Category Archives: Homelessness

Under the Overpass, 19 December 2015. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Gathering)


Good Afternoon:

San Francisco has gotten hit with a huge El Nino in recent days, one downpour after another, with only slight respites of light drizzle and the occasional sunshine. At the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where I work, we go around with sheepish grins and tell each other, “This weather is terrible! Isn’t it wonderful!” Whilst it remains unlikely that a single wet winter will completely undo the drought, most San Franciscans feel a bizarre combination of irritation and delight.

Not so much our homeless population.

Finding any means of protection however slight against the elements becomes more difficult in weather like this. For this reason, large numbers of homeless have sought refuge under the overpass along 13th Street in the South of Market neighborhood. I would guess that the number of improvised shelters have quadrupled. Any amount of protection will do, but some pieces of real estate have more value than others:

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Even these lucky ones cannot completely avoid the wet.

Blanket Drying Out After Downpour, 13th Street Near Folsom, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Blanket Drying Out After Downpour, 13th Street Near Folsom, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Others make do with partial protection.

Broom & Shoes, 13th Street Near Harrison, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Broom & Shoes, 13th Street Near Harrison, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Some might not have even that much.

Hell Ride Crew, 11th Street near Valencia, San Francisco, CA 19 December 2015

Hell Ride Crew, 13th Street near Valencia, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Worst of all, no matter how well meaning, any and all attempts at solutions seem to consist of and/or end in shouting, blame and lawsuits. Anyone can see that San Francisco’s recent prominence in the national consciousness results from the fact the income gap here absolutely dwarfs the income gap nationally, and one nightmare scenario consists of America turning into a middle-class-free version of San Francisco, containing the few extremely rich and the many extremely poor. I took that quick and easy quiz in the previous link and discovered that nationally my income was slightly above average and places me in the 57th percentile, an excellent result when you have all of The Good Zeroes: zero kids, zero cars, zero drugs, zero mortgage, zero debt.

However, by San Francisco standards my income fit in the 38th percentile. Lower middle class.

Well, I have defenses, but most people don’t.

So whatever you see in these pictures, wherever you live, it can happen there.

The wind and rain in my neighborhood have just take a turn for the heavier.

Vonn Scott Bair

Trying to Understand, 27 October 2015.


Good Evening:

I know what I saw today, but I have no idea what I saw today.

At about 11:15 a.m., on a stretch of Market Street from 10th Street to Van Ness Avenue, in the space of three minutes, I watched four homeless men (all Caucasian males who looked 40-50 years old) separately and independently walk into heavy traffic, indeed, they walked into heavy traffic towards the heavy traffic.

Homeless Man Searching the Gutter for Food, 19 October 2015.

Homeless Man Searching the Gutter for Food, 19 October 2015.

I have no idea what I saw.

I might have seen four almost simultaneous attempted suicides. In fact, the 14th time I saved a human life involved a man who was attempting to kill himself by walking into traffic. Incidentally, none of them got hit, not even close, not even the one at Market and 10th who wandered into oncoming traffic in four different lanes.

It just boggles the mind that so many homeless have hit upon this method of attempted suicide.

Unless it wasn’t.

Begging Outside Trader Joe's, Bryant & 9th Street, San Francisco, CA

Begging Outside Trader Joe’s, Bryant & 9th Street, San Francisco, CA

When four homeless men wander into traffic in such a small area, the possibility exists that a tainted batch of the current cheap street drug has warped their minds. Or it could have been just a coincidence that four perhaps mentally ill homeless men happened to wander into traffic at the same time. Unless this was a perverse version of Russian Roulette–maybe they get killed, but if they get injured they can try to sue drivers.

It just doesn’t seem possible that one person witnessed four strange events almost exactly alike in such a small time frame. Five, if you count my 14th. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on. Seems like some kind of bad craziness taking hold in San Francisco.

Unless it was all just a coincidence.

I don’t know what I saw.

Vonn Scott Bair

P***ing at the Bus Stop.


Good Evening:

Having lived in San Francisco 33 years–at least 4 times as long as I’ve lived anywhere else–you may safely conclude that I love this place, and normally, The San Francisco Scene–Seen! tries to stay positive and focus on the interesting, the amusing, the beautiful. Ideally, all three.

But no one can deny that sometimes, San Francisco fails. And I feel that I would lie to you if I didn’t say so.

The bus stop for the 21-Hayes and 19-Polk buses in front of the Orpheum Theater at 8th and Market has become a popular social gathering spot, for lack of a better term, for the homeless who spend their days at the Civic Center. Most of the time, they don’t do anything worse than public inebriation and denying seats to the elderly.

This guy went a little too far.


I took this first shot because of the conjunction and contrast of the very young schoolgirl standing with a backpack and the passed-out drunk lying on the sidewalk. A contrast of red and pink vs. blue, young vs. old, a girl with a future vs. a man whose best days had passed. Then some sort of commotion began and I thought that maybe I would need to escort the girl from trouble.


The man had awakened and stuck his left hand down his pants. Obviously the two sitting people looked uncomfortable and I feared that he intended to do something perverse–indecent exposure, perhaps–to the girl. But before I could intervene on her behalf…


…false alarm. All he wanted to do was urinate. The dark line on the bricks extending from his crotch is a stream of urine.

The African-American person had decamped quickly. I had not seen the gentleman with the hat before (the girl blocks him from view in the previous two pictures).

“What are you doing, man?! Not here, not in front of my little girl! Find a bathroom, man, find an alley, find a tree, whatever, just don’t p*** like that in front of my daughter, man! Come on, sweetie, we’re going to walk down the street a bit. Man, you are disgusting!”

So no need for me to intervene. The father escorted his daughter to a safer location about ten yards away.

I once got in trouble back in Sunday School for asking the nun teaching class something like, “If you say God made us in His image, don’t you hurt His feelings?” So completely forgot about that until now that I didn’t even remember I had forgotten it. Guess I remembered because I can’t even hope to count how many ways this scene represents how many failures on the part of the species known as Homo Sapiens. I apologize if this blog post has upset you, but I respect my readers enough that I have to write the entire story of San Francisco, not just the fun parts.

Vonn Scott Bair

Silence Insane @ Haight and Divisadero, 28 September 2014


Good Evening:

I had hoped he didn’t see me.

He went hopelessly insane years ago, and I know little of psychology, but unfortunately it appears that nothing can save him. However, today did not count among my lucky days:

Immediately Before the Attack.

Immediately Before the Attack.

He saw me. And made me his next target for his next assault.

But this was no ordinary assault.

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He assaults people by harassing them without saying a word, he hardly makes a sound even when he moves, circles his victims, makes threatening gestures for a few moments, and then moves one, but then moves back and repeats the above until his victims are thoroughly terrified. I have used my camera to chase off a thug threatening two couple, and then to chase off a homeless addict/alcoholic threatening me, so I tried it again. It sort of worked; he left me alone after one circle, then walked down the street not harassing people when he saw me continuing to photograph him. This might be my money shot:


Looks kinda like something that madman Winogrand might have taken. Aside from the first photo, I have not edited any of these shots (taken with my point-and-shoot), but I might crop the top and convert to B&W to see what happens. Here he is retreating from my camera:


I didn’t scare him away, but my camera did.

Vonn Scott Bair

Street People in San Francisco, Saturday, 13 September 2014. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity)


Good Morning:

Saturday morning had me up and running early, performing chores. For starters, I bought breakfast for the actors, directors and playwrights participating in a 24-hour theater festival (where you write, rehearse and perform a set of short plays in 24 hours, and yes it can be done). No matter where I went up and down Market Street, I saw something like this:

Market Street Near 7th, 13 September 2014

Market Street Near 7th, 13 September 2014

At 7:00 a.m. on a weekend morning, San Francisco’s homeless are still asleep on Market Street. Something so obvious to me now to which I had been so oblivious before: old age. Our homeless population has aged before our eyes and now they have to cope with advancing years.

Powell & Ellis, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Powell & Ellis, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

And with age comes increasing physical disabilities. Oblivious me, I had never noticed the canes and wheelchairs before.

Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Sutter & Powell Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Sutter & Powell Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Market Street, near Stockton and 4th Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Market Street, near Stockton and 4th Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Polk Street Near Fulton, San Francisco, 12 September 2014

Polk Street Near Fulton, San Francisco, 12 September 2014

San Francisco has one of the largest gaps between the richest and poorest in America, and that gap becomes most obvious early on Saturday morning.

All photos taken Saturday, 13 September 2014 (except for the last, 8:00 a.m., 12 September 2014) with my point-and-shoot, cropped, edited and converted to B&W using iPhoto.

Vonn Scott Bair

Families (Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue)


Good Evening:


To a playwright, dialogues do not confine themselves to two characters; my personal record for a stage play consists of 13 distinct characters nattering away (in screenplays, eight). So I did not confine myself to just two pictures for this, my final post inspired by this week’s Challenge.

Besides, families come in all sizes and types. We have the traditional family…

Family at Duboce Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

Traditional Family at Duboce Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

…and the new traditional family.

New Traditional Family at Old Navy, San Francisco, 30 August 2014

New Traditional Family at Old Navy, San Francisco, 30 August 2014

But family doesn’t have to be just about families. After all, you can make your own.

These folks are part of a musical family that have hung out in Golden Gate Park for more than 40 years.

Drumming Circle @ Golden Gate Park, 31 August 2014

Drumming Circle @ Golden Gate Park, 31 August 2014

These gentlemen have their family, clan, tribe, or what have you. Their home? Wherever they can thrash.

Skateboarders Headed for the Park, 31 August 2014

Skateboarders Headed for the Park, 31 August 2014


Finally, this family, mentioned in a previous post.

Homeless "Family," Hayes Street Behind Civic Center

Homeless “Family,” Hayes Street Behind Civic Center

They are all they have, so even if only for a few hours, or perhaps a few days, or years, they make their family, although in this case, “mutual protection society” might seem apropos. But at least one can make one’s own family, whether for traditional reasons, shared passions, or mutual need.

Vonn Scott Bair

Dogs and Their Humans (Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue)


Good Evening:

This week’s Challenge posed serious, uh, er, um, uh, challenges.

I hadn’t thought of pictures as containing/producing dialogue among themselves before. It took quite a bit of thinking before hitting upon the notion of how playwrights such as yours truly use dialogue in the theater. Among other things, we use dialogue to yield contrasts among characters and/or conflict. Here is the first contrasting, possibly conflicting, pair of photographs for your consideration. I used my point-and-shoot digital camera, editing the shot slightly in iPhoto.

San Francisco Homeowners & Renters with Their Dogs, Duboce Triangle Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

San Francisco Homeowners & Renters with Their Dogs, Duboce Triangle Dog Park, San Francisco, California, 30 August 2014

Now for my second picture, taken on the 21-Hayes bus with my iPhone 4, unedited. Hey, there’s a contrast right there.

San Francisco Homeless with Their Dogs, Hayes Street Behind the Civic Center, San Francisco, California, 29 August 2014

San Francisco Homeless People with Their Dogs, Hayes Street Behind the Civic Center, San Francisco, California, 29 August 2014

How many contrasts can you spot? There exist a few, and perhaps I haven’t detected all of them.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Niche.


Good Evening:

On the other side of Redwood Alley from the San Francisco PUC HQ, you will find the Superior Court building. Another relic of the dark ages of San Francisco architecture, the building features these niches built into the walls for the vents. I don’t know if the architects wanted people to use them as benches, or if they set the vents into the walls to protect them from the elements, or if they simply didn’t think these things through, but in recent months a homeless woman has taken to using the same niche every afternoon.


She reads avidly, a hardcore book lover, and it would not surprise me if she has a library card; the Main Branch of the Public Library lies only about a hundred yards away. Lately she has taken up writing, penning one page after another at a pace that would give me writer’s cramp.

And recently, it appears that someone else has discovered the pleasures of a quiet place in the middle of the big noisy city.


I hope that whatever that woman writes becomes a bestseller. Certainly, she’s working hard enough.

Vonn Scott Bair

Mid-Market, San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned)


Good Evening:

San Francisco’s Mid-Market region (roughly the stretch of Market Street between the intersections with Fifth and Ninth Streets) has defeated and mystified planners for decades. Given the strategic location, one might think that Mid-Market would be our city’s grandest thoroughfare: elegant, clean, a place where people would go to see and be seen. In reality: check cashing stores, strip joints, liquor stores, drug dealing, homelessness.

Also, lots of abandoned storefronts.

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I took all of these pictures from inside the 6-Parnassus bus. Shooting with a point-and-shoot through a glass window in poor light on a moving bus produced some odd effects, usually at least a little blurring.

Mayor Lee has a vision for a drastically different Mid-Market (every Mayor has a vision for a drastically different Mid-Market–seems to be a job requirement), one with no traffic aside from City vehicles and taxicabs, cleaner and wider sidewalks and a retail district expanded from its current limits at Fifth and Market. To be fair, one enormous project on Market between Fifth and Sixth, plus a second at Market at Sixth, have begun and promise to bring new housing and jobs to a frankly blighted area.

Trouble is, ’tis not just buildings that are abandoned. So are people.

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City Hall has a new set of plans for housing our homeless (every City Hall has had a new set of plans for housing our homeless). This set has potential and might work; the City has taken in significantly increased tax revenues thanks to changes in the code, plus the current boom. I’ve lived through booms, and I’ve lived through busts, and given the choice I’d rather have the booms, no matter what problems they bring. Unfortunately, if our plans work, they might have the undesired side effect of increasing the number of states that use “Greyhound Therapy” to get rid of their own homeless (“Let’s bus our homeless to San Francisco! Make those kooky liberals spend their money to take care of them!”).

But for now, we still have staggering poverty in the midst of staggering wealth.

Back to the photography.

For the next two pictures, I decided to take the blurry originals and apply painterly effects to them. They seemed like the sort of subjects that would have inspired one of my favorite painters Edward Hopper, and I wanted to try and obtain the same sort of, for lack of a better word, feel.

DSCN1551 Sketcher Oil 39-80-39-86 DSCN1564 Sketcher Pastel 10-75-75-75

Vonn Scott Bair

Mission Street Through the Window of the 14-Mission (Weekly Photo Challenge: Window)


Good Evening:

In keeping with my experiments with the 33-Stanyan traveling down Haight Street, I also took pictures of Mission Street through the window of the 14-Mission bus. The technique could not get simpler, nay, cruder: hold up my iPhone 4 in Landscape orientation, randomly take dozens of shots, then discard at least 90% of them. You know, the way all great photographers work.

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In transit on Saturday afternoon, I did run into a little story.

I waited for a bus at 16th and Folsom after shopping at the Rainbow Grocery when I observed a homeless male, Caucasian, maybe 30, piloting two shopping carts piled high with all of his possessions, one cart covered with a green blanket, one covered with a brown. On top of the brown rested a cardboard tray, the kind that holds four six-packs of canned beer. This tray held about a dozen bananas and about three each of apples and oranges. The tray slipped off the top of the cart and it and all of the fruit ended up in a gutter.

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“Excuse me, your fruit-”

“S’OK, man, S’OK.”

It had started to rain, and he made a line toward the nearest tree on the sidewalk, parked his shopping carts and just stood there. He just left his lunch, dinner and possibly breakfast in the gutter. I looked at him, wondering when he was going to fetch his food. As it turns out, he didn’t need to do anything.

His ladyfriend, also burdened with two shopping carts, had trailed behind him by quite a bit but finally caught up. She might also have been about 30 years old, but the years had not treated her kindly. She stopped to collect the tray and place all of their food in it. I helped by gathering up the apples and one of the bananas. Her boyfriend contributed by calling out, “Thanks, Mister.”

She never said a thing and kept her head pointed down.

He said, “Hurry up, woman, get your things and get over here.”


She joined him and they and their four shopping carts with their lives’ possession found shelter under the tree. I continued to wait for my bus, but would glance over at them occasionally.

And every time he glared back at me. Which puzzled me at first; hadn’t I helped out his girlfriend and treated her nicely?

Maybe that was the problem.

Maybe he thought I was trying to muscle in on his woman.

Maybe he wanted me to know that she was his property, not mine.

Poverty and homelessness really do hit women harder than men, don’t they? Think about it; he was the best she could get out of this world.

And when San Francisco fails people, it can fail them badly.

Vonn Scott Bair

Homelessness in San Francisco, 20 October 2013 (Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History)


Good Evening:

Disclaimer/Warning 1: Not one of my usual posts, and definitely not one of my cheerful ones. Disclaimer/Warning 2: this post will demonstrate my lack of qualifications as a journalist.

So last weekend, as I embarked upon a Saturday of chores and photography, I opened the front door to my apartment building–and nearly tripped over the homeless man, Caucasian, 40s-50s, sleeping on the doorstep. Fortunately I managed to avoid stepping on, kicking, hurting or even touching him, but then I might have done something foolish; I asked him to move on. I walked down to my bus stop, and two minutes later this same man reeled up to me, still reeling from the amount of alcohol he had drunk the night before.

“Hey, man, gotta quarter?”


He did not move on.

“Hey, man, are you gay?”

This was not an insult, nor was it an accusation. From his tone, I judged (and remain convinced) that he hoped that I was gay so that he could offer to trade sex for money.

“Sorry, no.”

He did not move on.

“Hey, man, you the a****** who woke me up?”

He approached me in a threatening manner, not knowing that I had a weapon in my hand. For that matter, I didn’t know I had a weapon in my hand until I used it.

Believe it or not, my camera:

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He turned away. When I demanded that he look at me, he chose instead to stagger across the street, in the middle of traffic. But he did not get hit, and I haven’t seen him since.

I’ve used that old Nikon S9100 for crime prevention before, see here.

Thanks to my use of The 30 Shot technique, I have been able to chronicle all aspects of city life without discovery; I present some of my pictures of the city’s homeless individuals, all taken with a point-and-shoot camera, ideal for this purpose as it is so inconspicuous. I’ve chosen not to edit them for the time being, preferring instead the sheer rawness of the situations portrayed.

Harassing a Woman Who Didn't Give Him Money

Harassing a Woman Who Didn’t Give Him Money

Thursday night, after a meeting of one of my theater groups: I stand at the intersection of 5th & Market waiting for my bus home. However, the Muni buses seemed behind schedule, so I used my phone to surf the web and find out when the next bus would arrive. Another homeless person, African-American, 20s-30s, about five foot nine, very muscular build, walked to within four feet in front of me, swaying left and right, backward and forward, eyes rolling about in their sockets. I didn’t like how he looked at me, so I stepped back two steps and looked him in the eye. He took two steps toward me. I tightened my grip on my phone and kept staring him in the eye.

He tried to snatch my phone anyway.

Passed on Haight Street at the Entrance to Golden Gate Park

Passed Out on Haight Street at the Entrance to Golden Gate Park

I don’t think drug addicts realize how debilitating their addictions can become. I snatched away my hand with ease before he could even see what had happened. He stared at the space where my hand and phone used to be.


I used my booming theatrically trained voice to bellow louder than most people can for two reasons: first, any nearby police would be alerted and come arrest the guy; second, the would-be thief would flee. Unfortunately, no police happened to be near. Unfortunately, the addict’s drugs had rendered him incapable of thinking and he just stood there.


No police, and he kept standing there. After a few seconds, he put up his fists.


His fists dropped to his sides, and he said, “Got any spare change?”

Still no police, and he still would not leave.


He walked into the middle of Market Street. He had no idea where he stood, that he would soon get hit by traffic. Now I had to think of something to keep him from getting hurt.


That did the trick. Somehow he made to safety across the street and got out of my life.

Chewing on an Unwrapped Candy Bar, Powell Street and Ellis, 19 October 2013

Chewing on an Unwrapped Candy Bar, Powell Street and Ellis, 19 October 2013

While the above represents a straightforward description of recent events without embellishment, what follows now is journalism, something I do badly, so take care before accepting the rest of this as fact.

I moved to San Francisco during the big recession of the early 80s, when Paul Volcker chose some pretty drastic measures to rid the United States of the “stagflation” that had affected us during the Seventies. A lot of people at the bottom of the economic ladder lost everything and homelessness increased in San Francisco. I noticed the same phenomenon again in the early Nineties during the recession that marred and perhaps ended the administration of President George H. W. Bush. And again during the two recessions that have occurred so far during this millennium.

Now San Francisco seems to be experiencing another increase in the homeless population, and based upon what I have seen and experienced, the hostility level seems to have increased.

Which proves nothing except that I don’t know a thing about real journalism. A real journalist would have the ability to look up facts and figures to see the actual numbers from year to year since 1982. A real journalist might examine the actual numbers and say something like, “Vonn Scott Bair knows nothing of which he speaks. The facts are that there has been no correlation between recessions and increases in the percentage of homeless in San Francisco during the years he mentions.” Or whatever the actual truth might be–my point is that I might have only noticed homelessness at some periods during my life and been completely oblivious to the phenomenon at others. I strive not to conflate my personal experience for universal truth (sadly, my favorite mistake) and encourage you not to accept my word as gospel.

But as a thought experiment, let us pretend that for once my personal experience does represent universal truth. In that (unlikely) case, something different has happened during San Francisco’s current increase in our homeless population.

For the first time, it has occurred during one of our economic booms.

If this has happened before I have failed to notice it.

Two reasons (at minimum) explain this strange turn of events. First, the District Attorney’s Office has found proof that a local urban legend called “Greyhound Therapy” is in fact a reality; other states use Greyhound buses to ship their mentally ill homeless to California in general and San Francisco in particular. Specifically, we’ve caught Nevada in the act and suspect other states as well. Our DA has begun legal action to force the state of Nevada to reimburse San Francisco for the expenses we’ve incurred caring for the patients they have shipped to us.

(Optional reading: San Francisco will also ship the mentally ill homeless to other cities and states, if and only if a) they want to go there; b) they know people there; c) those people knows they’re coming; and d) those people are willing to receive them. Well, that’s what we tell ourselves. I don’t know which is worse; the fact that comparatively speaking San Franciscans consider themselves comparatively enlightened, or the fact that comparatively speaking San Franciscans might actually be comparatively enlightened.)

The other reason for the increased homelessness is the boom itself. The latest big mass eviction in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district consists of every resident in a “live-work” apartment building that failed to meet code. Too many units have no windows, which means that too many units have no fire escapes, which means that too many units would become lethal traps if a fire broke out. The city pretty much has no choice; it’s a matter of saving lives. But it does mean that over 50 people who paid rents one-fourth to one-fifth the going rate in San Francisco will have no place to go. They will have to leave the city (and probably the entire Bay Area) to find affordable housing.

If they can’t do that, I don’t know what will become of them.

And all because the city is booming one of its historically biggest housing booms. If the perceived hostility is in fact a reality, perhaps the housing boom explains why; all these thousands of new units, and yet people are forced onto the street because they can’t afford them.

But this represents pure speculation; technically, I don’t know what I’m writing about.

It feels as if San Francisco has gone swimming in a river with an unknown waterfall ahead (I’m borrowing a metaphor Faulkner sometimes used). We don’t know it, but we can maybe just maybe sense a little stronger pull, and that maybe just maybe it’s not yet time to worry, but we feel a bit more alert to something happening but we don’t know what it is.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History

Trying to Get the Picture Right, 18 October 2013


Good Evening:

Last Saturday I walked through San Francisco’s SOMA District (South Of MArket) during the course of my chores, and happened past an alley with both an unusual light and an unusual scene.

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

This homeless man seemed to have a fight with his own clothing, a kind of wrestling match, perhaps it felt uncomfortable. Notice the light on the building next to him. The sun’s light bounced off the windows of an office building on the other side of the alley and bounced off the bricks of the building you can see, yielding those bright patches of light. When I studied the picture at home, it reminded me of the paintings of the Futurist School of the 1920s with their emphasis on machines, skyscrapers and other mechanized marvels of the era.

In simple English, another opportunity to try and get a picture right. For this exercise, I used only iPhoto to edit copies of the original shot, which I took with my Nikon CoolPix S9100 point-and-shoot.

Since photography of the 1920s was black-and-white, I tried a straightforward conversion and adjusted the bright areas and the shadows.


You can probably spot two major flaws in both pictures so far. You probably spotted the excessive foreground with too much shadow, and the building at the right edge of the shot doesn’t belong (at least to my eyes). So I tried a simple crop.


DSCN9349_3Except it isn’t so simple. Both required further tweaks to sharpen focus, slightly different adjustments to the shadowed and bright areas, and I decided that I cropped too much. Also, the shot needs a B&W treatment, no matter what else I do. So another try:


Better, except for two new problems. The man somehow feels just a little too centered in the composition. Second, I decided that my initial judgment was correct–I need to crop out the building on the right edge. So back to the drawing board, I mean the darkroom, I mean the digital darkroom:


As my editing skills improve and I learn to use more sophisticated tools such as Photoshop, I might go back and get this shot really right, but this will do for now. The shadow belongs, suggesting approaching darkness threatening the solitary figure. The protruding pseudo-columns of the building seem to shove him to the side and loom over him like a giant fence, giant wall, or giant jail cell bars suggesting that the man is trapped and has no escape from his environment. I even like the lack of detail in his face, emphasizing an anonymous, faceless soul with no place to go.

Unfortunately, that really is his life.

But enough of my yammering, chattering, pseudo-learned critical discourse. I know that many of my readers include some of the best photographers, amateur or professional, on all of WordPress. What sort of reactions to you have to the piece and my attempts to improve it?

Vonn Scott Bair

Vonn Vs. The Trombone! (Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV) (Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward)


Good Evening:

…but as I disembarked, the 40ish woman with shoulder-length curly black hair said, “It would be nice if I could look like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs when I needed it.”

Perhaps I should back up a bit and start over.

First, a caution: this is not just another post inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge, this is also my first post inspired by the Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward. My story might seem a little confused. For the sake of my fellow photographers, the photos represent “An Unusual POV” in that they represent examples of what I call The 30 Shot, with my camera held low to the ground. For the sake of my new fellow writers, both this story and many of my more recent pictures deal with the same theme, homelessness in San Francisco, an appalling problem even in, especially in, America’s boomingest boom town, and I will write more on this anon.

Incredibly, this is the misogynist belligerent drunk who harassed women on the 6-Parnassus, which inspired my blog post, "I Meet Clark Kent--Yes, That Clark Kent--on the 6-Parnassus."

Incredibly, this is the misogynist belligerent drunk who harassed women on the 6-Parnassus, whom I removed from the bus with the aid of a man who looked exactly like Clark Kent, which inspired my blog post, “I Meet Clark Kent–Yes, That Clark Kent–on the 6-Parnassus.” The drunk did not recognize me–too drunk.

To get back to the story.

For several weeks, the area of the Haight near the intersection with Divisadero had served as the home of The Trombone. The Trombone was a white male mentally ill homeless person who roamed the streets day and night, screaming at any women who happened to get too near. The Trombone had only two possessions: the clothes he wore, and an old tarnished slightly dented trombone. I cannot tell you if he ever knew how to play the instrument, all I know is that he would produce sounds roughly akin to the South African vuvuzela at high volume after midnight. Either that, or scream at the streetlights or whatever displeased him.

One fine evening, I approached the bus stop at Haight & “Diviz” to await a downtown bus so I could attend a theater event. I knew The Trombone lurked nearby–he was screaming as usual. I did not at first realize that he had a target.

She stood about average height, about 45 years old, with curly black hair extending down to her shoulders. She had dress for a semi-formal evening, perhaps a date, with black mid-calf dress, stockings, open-toed black shoes. The Trombone stood holding his trombone in his left hand with his face maybe a foot directly in front of hers, screaming at her. She hugged her purse (black patent leather, gold chain) tightly to her chest as her shoulders hunched up and her face pointed straight down.

[Optional reading: It would be nice if mentally ill homeless males did not abuse women, but they can’t seem to help themselves. And they don’t represent the worst threats women face. Starting in grade school and continuing at least through high school, American girls and women need coaching in how to deal with hostile, threatening and/or violent situations. This lack of self-defense training represents one of the worst failings of our educational system. End of my ranting windbag editorial.]

Late Afternoon Smoke Outside the main branch of the SF Public Library

Late Afternoon Smoke Outside the main branch of the SF Public Library

He kept screaming, she kept hunching, and the few witnesses stayed on the other side of the street, or at the other bus stops. All a safe and distance away

But fools rush in where angels fear to tread; therefore, I had a reputation to uphold.

The Trombone screamed at her, screamed at her, screamed at her–and stopped screaming. Dead silence. The woman with curly black hair cautiously raised her eyes to look at The Trombone. He didn’t even look at her. He looked at something standing just to her left, so she looked in that direction, too.

I said to her, “So nice to see you again!” with my biggest and bestest smile.

She said, “Yeah! Long time no see!”

We had never met before. I kept smiling.

“How did that big project turn out? I remember you saying it was like a huge crisis.”

She replied “Oh, we finally got that done, I’m so glad it’s over.”

We had never met before. This was all pure improv, and I have to say, she had a natural gift.

We continued talking about the non-existent project, with the non-existent success and non-existent huge profit, and therefore the non-existent threatened layoffs that therefore did not non-happen. Then I turned to The Trombone.

“Hello,” I said, with a big smile. He flinched and took one giant step back.

I wrote “a big smile,” not “my biggest and bestest smile.” As I have written before, in my encounter with an English soccer hooligan who threatened the passengers on another bus ride, I look a bit like Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. With practice, I can also sound like Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Best of all, I can do a perfect impersonation of that smile of his when he first meets Claire Starling. That’s how I said hello to The Trombone.

Then I resumed talking with my non-friend, using my regular smile. She looked at me and looked at him; she had missed the change and did not know what I had done.

Bad Sneakers: Market Street, San Francisco, 7 September 2013

Bad Sneakers: Market Street, San Francisco, 7 September 2013

The Trombone hung around, hoping I would leave so he could resume screaming at the woman (brave fellow, that). So every once in a while, I would turn to him and say hello using my Dr. Hannibal smile. I never said anything to him except hello. Literally. He would flinch and step further away each time. She kept an eye on me and caught on to the change in my facial expression, but I didn’t scare her, too.

We boarded the bus and The Trombone stole a ride by sneaking in through the back door. He really, really, really wanted to scream at this woman. Se we kept talking and smiling about her successful non-project (as I wrote above, she had an amazing gift for improvisation) and I would look at The Trombone and smile at him like Hannibal the Cannibal. He finally bailed out of the bus at Van Ness and Market.

Homeless Couple Using Garbage Bag as Pillow in Front of Orpheum Theater

Homeless Couple Using Garbage Bag as Pillow in Front of Orpheum Theater

She immediately changed from smiling to very serious and said, “You HAVE to teach me what you just did.”

“All I did was smile and say hello.”

“But the WAY you smiled! It was so creepy! I am so glad you didn’t smile at me like that!”

“It has come in handy sometimes.”

“You looked just like that guy in that movie-”

“Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.”

“YES! Him! Can you teach me how to look just like him?!”

I looked at her thick, dark, shoulder-length curly hair.

“You don’t look like Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.”

“Can you teach me how to smile like him?!”

“Do you really want to look like Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs?”

She leaned back in her seat.

“Oh, crap, I don’t.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries until I arrived at my destination. I wished her well, she thanked me, we shook hands, and I turned away. She sat back in her seat staring straight ahead…

…but as I disembarked, the 40ish woman with shoulder-length curly black hair said, “It would be nice if I could look like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs when I needed it.”

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–The Trombone vanished after that night. He never reappeared in my neighborhood.

Selected San Francisco Saturday Snippets


Good Morning:

The things we say in this town. And yes, we do have 6-way intersections in this town.

Near the 6-Way Intersection of Treat, Harrison and 16th Streets, San Francisco, CA, 6 July 2013

Near the 6-Way Intersection of Treat, Harrison and 16th Streets, San Francisco, CA, 6 July 2013

Snippet No 1:

Young woman in dark hair and sunglasses: “Organic homemade monkeys! That is so funny!”

Boyfriend: “I know, right?”

Commentary: Don’t you wish I had heard the rest of that conversation?

Jack Kerouac Alley, San Francisco, California, 6 July 2013, 1:26 p.m.

Green Series: Jack Kerouac Alley, San Francisco, California, 6 July 2013, 1:26 p.m.

Snippet No. 2:

Two males walking in front of San Francisco City Hall, mid-twenties, one South Asian, the other Caucasian and born and raised in the USA, looking like techies or at least looking like they wanna look like techies:

South Asian: “Hinduism is a religion, India is a country! Hinduism is a religion, India is a country!! Hinduism is a religion, India is a country!!!”

American-Born: “Oh, so India is like a place then, right?

Commentary: I hope Mr. USA was just having fun with his friend. I hope this doesn’t reflect upon our educational system.

13th & Division, San Francisco, California, 6 July 2013, 3:40 p.m.

White & Blue Series: 13th & Division, San Francisco, California, 6 July 2013, 3:40 p.m.

Weed Near 6-Way Intersection of Treat, Harrison & 16th Streets, San Francisco, CA, 6 July 2013

Weed Near 6-Way Intersection of Treat, Harrison & 16th Streets, San Francisco, CA, 6 July 2013

Snippet No. 3:

During the course of running errands yesterday I learned that a jet had crashed upon landing at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), killing two (as of this writing) and injuring dozens. As I waited for the light to change at 11th and Bryant Streets so I could continue walking to the bus stop, a pair of couples (all Caucasian) doing their own chores happened to join me. Already present was a homeless man sitting on the edge of the sidewalk looking about 40-50 years old with all of his possessions in a duffel bag, except for a radio sitting next to him on the sidewalk tuned to a news station, and a half-inch pile of receipts that he thumbed through carefully, inspecting each one. He hadn’t noticed us at first, so intently had he concentrated upon his receipts, but when he did see us, he went into what I can only describe as a sort of act, sounding something like this:

“They talk about plane crash at SFO, ‘n I don’ care! They say people die inna crash, n’ I don’ care! I don’ care, I don’ care, I don’ care! They ain’t no bruzz n’ sistuhz onna plane! White people, Chinese people, Mexican people, they can all die! I don’ care, I don’ care, I don’ care! Bruzz n’ sistuhz don’ fly on no plane! All’a radio talk about is the big plane crash at SFO, n’ I don’ care! They can crash all they wan’ n’ I don’ care! All I hear is the plane crash, but I don’ care if them white people, Chinese or Mexican die! I don’ care, I don’ care, I don’ care!”

All five of us kept our eyes fixed straight ahead, said nothing, and then the light turned in our favor, we walked across the intersection without looking back. Well, everyone did except me. I glanced quickly over my shoulder at the homeless man. He had stopped speaking, and totally ignoring us, he had returned to thumbing through his receipts, carefully inspecting each one.

Commentary: I did not feel offended. This was what scientists call a “threat display,” designed to intimidate and scare away potential predators by looking and/or sounding bigger and/or more dangerous that he really was. Basically, he was scared of us.

I hope you all have a very good weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above – Federal Building Plaza, San Francisco


Good Evening:

The Federal Building occupies the entire north side of the 400 block of Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco. Before the building itself, a rather uninteresting affair from an architect’s point of view, is a rather interesting plaza where the workers hang out for lunch, a smoke, or other private time. The park contains a lot of walls, benches, et alia arranged at odd angles to each other, and when you look at it “From Above,” it presents some interesting opportunities to photographers.

It also presents huge challenges. I like practicing photography from the 8th – 12th floors of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission HQ because the shots are always very difficult. Composing the shot, dealing with dark shadows and bright sunlight, tilting the camera at the right angle, and snapping a gaggle of pictures whilst your subjects move around–none of this is easy, all of this is hard. Here are four pictures of the same subject, a man on a cell phone and a homeless man, each oblivious to the other. I can’t honestly tell you these are great pictures; they are good examples of the challenges photography can place in the way of its practitioners.


As you can see, all of the pictures (edited in iPhoto to reduce darkness of the shadows and intensity of the sunshine) both gain some advantages and disadvantages depending upon how much I use the zoom. Still, I think this constitutes rather a decent display of photographic problems.

Vonn Scott Bair