Graham, born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, ended up joining the U.S. Navy where, he said, he grew up. These days, you can often see him in the mornings playing tennis on the courts in Dolores Park.
“Probably the thing I noticed most is the number of people living on the streets. I don’t recall that being the case when I moved here in ‘82. I think they’re trying to survive. Right now it’s an insurmountable problem; it doesn’t seem to be getting better. I travel all over the city, and while I think there might be a high concentration here in this neighborhood, in the Mission district. Yesterday I was downtown, along near Embarcadero, and over by Levi’s Plaza, I mean I saw people sleeping by the park, so there too, it’s all over the city.
“I live on Dolores street, up closer to Market. I have lived in Pacific Heights, I lived in the Castro, those are the main two. When I first moved here, and I was living in the Castro, it as at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and so people didn’t know how to respond to that. Lots of sick people, a lot of dying people. So that was a real eye-opener, a real awakening, just to be that close to that phenomenon, and the early ’80s was a real learning experience for me.
“Living in this neighborhood, I feel a more sense of community like I guess when you live somewhere for 24 years, you get to know a lot of people whether it be here on the tennis court, or merchants. Now, right now, one of the disappointments in this neighborhood, in this community, is that a lot of the merchants I’ve grown to know over the years, their businesses are closing and they’re no longer around, and that’s really kind of sad to me, because when you get to know people on that level, it’s like you’re going in there more than just the service, you’re going in there for the conversation with the person in the dry cleaners, or in the florist shop, or wherever it is. You know those people and you greet them by name, they greet you by name, and now a lot of those people in those businesses are leaving. So I think that kind of detracts from the community a lot.
“Sometimes I try to imagine living in other neighborhoods and I don’t think any of them would provide me at this stage of my life with the comfort and enjoyment I get out of living in this neighborhood. I like the convenience of San Francisco. I don’t drive, I have never driven, and where I live right now, you know, I’m within five minutes of BART, Muni, I can get anywhere I want to go in public transportation quite easily, so that’s a real big consideration for me. Sometimes when I entertain the notion of moving, somewhere else, like to another city or town, I say, “You know what? It would not be as convenient as where I live now.
“Advice for new residents: I think it would be probably [be]: get to know your neighbors. That’s another one of the things I enjoy. One of my neighbors here on Dolores, I’ve seen her over a period of years, and she just seems like such a friendly, nice person, and one day I just stopped her and introduced myself to her, and she responded accordingly, and now we enjoy our encounters on the street. Through her, I’ve seen other people I know in common, like one of the women I play tennis with here goes to church with my neighbor. It’s sort of like an expansion of people that you know. So when I say, ‘Get to know your neighbors,’ that just helps you become a part of the neighborhood.
“Why tennis? When I was a kid, in the segregated south, each community in my hometown had a recreation center, and they had swimming pools, basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball, and the people that worked for the recreation department taught you all those sports. My father happened to be a tennis player when I was old enough to go myself to the recreation center, ‘Oh, your father plays tennis, so here. We’re gonna teach you how to play.” That was my introduction to tennis, but after that, basketball kicked in and I didn’t pick it up again seriously until I moved to the Bay Area.”