One of the things I love about cities is the whole world of acquaintances and familiar strangers you develop. I like having people who I see every week or month around town or at work. They represent lots of things to me: community, possibility, worlds outside my experience, future friendships, and really, whatever else I want to project on them since usually we’ll never really get to know each other.
When I first moved to the Mission in 1989, I just found it intimidating. Everyone going to the ACT UP a nd Queer Nation meetings would walk by my house. There were just way too many cool-looking, dyed, punky, freaky, politicos who I didn’t know, and as they walked by my window I’d just be sad at how lonely moving to a new place could be.
But after working and volunteering in incredibly public places for years I find seeing strangers regularly to be refreshing. There are people I’ve said hello to for years and I can’t remember if we’ve actually ever met or if we’ve just been living close to each other for so long that we feel familiar. Then there are people who I never think I’m going to get to know and we end up at the same party or event together and we realize we have mutual friends.
I ended up dating someone last year that I met randomly in a laundromat. She stepped inside to buy something from a homeless guy who was camped out there. He was going to charge her $4 for a ceramic planter or something then he saw her Food Not Bombs button and said "Half price for you." I smiled, she smiled back at me, a nd for the next eight years when we saw each other we’d say hello, comment on the weather or something, and go on our separate ways until finally one of us said, "Do you wanna hang out sometime?"
For years I’ve taken the same route to work. I walk down t he hill and I always pass by three people (two men and one woman) on their way up. I noticed them at first because they always wear only red and black. Quickly I figured out that was the uniform for the taqueria they work at, but they still looked vaguely militant walking up the street. They’re much more disciplined than I am, so I can always tell if I’m on time or not by where on Duboce I run into them. (Behind the Safeway – I’m late. Corner of Guerrero – just right). Then suddenly the walking man disappeared. Did he move away? Did he quit or get fired? Did they have a falling out? Every time I see them I want to ask what happened but we just don’t have that type of relationship.
We wave at each other now. But not all acquaintances ar e so friendly. When I worked another job I had to take the 22 to the 15 to get there. It was an unusual route so I noticed another person who got off at the same transfer point and final destination that I did every day. After a few months of this I we nt up to him at the bus stop where we were the only people waiting and said, "Hey, it seems like we’ve got the same commute." He turned to face me. Looked at me with blank eyes. Then turned back to the street without saying a word.
And I know I have that relationship with others that I don’t even know about. I’m the Cheese Guy. Or I’m the guy that used to sell them records at Epicenter. I did something once that I probably wouldn’t even remember that pissed them off or made them laugh and every time they see me it reminds them. I love it. It makes me feel like I’ve made a place for myself.
When my ex and I had our 10-year anniversary party, a friend in town for it overheard a conversation between two workers at the dyke coffee shop down the street.
"Did you hear L---- is in town?"
"No, what’s she doing here?"
"She’s here for that big anniversary party. You know Gordon and J---?"
"Oh right, they have that long-term non-monogamous relationship. That’s amazing. Ten years . . ."
The best part about his conversation was that my partner and I had never talked to either of the women working that day. I can’t think of a bigger honor than having my relationship be gossiped about by strangers in the hip, dyke café.