The Mission as it transitions from day to evening. Photo by Marta Franco.

A man in a beanie leans against a vacant bike rack, waiting under the safe, pink glow of the Roxie Theatre. The box office is empty; the Chinese restaurant nearby is dark.

“Is it closed?” gasps one member of a laughing trio that stops in front of the Chinese restaurant.



No. The scribbled sign reads “Happy Lunar New Year!” Like that, cheerfully, as if the owners are oblivious to the disappointed customers.

After a long day filled with bustling visitors and residents, the Mission District has started its transition to a more relaxed evening. Young professionals, hipsters, families and Latino workers converge on the streets to begin the journey home.

The pedestrian traffic at this hour is markedly different; many restaurants have not yet filled, and set tables await diners; stores are dark or emptying, and just as the sun begins to set, side streets can feel emptier, almost lonely.

Near the southern end of the Mission, the sharp light from Arizmendi Bakery illuminates a teenage girl as she sits on the windowsill beside its door, staring out onto Valencia.

She watches as pedestrians meander along, some with iPods stuck in their ears, others staring straight ahead.

One leans his bike against the bakery window and joins the line inside to get a baguette to go with dinner.

“I’m making soup,” he says with a smile as he gets on his bike and pedals back into traffic.

Down the block, inside the library, small patrons drag stools to the self-checkout, where they stand on tiptoes and scan the barcodes of the books they have chosen. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Other kids flood the lobby, their boots squeaking across the library’s wooden floor. Some run straight for the front door, but are stopped short by mothers who grab them by their backpacks.

Farther down 24th Street, near Potrero, Stephany’s Barber Shop is empty. Its bright light is an exception in a spot where most of the stores are closing. The black hair of the last customer still lies on the floor.

On the corner, tired faces wait silently for the bus. Warm jackets and furled umbrellas are signs of a day that many expected to be colder.

A girl no older than nine talks loudly to the woman in her 20s who holds her hand. “That wasn’t a book, it was just a box!” says the girl, shaking the disappointing treasure she has just found. The woman doesn’t reply.

On the other side of the street, the Chinese restaurant is empty. Red-lit letters remind outsiders that they deliver, but no one is buying. Not yet.

If most people on 24th Street are going home, the denizens of Philz remain. By 6 p.m. there isn’t much to eat — only a couple of unwanted cinnamon twists and a pastry “snail” with only three raisins — but there are nine MacBooks, two newspapers, at least 15 iPhones, and lots of coffee for the 30 or so people still inside. The Dandy Warhols and Otis Redding co-mingle.

That’s not true at Dolores Park.

Dolores Park ages without the sun. A last group of youths pack up guitars. The street lamps flicker on, pooling a dark abyss where they once smoked. On a rain-soaked slope, an old man lumbers behind his poodle, whistling mostly wind.

The park’s lamp-lit border, a track for young joggers, flows in circles. Young professionals in designer spandex and white headphones bring movement, but not life. They’re alone in a private space, producing the sounds of heavy breathing and tennis shoes rhythmically hitting the ground.

Closer to 16th Street, church bells and car alarms ring in the distance as a runner dashes up Capp Street, now dark. Two women with young children climb into a car. The two parties appear unaware of each other, existing on their own terms.

The deserted block allows a visitor to notice the soft sounds of water running through the underground sewers, the occasional click of a lighter. The smell of fresh paint from a new mural lingers with the smell of someone smoking marijuana.

Suddenly, a joyful noise cuts through the silence. A man whistles loudly, strutting to his car with two paper bags from Burger King.

At the 16th Street BART station, swarms of people rise up from the escalators. Like an unhealthy strand of hair, they arrive in a straight line, and split at the end.

“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow,” says a guitar-wearing gal to a pair of boys.

On the plaza, a wrinkly-faced man slowly takes out specks of cocaine from the left pocket of his bruised leather jacket. He places the drug onto his dry palm and condenses it for his girl. Her nose sinks in and she sniffles away.

Nearby, inside Noisebridge on Mission Street, someone is frying up meat in the room full of computer equipment. Most of the people in the room are huddled at a table in the back, immersed in code.

A young man wearing a white laboratory coat instructs the older man sitting next to him about how to play Code Hero, a game Noisebridge designed to teach people coding. Mr. Labcoat asks his pupil if he knows the C sharp programming language. No, but he knows Turbo Pascal, a software development system that’s older than Mark Zuckerberg. The pupil has proven his nerd cred.

In honor of the Chinese New Year, dinner tonight at Noisebridge will be pineapple chicken with vegan horseradish vegetables. The suggested donation is $3.

“Do not hack hungry!” shouts Robert, one of the other managers. It’s time for the Mission to eat.

Reporting was contributed by Kate Elston, Jamie Goldberg, Molly Oleson, Matt Sarnecki, Marta Franco, Melanie Ruiz, Christy Koshaba and C.K. Hickey.

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A swap meet aficionado, the Mission’s outdoor markets and Latino community remind Alicia of her family’s weekly swap meet outings at home, in southeast Los Angeles, where she is always on the lookout for hidden treasures.

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  1. Amazing. Doing coke in public presented as a touching vignette, while someone jogging is lifeless. Makes sense.

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