"Do you live over here in Oakland?"

"Yeah, I finally made the move from San Francisco."

"Why’d you decide to move?"

"Oakland’s more accessible, it’s more diverse, there’s more growing here…it’s more real."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. It feels totally different over here."

"It’s a catch 22 though because we’re the product of gentrification from the city, but now we’re moving over here and I wanna keep an ear up for what I’m displacing. I wanna help keep Oakland special."

"Where are you from originally?"

"Middle of nowhere Marin-"

Just then a homeless black man asked me for change. I told him I didn’t have any right then.

"-Why do you think he asked you and not me?"

"Black male connection."

"Do you think that he thinks you, as a black male, are more likely to help him than I am, as a white woman?"

"Yeah, I don’t even know how to put it into words but that exchange affects me differently than it affects you. Especially in Hayes Valley, where I used to live, because it’s super white, and at the end of my time there the only other black people there were people asking for money. I went to a 95% white private college preparatory school so I’m used to being an inkspot. But finally one day in Hayes Valley I was like ‘Fuck this. I wanna be in a more diverse environment.’ Ya know?"

"There’s a difference between economic uniformity and racial uniformity, but when they come together it’s especially potent. I studied social and economic disparity in college and a lot of race studies. It’s deep stuff. And it’s why I wanna be in Oakland, and it’s also why I feel afraid to be in Oakland. I moved into a place where a family had been evicted. I found their pictures in a cabinet, that’s the only way I know who they are. Half the neighborhood is black, and then there’s a dividing street between them and the white hippies moving in. I bet whoever bought my house instead of me would have been less sensitive to the whole situation but still…things change I guess."

"That’s the nature of cities. How and why they change is what’s really interesting though. The more I learn about what’s driving the change, the angrier I get."

"I was reading an Atlantic article about racial income disparity and the average income of a white family is 20 times that of a black family. Not twice, twenty times. How does that even happen? That’s fucked up."

"It really is, and there’s a lot of dimensions to the situation. On a human level, there’s this incredible disparity of have and have nots, but on a spiritual level, everyone’s a loser because there’s an incredible imbalance on a really deep level. People are disconnecting from each other to ignore the suffering right in front of them, which is really them disconnecting from themselves, and then they’re left spiritually empty. The ethnic group with the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. is white males age 45-64. Why is it that the group with the most power and advantage kill themselves the most? I feel like there’s a lot to heal in our society, but we can’t begin to do that until we really acknowledge what’s going on."

"I hear you. Where are you from?"

"Atlanta, I feel like Atlanta and Oakland are similar in ways, but Oakland is way more dense. A lot more going on. It’s like they’re the same note, but a different octave."

"Is Atlanta lower or higher?"

"Hmm, I feel like Oakland is lower and higher."

"Oakland is a chord and Atlanta is a note."

"That sounds about right."

"So why do you do this project?"

"Lots of reasons. To connect people with experiences and ideas that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. To share all those different perspectives. To plot my personal enlightenment. To record the reflections I come across, and record what they tell me. And to understand the patterns that cycle though my life."

"How do you choose the people you talk to?"

"Intuition." 

"What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco?"

"The people."

This is Courtney. She designed the “Souls of San Francisco” logo. We met randomly at an alterations store a couple years ago. There was a note saying the owner was out of town. The number on that sign was Courtney’s number, so she came down from her apartment to let me on so I could get my pants. We started talking and I told her about this project I was working on and that I needed someone to make a logo for it.

She told me she was a graphic designer and said she’d help me make some stuff. I don’t know why she decided to donate her time to some complete stranger, but she did.

I just found out she passed after a long battle with brain cancer.

I feel sad. There are tears that I feel in my body but for some reason they’re not coming out of my eyes.

I don’t really know what to say.

The last time I saw her was about a month ago, we shared a porkchop at Nopa because it was good protein for her and helped her T cell count. When we left the restaurant we ran into King Kobbler on the corner of Divis and Hayes and the two of them flirted. It was nice to see her laugh. She ended up buying some of his cobbler.

I’m grateful for the all Courtney did to help make Souls of San Francisco what it is.

I hope where ever she is…that she has peace.

"You guys live around here?"

him - “Naw, we’re from Sydney. We were here for a wedding in Nashville last week. I just flew in from Denver.”

her - “I took an 11 hr train from LA last night to get here because I heard this was heart of San Francisco.”

"What do y’all do in Sydney?"

her - “Freelance photographer. That’s my gambit.”

"What do you like to shoot?"

her - “I do a lot of fashion. I work with a magazine called Sneaky out of New York.”

"Where do you get your inspiration?"

her - “Oh gosh, without sounding like a total cheeseball…the world around me.”

him - “Total cheeseball.”

her - “Totally.”

"What about you?"

him - “I work for a fashion label called Bloodless. It’s kinda like Tom’s for street wear. Every month we release a different collection connected to a specific entrepreneur working for change in a poor place. They may be working for change in Kenya, or Papa New Guinea, or Africa. We sell their stuff and then the profits go back to the entrepreneur.”

"What’s it called again?"

"Bloodless. Like a bloodless revolution."

"I love your style! May I take your picture."

"It’s okay."

"What do you guys do here?"

"We are here from South Korea studying at art school. I study fashion design and she studies visual merchandising."

"Do you live in this neighborhood?"

"Yeah, I moved from Boston about 2 months ago to try something new.”

"Did you find a place okay, that can be tricky here?"

"Yeah, my sister has a rent controlled apartment that she moved out of, and I moved in. Otherwise I’d never be able to afford living here. So it was like ‘Hey, let’s try something new.’ A lot of people back home are committed to a life with the same people we grew up with. I’m in my 20’s, there’s plenty of time for that later.

"What is it about San Francisco that made you want to live here?"

"The people. There are so many people to meet in this world and a lot of them are drawn to this city."

"What do you think it is that draws so many people here?"

"I think it’s just known for being friendly and transient."

"I love your hair!"

"Thanks!"

"What are you up to today?"

"I’m new so I’m still exploring."

"When’d you move here?"

"January."

"You are super new, welcome. There are many layers to San Francisco."

"I’ve heard. This is my 2nd kind on Haight St. and I love it."

"Where’d you move from?"

"Maryland, just outside of DC. I’m in school here at the Academy of Art studying communications."

“How bout this day huh?”

“Yeah, it’s gorgeous.”

“I don’t know if it was just me, but when I came outside today it seemed especially beautiful.”

“San Francisco can take your breath away sometimes.”

“You live in this neighborhood?”

“Yeah, for about 5 years, San Francisco in general since 1974. Fell in love with it. Came here for a family trip and had some fresh crab in Lake Tahoe and it was like ‘Ahhh, I’ve gotta be in this city’. So once I was in that in between stage between college and making a life, I packed up and came here.”

“Where are you from?”

“Denver, Co. When I first moved here I was in Russian Hill…beautiful place. Every place I’ve been in since then has gone downhill, but now I’m in a pretty good place.”

“Is that because of the way San Francisco is changing?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it go through a lot of changes and I escaped a lot because I managed to hang on to the same apartment for 25 years. Garden apartment…with A GARDEN…all to myself in the Castro. But like everyone else, especially when we get older, I got kicked out of the employment environment and couldn’t fight my way back in. 4 years ago I got evicted from the Sheriff’s dept. and was out on the streets.”

“Like homeless?”

“Yep, and then at the psych ward at general.”

“Wow, how long were you there?”

“2 weeks. Then they put me in a rehab place where I wasn’t qualified because unfortunately I don’t have any drug or alcohol problems. And then for 2 years I was in the basement of the Zen center here staying for free by cleaning their toilets. Then got to know a gentleman up the street that invited me to a unique environment that was created in the 70’s. When health activists and the republicans got together under Reagan they closed all the crazy houses. So it’s a different kind of rehab place.”

“What’s it called?”

“The Odyssey house. I was able to squeak in there because people took pity on me,  and now I’m living with schizophrenic people.”

“Are you schizophrenic?”

“No. I have depression problems and anxiety because of the experience of being evicted from my apartment but that’s it. A new roommate just moved into my room, we have to share a bedroom, so I’m taking a few hours out here.”

“That’s a lot. With all you’ve been through in the past few years, what makes you want to stay in San Francisco?”

“This is my life. Now even more because I’m dependent on the mental health services, I’ve got free health care, free meds, a cheap place to live. Now I have time on my hands so I enrolled in a web development school, and a graphic arts program. If I go anywhere else I’d have to pay more rent, and I couldn’t afford my health care services.”

“Thank you for sharing that, tell me your name again.”

“Toni…Parks. I’m the great niece of Gordon Parks.”

 

"You guys wanna take a picture for a blog?"

him - “Only if it’s dope.”

"It’s definitely dope."

him - “What’s it called?”

"Souls of San Francisco."

him - “Aight.”

"Thanks. (to her) What’s your favorite thing about him?"

her - “…”

him - “yeah, what’s your favorite thing about me?”

her - “way to put me on the spot.”

to him - “alright, you wanna go first?”

him - “my favorite thing about her is that she gets all nervous like this…naw, my favorite thing is that she just said ‘I don’t feel at home until I see someone pissing on a house’, which is what we just saw.”

"What’s your story?"

"I moved here from Thailand about a year ago."

"What do you like to do for fun?"

"Party!"

This guy can see into many many dimensions

"What are you passionate about?" 

"I’m passionate about people coming alive and reaching their full potential in life. I think it’s unacceptable that 70% of people are disengaged with their jobs, so I wrote The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, a book that would help people find more meaning in their lives."

"Did you have a quarter life crisis that inspired you to write this book?" 

"Yeah, two years ago I was stuck in a job that made me miserable and living in a city I didn’t want to live in. I had a great job on paper, but it was not the right fit for me. I was really nervous and scared to leave a job that provided salary, benefits, and job security, because it was the recession and the job market wasn’t great. But something inside me knew I needed to listen to my heart, and make a change. It was only when I met other 20- and 30-somethings facing the same kind of situation, the same question of how do you figure out what you love and then get paid for it, that inspired me to make the leap and move across the country to San Francisco, start freelance writing, and start building communities of young people who refuse to settle for mediocrity. Then I wrote the book I wish I had during my own quarter-life crisis."

"Where can we buy the book?"

"You can buy the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/QzNjMn

"What’s next for you?"

"I’m going to be on tour in April and May on the East Coast sharing the book with college students, impact-driven communities, and other twentysomethings. I’m also working with programs like Hive Global Leaders Program and Camp Grounded to facilitate passionate communities. And hopefully I’ll have time to start writing my second book.”

"Dope sweater."

"Thank you."

"What do you do in the city?"

"I teach piano to 3-9 year olds."

"What’s your story?"

"I’m from Santa Cruz, I moved here the beginning of last year, I’m a dancer. There’s more opportunity here. I grew up in the mountains of Santa Cruz, hippie parents, that kinda upbringing. Now I’m here pursuing my dreams."

"What kind of dance do you do?"

"Ballet, modern, contemporary."

"My girlfriend does that same type of dance, I really like it. Where do you dance?"

"Studios around here like Shawl Anderson and Lines Ballet. I’m part of a really small company called Dance Lumiere. We’re going to New York in few days."

"Congratulations!"

"Thanks! It’s not necessarily the style of dance that I’m into but it’s going to be a really cool experience. I’ve never been, so it’s going to be pretty fun."

"So what does dance mean to you?"

"For me, there are a few things in my that make me feel a certain way, I’ve been dancing since I was six and when I dance, especially when I perform I just don’t think at all. I’m just really in the moment. I think that’s really hard to do in day to day life. That, to me, is such a cool experience to just completely give myself over to something."

“You live in this neighborhood?”

“I’m actually staying in my camper in the Presidio. I’m from New York. I moved out here not so long ago to work at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It’s been really hard to schedule with people. I’ve reached out to a few friends out here but no one really has time to host me right now. It’s all good though. The Presidio is amazing, can’t believe you guys have something like that here. And once the festival gets started I’ll be so busy I won’t know what to do.”