San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district used to be a great place to visit, with all of the funky cafes, the head shops, the amazing music stores and a great laid-back vibe, but now it’s turned into a battleground where homeless drunks, stoners, small-time pot dealers and an entire armada of world’s lost children have taken over the area by acting like aggressive bullies and fighting the cops, who are losing the war and don’t really seem to care.
One of our friends was recently assaulted by a gang of homeless stoners in the Haight. He was walking down the street, avoiding eye contact with anyone, when three thugs decided to block him from passing on the sidewalk.
“Hey, there’s a toll here,” one of the slimier miscreants actually spoke.
“Yeah, it’s five bucks each,” another chimed in.
“Yeah, you can afford it,” the Curly of the trio added his two cents.
Like most of us, my friend changed his route and walked out into oncoming traffic to avoid more thuggery.
“We’ll kill you next time we see you around here, asshole,” they said in unison, which makes me think they rehearse regularly.
Luckily, my buddy got out of there in one piece, but he did promise himself to never return to the Haight. (Note: Tourism must be booming!)
This was not the only Haighter story I had heard, so I decided to witness the carnage myself. As a writer, I feel as though I should see things with my own eyes whenever I can. So, I went to the Haight and drove around for awhile, making sure to stay in my vehicle to observe in safety, like going to one of those Wild Animal Parks.
And the animals I observed were no less intimidating, ugly and menacing, as described. The thugs are perfectly named--they block off all of the sidewalks they can by sitting and allowing no one to walk past. People are forced to walk through traffic and risk getting hit by cars if they hope to pass. And heaven forbid if you try to walk through the mob.
During the half hour that I witnessed this phenomena, not one person confronted the sidewalk sitters. People as a rule don’t want hassles, and the average Joe or Jo on the street will take his or her chance getting hit by a car as compared to confronting angry-looking, physically intimidating people who have outnumbered them. This unruly mob doesn’t have guns, but their arsenal, consisting of yelled epitaphs, pit bulls, flying spit and even throwing fists if necessary, is apparently effective.
The Haight has turned into Bartertown, the apocalyptic village featured in the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I kept expecting to see a fight breaking out between Max (Mel Gibson) and Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) at any time from amongst the dusty minions lining the streets of the Haight.
So, now everyone knows the problem exists. The local media’s all over it. But, those same thugs are sitting there right now, doing the same thing to every passerby they can. Will someone have to die before something gets done? Will it then become a national story so that the city and the cops will suddenly have to spin it their way and pass the blame to anyone and everyone else?
Probably. And that’s the saddest part of this entire tale. Most of the time things don’t get done until they have to get done. People only learn things the hard way and this will be another example of that. Count on it.