Three times… THREE TIMES, I visited the Haight this week. Each time prepared. I confidently readied myself with my camera strapped on my shoulder and my notepad and pen in hand. I had a plan of action! I hit the streets with an eager heart and keen sight in search of the next big story! There I was… UNSTOPPABLE.
To be honest with you… It was terrifying.
I wandered like a lost child in search for his parents. My head drifted side to side. My eyes were shifty. I tried not to make eye contact for too long as I was constantly approached by panhandlers, weed dealers and petitioners! OH MY!!!
I was not prepared. I fearfully gripped my camera and the sweat profusely streaming from my hand made my notepad soggy and my pen slippery! I’d forgotten my plan! I ran the streets with my heart racing so fast it beat in my throat and my eyes peeled so wide my vision blurred from the tears in my frantic search for an exit! And there I was… hopeless…
Ok ok…. That is a little dramatic. But really, I quickly learned how much courage and confidence it took to approach people and start conversation. Shut down after shut down, I became synonymous to the panhandlers, weed dealers and petitioners in the eyes of the passersby.
I had to get through to the people somehow! So I decided to take a look at some of the neighborhood businesses.
My first stop happened to be a coffee shop, of course. The Grind Cafe on Scott and Haight is where I met barista Nehu Evans, 25, whom in conversation mentioned a few issues in the neighborhood.
“The panhandlers are pretty aggressive,” he said. “Especially towards tourists.”
I continued the conversation failing to mention my nervous encounters from earlier…
It was fairly busy, so he couldn’t talk too long. However, he provided some insight on the communal feel of the neighborhood that I soon discovered.
Not too far down I headed over to Edo Salon & Gallery at 601 Haight St. There I struck up a conversation with Jai Carrillo and Salon Manager Tiffany Ward.
“All of the businesses share interests,” said Carrillo. “Everyone kinda knows each other… especially in Lower Haight .” Ward added that the community hosts an art walk every once and awhile, bringing Haight residents and businesses together.
“We (Edo) continue the art walk every couple of months,” she says, referring to an art exhibit entitled NO FACE, that the salon will be hosting on Feb. 10.
Despite the rugged exterior, with street posts, walls and newsstands marked as artists’ canvases, the Haight that initially struck me as frightening began to feel a little more like home, especially after my encounter with “Lower Haighter” Zoe Jardine.
“I moved here not knowing it was a cool, hotspot neighborhood, ” she says kiddingly. She says seeing all of the familiar faces so frequently is “like going to school…I feel safe living in Lower Haight.”