Stepping off the BART at 16th and Mission late at night, I hustle through the steel turnstiles and am immediately greeted by a tall Mexican transsexual wearing purple garters, black stalkings and a tube top.
“Hey handsome,” she says with a smile, revealing yellow teeth with a gold gleam on her left front incisor. “Wanna go for a walk?”
I don’t. I run up the stairs and into the cold air of the Mission. To the left, beneath drawings by kids about violence at home, an old man lies snoring with his face on the concrete.
Walking south, the sidewalk is covered in pieces of embalmed chewing gum that look like splotches of paint. As I pass the taquerias, workers hustle to clean their cooking stations, finishing up so they can get home and get ready to come back tomorrow.
As I stop to eat some tacos at La Oaxaqueña at Mission and Clarion, a man walks up to a middle aged woman who is dressed conservatively in a grey wool skirt and a pink sweater. “How much for a hand job?” he asks flatly. “Ten bucks,” she replies, “but it’s gotta be quick.” “Where?” he counters. “Right here close by.” They leave.
I finish my carne asada, and go to the Latin American Club, at 22nd and Valencia. It’s crowded, so I fight my way to the bar for one of the fine beers they’ve got on tap. Tonight the place is full of young twenty somethings talking loudly about how much work sucks, so I finish my beer and walk to 24th.
Passing a pair of abandoned shoes in a crosswalk by the corner of Balmy, I meet a man named Alejandro, who is tossing some cans into his cart he will take to recycle. “I’m from Guanajuato,” he says in Spanish, looking at me with peeled open eyes that never blink. “I’ve lived here for 25 years,” he continues. “It’s always the same thing every night.” Shaking my hand, he goes back to work.
Next door, I hear a ranchera start to play, so I walk into a bar named El Mexicano and order a Negra Modelo from the bartender, Marlene, who says, “Salúd,” and pours a little bit of beer from her Corona into my bottle, laughing.
In the back a group of guys plays pool beneath a table with a huge map of Mexico on the wall as their ladies watch and sip cerveza.
“Valencia Street is totally different than this side of Mission,” Marlene tells me smiling, pouring a little beer into my bottle again. “People from over there almost never come here.”
Watching a soccer game, a guy named Juan laughs. “These guys suck. The Mexican league is way better,” he says with a grin, squeezing lime into his beer bottle. “This is the only bar I like to go to. I do construction and I work all day when I’m able to get jobs. Then I come here and watch soccer with my friends.”
Two goals later, the song changes to a fast mariachi track, and the people in back stop playing pool and start to dance. “I like it here even though nothing really crazy happens,” Juan says as I finish my drink and Marlene pours me some of hers into my bottle again, laughing as she walks off to serve a customer. “It’s always the same people, but it’s right next to my house.”
It’s getting late, so I walk back to Mission, hurrying to catch the last BART. As I pass 22nd, two small guys in dark jackets with slicked back hair pass a young lady and one of them grabs her butt as he walks by. “Hijo de puta!,” she shouts, but the guys just cackle and keep walking.
As I walk by La Oaxaqueña, the woman in the they grey skirt is back, standing in the same place as when I first passed. I stop to order an horchata and ask the guy grilling meat what the craziest thing is that he’s seen happen while working weekends in the Mission. “Nothing that crazy happens. I like my job though, even though I have to work late at night,” he says. “There’s a lot of pretty girls. Want another taco?”