I wanted to tell the barista she was beautiful, but I didn’t. Instead, she handed me the coffee to make sure it was just right, I sipped and smiled and said it was perfect. Of course, verifying that my medium roast was made to my liking conveys less notability than an unexpected compliment. Being in the casual coffee shop setting, I knew that thanking her sufficed appropriately. But somehow, in some way, I still wanted to express my sentiment. I worried that because she has probably made my order at least a hundred times and heard the customary “thank you” with each drink, my spoken gratitude had probably evaporated into nothingness, along with the steam from my cup. However, I knew deep down, “thank you” was the best path to take. It could’ve also been the most respectful route, considering that our culture wrongfully suggests that woman proffer themselves for the world to see. With sociology in mind, because of heteronormativity, censoring myself as an average customer was better than coming across as some guy hitting on the barista. I didn’t want to be that guy. Yes, beauty is subjective, but something about her was universally magnificent. Her beauty was an axiom. But even if my intentions were strictly platonic, being misunderstood or offensive wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. I mean, I did study acting at the University of My Bathroom Mirror, but playing the role of a scruffy, socially conscious San Franciscan is hard to embody in one direct line: “Hey, I just wanted to say that you’re radiant.” Eventually, I made it to the cashier who complimented my grey, wool cap and told me to have a good morning, which I did.
A couple weeks ago, I broke out of my routine by getting off at the 24th & Mission Bart Station instead of the Daly City Station, where I would have taken the university shuttle. After my conscientious battle at the coffee shop, I started my morning strolling past demonstrative murals, Mexican aromas, and hungover bars. I was walking through the morning cold and over cigarette butts. I love the Mission. The district is home to so much life—the kind of life to learn from, to share with, and to work on. My first time visiting the Mission was a few weeks before I started college, and by the end of my first year, it had become a place of memories. Very early on, however, I became conscious of the disparity between the community and…well, the affluent newcomers.
I’ve always had trouble expounding gentrification from a personal angle because neither have I been (severely) burdened by displacement nor elevated by it. Regardless of my experiences, gentrification is ugliness disguised behind glistening ‘improvement,’ and sometimes, the relics of the culture it has uprooted. As for me, it’s an issue of cognitive dissonance; the establishments I know to avoid lure me with minimalist aesthetics and wittily-worded chalkboard signs. I’ve become such a sucker for the bourgeois: the coffee shops with the fussy brewing process, the French bakeries that upsell their goods using ornate descriptions, the independent clothing boutiques with ninety-dollar t-shirts, and eclectic furniture stores that sell cuts of wood as chairs.
I constantly have to remind myself that these collective luxuries were once communal spaces and homes of the marginalized, and I become complicit, even in the smallest way, when I pay for what newness has to offer. The Mission was historically a sheltering neighborhood of working class immigrant families, and now, a neighborhood of culture is punctuated by the indifference of affluence. I hate to admit it: I’ve fantasized living in the newly renovated condos. However, for me to move into the Mission today would require attaining a level of wealth, and by doing so, I would enter the neighborhood in the same way of any gentrifier. I can sympathize with those who have lost so much, but the only way to truly understand is to have been a native.
I don’t have the grand solutions; I only have these opinions and the potential to make the right choice of where to buy my lunch. I typically choose to #SMOB (Support Minority-owned Businesses). I thought using a hashtag and an acronym would be movement-esque.
After walking ten blocks to the Church muni station, I waited for a delayed rail to school where I do the rest of my learning. By the time I got to campus, my first class had begun and coffee was already finished.
That morning was interesting. I think I should break out of my routines more routinely. Maybe I’ll become a morning regular and develop a friendship with the barista so that complimenting becomes less political. Maybe I can bring a friend, who can bring another, and eventually, I’ll have an impactful amount of people to #SMOB with. I’m certain of two things, though; the Mission is stimulating and that barista knows how to brew.