and private industry programs, just don't seem to have the right profiles to get some decent attention.
Then again, the Dead, like the vast majority of San Franciscans, never slept there.