On Thursday nights we gather on Hemlock Alley, a one-block stretch of life behind the scenes. To the west of us the traffic on Van Ness, condominiums, fog horns and, at some distance, the restless sea; to the east of us the night life on Polk Street–tourists out to see a different land, homeless making their way across the city, people of the neighborhood returning from the gym; people of the street, people of the night–straight and gay and black and white; and in the distance a residence hotel and the towers of Nob Hill.
On Thursday nights we meet and share a meal–one week Chinese the next Indian or maybe Thai. Then we pack the car–two coolers filled with one-box meals. This week it was Spanish Rice we served. Was it in honor of the World Cup? My guess is no. Two weeks ago we served vegetarian chilli you prepared in those crock pots on your floor. Sometimes we give out cookies–home-baked if we are lucky; sometimes it’s fruit; sometimes we have only a main dish to hand out.
And then there are the blankets. Thousands of them. Blankets Punk Priest got at a steal; blankets he stores at a king’s ransom. Everyone wants a blanket–a blanket and a pair of socks.
Tonight we ran out of socks. No wonder. Socks are life-gold on the streets. Everyone wants a pair of those clean white socks. Clean socks–balm of Gilead in the streets of San Francisco. Imagine–fifty pairs of socks gone in a flash. Makes me think twice when I pull a sock up on my foot. “Thanks be” might be a fitting thing to say.
“Thanks be” for the time I’ve spent on Hemlock Alley. “Thanks be” to all I’ve met on that short street. Tonight my Punk Priest friend talked of living in the moment–the way of life for those whose lives are ruled by drugs and booze and finding a place to spend the night. The moment–it’s really all we have.
Thank you, my Punk Priest friend, for showing me the way to Hemlock Alley and thanks to all I’ve met in the time I’ve spent there just down the street from the needle exchange and just up the street from the swells cruising middle Polk.
Hemlock Alley–when first I heard the words, I thought of Socrates and the death he met. Now I know that life and death and all that is between often meet on Hemlock Alley. O, Lord, how I shall miss that place and you who brought me there to meet Christ in the people of the street.