It had been a minute since I'd been on any parts of Muni, let alone something as nice as the F Market. I leaned back in my back-row seat and lolled like a pasha, taking pictures of passing bicyclists, the Orpheum Theatre all Conan'd up, intersections teeming with people and cars and litter and neon not yet ready for nighttime. Taking those pictures was a pleasant reminder of riding down International Boulevard in Oakland to the San Leandro line and back last year. I need to take my road bike to Missing Link and get wider tires, or maybe even think about going mountain instead.
I got off the trolley at about 6:35 p.m. and walked over to a long line of folks waiting to get into the Castro. The line stretched around the corner to Nice Cuts. The whole time I kept saying to myself "I've had my fun if I don't get inside, I've had my fun if they don't recognize my credentials, I've had my fun if I can't find a seat." And then I was in and getting my large popcorn, soda, frozen Junior Mints and planting my happy behind about midway up the left side, two seats in from the left-center aisle.
After half an hour or so, the festival present came out and talked up the evening and showed off a clip show of most of Spike Lee's movies. Then out came Wesley Morris, probably the only reason I used to check out the old San Francisco Examiner. Spike followed a few moments later. It was not an even match. Spike was prickly, speaking slowly and deliberately, not trying to be light or witty, but clearly feeling his way through his feelings.
Wesley, I thought, wanted to draw Spike out, to have him Explain things. What made his reviews and occasional essays such fun was probably not just his voice, but time. Live and on stage is no place to try to draw someone out who won't be Drawn. I don't make a point of watching late-night talk shows these days, but I don't think Spike does the rounds on them. Nor, I suspect, does he play nice when he does. I think a little nice would've gotten everybody through the hour and change a little better than we got, which only lightened up toward the end.
Still, cranky as he came off in that setting, unwilling as he was to give Wesley more than an inch, he took his audience very seriously. He accepted thanks graciously and considered questions about almost all issues with equanimity, with the exception of a woman who asked about a bill wending its way through Congress.
And then parts two and three of "When the Levees Broke" played on the screen. I know there's a good reason that horror movies have made a comeback in recent years, but this was something else. What happened in — to — New Orleans and the Gulf Coast — was an abomination. The other word that came to mind about midway through the third part was "affront." Add it to the list of solid Bush-administration indictments: "Fahrenheit 911," "Control Room" and so on.
Until last night, I'd never been in a room with Spike Lee. The list of
people I have to thank for making that happen will only get shorter if
I start mentioning names now.
First would be Kevin Smokler,
who took a chance on me and heads-upped me last year when the San
Francisco International Film Festival gave a few local bloggers press
credentials. Smokler's giving tends to acquire a momentum of its own. It
feels like a continuous no-look pass on a basketball court that expands
from moment to moment. I had a lot of fun last year.
Second would be Hillary Hart and Cindy Lang, whose persistence,
kindness and aplomb over the last two months are not to be believed. They wanted me to
participate, and it felt good to be able to show up and take them up on
their offer. How much of success is that showing-up thing again?
I got home, turned around and bid A. goodbye, walking south and west. I
slipped past the Oakland Unified School District complex, the Henry J.
Kaiser Convention Center and Laney College campus to Lake Merritt BART
station. The wait there for the next thing smoking into San Francisco
felt strange. I'd just heard that BART had just had
their biggest day ever. (By their lights,
Wednesday was still about 10 percent above normal weekday numbers,
passenger-wise.) There did seem to be more people around than I was
used to seeing at that hour, not that I did a lot of going into the
city this way.
The train came. I got on and we rode across West Oakland and down
through the Transbay Tube and slid into Embarcadero BART. I didn't
really know where I was going, even with the directions describing the
afternoon's event — 132 The Embarcadero, between Mission and Howard —
but I felt lucky about stepping up and out of the station, among
milling office workers and businesspeople, getting my bearings from a
MUNI driver who'd parked her bus and was feeding pigeons from her seat
behind the wheel, and wandering over to the Bay along the very
perimeter of the city. Set foot beyond that fence and you'll find
nothing solid to put your foot on until you get to the island with the
tunnel, part of the bridge, running through it.
Chaya Brasserie is glass panes and a fancy sign and a hush once you
step off the street and through the door. The tall well-dressed white
guy behind the booth was talking all friendly to a colleague, but he
politely asked if he could help me. I mumbled something about the film
festival. He smiled, waving me on and back and to the right.
In there I smiled politely at a small phalanx of poised and efficient
young women, who didn't have to do much but watch as Hillary introduced herself and took my event pass and my
riding-the-late-freight press application off my hands. I found a
corner of the room, had an hors d'oeuvre and a glass of beer and listened in on three men — Ivan Jaigirdar of 3rd I, a brother named Carlos who wrote for the Oakland Post (which I didn't know has some woes of its own) and a local indie television producer. We talked about Brazil, ultimate fighting, places to live in
the United States, Manchester United and (courtesy of a tangent
introduced by another gentleman passing by) black animation.
looked down at my watch and realized I needed to get over to the Castro
Theater. I excused myself and ran over to Market Street, barely catching a F trolley car.
Mat got me thinking about why I care. I don't know James Kim. I guess it is possible I could have known him at some point.
The outcome is a small obscenity. His wife should still have her husband; his daughters should still have their father; his co-workers should still be laboring beside their colleague.
I don't think "it could have me," not literally. I've never driven through that corner of Oregon. I am thinking about ways that the Arizona/New Mexico drive A. and I took a couple of years ago could have gone differently.
I feel proud of him for trying to save his family. That's the measure of a (hu)man, not some knuckle-dragging masculinist caricature but the do-anything-I-mean-ANYTHING attitude of looking out for and watching over one's loved ones.
And I liked seeing the media flooding the zone over a missing person of color. It made me feel stubbornly better. It feels a little bit like one of those victories that still fucking sucks. The flood of warmth you feel right before you realize you've gone and pissed all over yourself. That's seeing race where, say, in this instance, rescue personnel and sheriff's deputies and the great, great majority of people hearing about the family don't give a shit.
They just wanted James Kim home.