I found it ironic that I was walking to the House of Shields one afternoon when I found myself bombarded with people in bright pink T-shirts from Planned Parenthood. I, like most Tea Party Patriots, associate the organization with birth control, or "shields" against pregnancy. The Clipboard People, as I have so cleverly named them, were out in droves. Before Planned Parenthood, it was the anti-Prop. 8 folks, then the ACLU. They always try to stop me, and I always say that I am late for something, so sorry (which is true). But if I ever actually paused to chat, I would have to ask them why they think that stopping people on a busy sidewalk is more effective than, say, direct mail. I actually have seen a few people staying for the spiel, so if 3 percent of the people that you greet stop and listen, I suppose that is still better than the 1 percent return that can be expected from sending paperwork to people's houses.
The problem lies in the fact that by the time you reach the Clipboard People on Market, you have already passed several spare-changers, an unbelievably tenacious dude who shoves his rap CDs in your face in front of Walgreens, a guy banging on industrial tubs of plastic to the tune of "Billie Jean," and any of a handful of clueless wanderers who have no spatial concept of other people (i.e., tourists). I'll say one thing for the Planned Parenthood gazetteers, they have pluck. No amount of "get the fuck away from me" seems to dampen their quest, and they remain magically upbeat and smiley in a world full of people like me.
I am lucky enough to have healthcare, so I felt a bit rueful for resenting the Clipboard Peeps (see? I've already given you guys a cuter name out of guilt). I had just had a weird health scare too, after hearing those horrible words that most of us gals dread at the doctor: "Is there any chance that you could be pregnant?" After doing some quick math and a survey of all the public toilet seats I had sat on in the last 60 days, the answer came up "No," but that stab of terror remained.
I was digesting my doctor's visit when I slipped into a booth at the House of Shields. I chose it because it was near BART, natch, and also because it is dark and medieval, like my soul. The inside is like Friar Tuck's man cave, with a long bar across the left side and small booths along the front wall. You can sit alone and watch everyone without looking like a perv, because no one will notice you pressed into your wooden cloche, sippin' away. This place has a reputation for being a bike messenger bar, but in my estimation, any bar near where bike messengers work becomes a bike messenger bar. This one is kitty-corner to the Montgomery BART station where they all hang out, and, I suppose, wait for their next assignment.
There were several guys at the bar with muscular legs and messenger bags. You also get a smattering of rich dudes in this place, because of its proximity to luxury hotels. These guys are invariably loaded but trying to avoid the trappings of wealth by keepin' it real in a divey bar. I noticed the faint smell of barf when I walked into the House of Shields, so that can only add to anyone's "real" experience. Here's something I am ashamed to admit: The smell of vomit in a bar brings up wistful feelings in me, not revulsion. Real barflies make passing notice of such odors, then carry on with their business. We are professionals.
As I was sitting there, musing over the profundity of life, two chicks walked in, one with a pink T-shirt over her shoulder. The Clipboard Peeps! I guess they change clothes when they are off. I can't say that I blame them. They ordered beers and went to sit at the booth behind me. It quickly became apparent that one was a trainee and one was the coach. The trainee was practicing her speech, which was something about "threatening women's choice ... we are asking you to help," etc. Occasionally the coach would prompt her, and she would begin again, this time inserting the right word or phrase. For some reason, sitting there by myself and listening to them made me feel very grateful for the work they were doing. When they weren't flagging me down in front of Old Navy, I felt much more sympathetic to their cause. I wonder if Planned Parenthood has ever thought of bar outreach.
They chatted some more, and then got up and left. I took that as my cue as well.
Outside, the street musicians around Powell were winding down; I could barely hear a clang or a thump echoing down Market. The street vendors had packed up. The clouds were rolling in, and in typical S.F. fashion, it had gone from 70 degrees to about 50 in 90 minutes. Each section of the city is indeed different, but things further change depending on what time of the day you spend in each area. Market Street, as the sun is going down, feels weary. I did too, so we were simpatico that way. I pulled my collar up and trudged toward BART.