Listening to Tales of Plastic Spoons, Million Dollar Bags, & Nostalgia for the Good Old Days of Crack Houses Whilst Riding with Tourists on the 24-Divisadero


Good Evening:

If I had two-thirds of a brain cell, I would turn on my iPhone 4 before I boarded a bus and launch my Voice Memos app.

If I had two-thirds of a brain cell…but I don’t.

I took the 24 Divizz (the “24-Divisidero bus” in local-speak) home from grocery shopping this afternoon and found myself sitting across the aisle from two burly pot-bellied Caucasian gentlemen of about sixty years old, both with full beards. In fact one of them, the primary talker in their conversation, had a snow-white beard which would have qualified him for Santa Claus duty in a shopping mall. As I started to listen, he held a plastic spoon in front of his face with his left hand and held an imaginary lighter underneath the bowl of the spoon with his right hand. Santa spoke first.

“Hey man, got some horse (American slang for heroin)? Got some meth or crack or s—?”

His listener laughed and said, “Funny man, funny!”

“You know, this thing holds exactly one gram. That’s right, these plastic spoons hold exactly one gram of crack or coke or meth.”

“You mean like in all chopped up powdered form?”

“That’s right.”

“Level spoonful or heaping?”

“Level spoonful. I knew all this s— back in the day when Divizz wasn’t like it is today, like this block right here, there used to be two crack houses on this block. That’s the days when people were into coke and crack, before they discovered that speed gives a longer rush and costs less. Yeah, used to be a lot of coke done here, but now only the rich can afford it. Speed is the poor man’s drug. High’s a lot longer than coke, and cheap, too.”

“An’ coke’s not pure, right?”

“Coke is never pure. Guy sells s— to a guy who steps on it then sells it to a guy who steps on it then sells to a guy who steps on it then sells to another guy, and it gets stepped on and stepped on until it’s like maybe five per cent strength by the time it hits the street. Hell, the coke is healthier for you than the s— they use to step on it.” (“step on it” seems to be slang for diluting a drug with fillers; never heard this before today)

“So there used to be crack houses here?”

Santa replied, “Yeah, but the cops busted this all up and now it’s like homes and clubs and restaurants and s—. I used to carry million dollar bags to and from these places.”

“No s—.”

“Just going from one place to the next with these bags, each one a million. Used to be terrified, scared s—less, didn’t dare take nuthin’ from these bags and praying no one would take them from me. Totally scared s—less. Nowadays, I wouldn’t care. Would not care. I wouldn’t care where it came from, if you gave me a million dollar bag today I would give it all away. Spread it among the community. Give something back. Like Robin Hood, givin’ to the rich. I wouldn’t give a s— where it came from, who gave it to me, money ain’t no good when you don’t spend it, when you, when you, uh, when you-”

“Hoard it?”

“That’s right, money’s no good when you hoard it, gotta give it right back to the community, enrich everyone. Like I said, like Robin Hood givin’ to the rich.”

“Wait, you mean poor, right? Givin’ to the poor?”

“No, because they are the rich ones, because they appreciate life, they are grateful to still be alive and they are grateful for everything they get. It’s the homeless people who’re rich. You know, those so-called rich people, they walk past the homeless people huddled on the sidewalk and pretend that they ain’t even there, but you gotta remember, that was my dad. That was my mom. They’re somebody’s parents. Hey man, here’s Fulton, it’s a block from our stop.”

“Where we goin’, man?”

“Gone get some pot.”

“Let’s get off at the next stop, man.”

Santa asked, “Why?”

“So we can walk back.”

Santa laughed and said, “Sure, why not.”

They disembarked at Hayes and I watched them burst into laughter. Santa yanked a thumb at a young couple still on the bus who had sat rather close to our old bearded friends, and Santa’s friend laughed even harder. The couple’s eyes had bugged out during the conversation and stayed that way the entire time. I leaned over to them.

“In my spare time, I’m a playwright, and this is how I learn dialogue.”

The man snorted, and the woman said in a French accent, “I cannot believe I heard that.”

“Welcome to San Francisco.”

They were still conversing to each other in French by the time I reached my stop.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Does anyone else wonder if our bearded gentlemen were play-acting for the benefit of the tourists?


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