When I was woken up by the rain in the middle of the night, my first thought was about the time. I’d already set two alarms for 5am in the hopes that I would definitely be awake in time to get to the airport for the next stop. My second thought was that I was glad I’d booked a shuttle to the airport because there was no way I was going to walk anywhere in this kind of weather.
The hotel that I’m staying in is, I think, an old Victorian house, up in ‘Pacific Heights’. The rooms go round the house in a square, and there’s a big old gap right in the middle. I’d love to find out why the houses were designed like that, but I guess it’s perfect for somewhere like a hotel where all the rooms have to have a window (?). There’s one, that looks out onto a rocked conservatory type area which is accessible through patio doors around the other side of the walls.
What it does mean is that when it rains so hard even the locals are coming out to look, there’s a hell of a noise. I never said waking me up wasn’t one of the easiest things to accomplish, but for a moment, as I left whatever I was dreaming about (because now I’m thinking about it, I know I was dreaming about something), I’m sure there were some crazy thoughts about what I thought was actually happening. Having been on a boat across the bay to Alcatraz earlier in the day I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved some kind of escape or drama.
So it’s 3am, and I can hear the rain and the next thing I want to do is see it. I already know from the other morning that trying to get a look at the weather from my little window in the middle of the building is a pointless exercise so it stands to reason that the next best thing is to go downstairs and observe it on street level.
The place is called Pacific Heights for a reason, and the hotel was (much to my dismay on arrival) pretty much right at the top of a hill. Of course it means well for the hotel and the residents nearby, doesn’t it because the chance of flooding is that much lower? So, I decide to sit in the lobby downstairs for a bit, in my pyjamas of course. I’d hoped briefly on the way down that the young lady who I’d greeted as I arrived back this evening wouldn’t be there on account of being one of the least welcoming people I’ve ever known to work in a position that usually has such a reputation for being a key point of customer service. Whatever she was doing on her laptop was probably more important that responding to my ‘thanks’ for the cup of hot chocolate I’d just used the coffee machine to make. I guess, perhaps, it doesn’t make much sense for me to be thanking her for something a machine did?
Nope, instead it was a guy who I’m pretty sure was either asleep, or so focused on his phone or something that he didn’t even look up when I moved a chair to get a better look outside.
Surprise, surprise. Rain in San Francisco looks much the same as rain anywhere else I’ve been. It wasn’t comparable to Hurricane Faye, nor did it quite reach the intensity of the rain I’d seen in Cold Bay a few weeks before – but still, it was rain, it was heavy, it was enough to draw out a resident or two across the street and I watched it. I love rain, I love weather. I briefly wondered if my plane might be delayed because of it, and then I wondered what was happening at the other end of the huge hill I’m on.
Only yesterday I’d been watching a news feature about people across the bay adopting storm drains locally and taking time out of their lives to clear them in the hopes that when the rains come they will be prepared, not only for floods, but to keep the rain that’s falling. Drought for me has always been signified by hose pipe bans, and I remember walking past people’s homes sometimes, and seeing their sprinklers on and thinking ‘you just don’t care do you’, but apparently here, despite the fact that they’re considering increasing prices and borrowing water from other counties, banning the use of water for gardens and plants is still something they’re considering? I guess in this kind of climate it’s a bit different? Don’t water your plants for two or three days and everything dies?
It was the flow of water that was still on my mind though, and like a ton of bricks I remembered the countless homeless people I’d walked past when I arrived here. The new homeless shelter that had opened with more beds the other night, the people who were being evicted from a homeless encampment.
Being in San Francisco really opens your eyes to the huge divide between rich and poor. Union Square boasts the biggest designer shops you can imagine, huge shops – with massive displays on one street, and then you turn onto market and there’s no hiding from the poverty that lines it. Perhaps I have been naive in the past, but it was alarming to see so many people without a roof over their heads. Whether the shelters perhaps don’t open until later on in the evening, or maybe the opportunity to gather some money isn’t missed during those hours when people are still out eating and drinking.
I’m aware that San Francisco isn’t the only place that has a problem with people who are homeless, I come from a city, I’ve seen it before – but there’s something about a place that seems so affluent having issues like these that really strikes me. Since I’ve stopped working I’ve found myself asking ‘What can I do?’ so frequently, and not just on the issue of homelessness. I have seen so much in only two months, that I know is wasteful, unethical, unhelpful, damaging to the environment, and detrimental to the world around us.
I’ve had a first hand experience of America’s health care system, which I really do feel is at the very heart of so many of America’s problems, but then I reflect and I realise that back home we still have issues of people finding themselves on the street and I wonder what the real issues are here.
As much as I’ve been able to open my mind to better understanding myself, I’ve also opened up my awareness to a whole world of problems. Do we simply not think about the places we could be? I’m all for equality, and as human beings, we all deserve the most basic needs.
I’ve spent so much time since July trying to consider the amount of luggage I keep with me, and I still find myself reading through reviews of hotels and hostels and wondering if I want to deal with the kinds of things some people have mentioned experiencing. I know that I am lucky. To be able to take off and go where ever I want to, when ever I want to is a privilege. As long as I have; a bed to sleep in, a shower to wash in, clean clothes to wear, my mobile phone, my 3DS, my iPad, a notebook, a book to read, something to drink, food to eat, glasses to read with, a hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, money, my camera…