Taylor Street between Glide and the Hilton at Union Square has always been a kind of DMZ, where you might see people on their way to sleep in fluffy-white beds passing closer than usual by people on their way to sleep on a sidewalk. During the “Oracle OpenWorld” conference this fall, however, the company and the hotel moved to occupy that block of Taylor. The result? The soon-and-present gentrification of the Tenderloin made stunningly visible.
Suddenly, there was almost nobody on the street who looked like a street person. What there was instead: carpet laid down on Taylor, hotel-lobby furniture arranged on the carpet, canopies shading the furniture, “global taps” for a drink of whatever.
The people on the furniture were nearly all men, nearly all white, nearly all dressed business casual – khaki-pants-with-a-crease, shortsleeved shirts open down the chest on a warm San Francisco day. Some were chatting with each other; more were alone, sitting wide, an arm thrown out against a sofa back, legs spread, three-inch screens held up before their eyes.
Surrounding it all: hedges rolled in on wheels to block the people lining up for food at Glide from the view of the Oracles lounging there.
I was on a street retreat with the Faithful Fools, so I didn’t have to be anywhere special. I had time to walk around the outdoor lobby three times, marveling. I felt like I was in the back of the wardrobe, gazing through a portal to another world.
Outside the hedges, still no street people on the sidewalks; they knew better than to get too close, I guess. But sitting on the curb, in the shade of the hedges: three brown-skinned people in hotel-worker uniforms, eating their lunches out of plastic containers.
Just steps away on Ellis Street, folks were sitting on the sidewalk, their backs against a chain-link fence, enjoying the warm day. A few were snoozing, or, as it appeared, disconnecting from the world by substances other than the handheld screens in use inside the hedges.