A pair of athletic girls in their late teens came running from behind and easily surpassed the old woman as she walked up the sandy hill. For the girls, there was no struggle. They raced each other as they sprinted up the hill, reveling in, yet blissfully unaware of their youth. Meanwhile, the old woman had to pause often to take deep breaths and work up the strength for few more steps. Slowly, steadily, she reached the top of the hill.
Both journeys up the short hill held their own beauty. One innocent and ephemeral, the other labored and paced, both beautiful, strong, and determined.
Sometimes San Francisco’s MUNI buses and trains can be an unsavory stew of desperation and disenchantment. At other times, MUNI can be a delicious melting pot of colors, languages, and backgrounds.
One day back in early September, I had one of those delicious MUNI rides. That day was the beginning of a break from several days of foggy weather; the kind of spectacular San Francisco Saturday that makes people head out en masse to the ocean and parks and festivals and immerse themselves in the beauty of the city before the fog inevitably rolls in again.
While I was riding a MUNI bus through the Mission District that day, this small and stooped old woman climbed aboard. She spoke Spanish and was familiar with many of the people who were getting on and off the bus. She had a gentle way about her and she was carrying a single red rose. As she sat back in her seat, her Mary Jane-clad feet lifted off the ground.
Tranquility, wisdom, friendship, appreciation of the little things, childlike enthusiasm for life, and grace all converged in the image of this old woman like an advertisement for contentment, like a summation of that day.
I was in Los Angeles during the summer of 2009 when I spotted this bench. I shook my head. “People here really are living in La-La Land,” I thought.
I wasn’t until recently when I created this site and started sifting through old photos that I found this one and decided to figure out if there was actually some meaning behind the sign. After all, I did spot it in LA. In San Francisco, it truly could have been some random eccentric with an incoherent message who put it there. But in LA, there probably had to be more to such a sign.
With a quick search, I found out that it was an advertisement for the movie District 9, which was released that summer. At the time, I wasn’t paying attention to new movies. I was preoccupied with planning my first big solo excursion, a trip to Peru and Bolivia. D-9 meant nothing to me.
In my tendency to gravitate towards strangeness, I’d been intrigued and humored by the mystery of the bench sign. Now that I finally know what it’s about, I must say that I liked the fun of being unaware of who was behind it better.