Now that I live in Japantown and work downtown, Post Street is my main commute route. It’s not very hilly and if I hit my stride right, I can time the lights and keep my walking momentum. This intersection is quiet when I’m walking by in the morning, but I often think about when I visited these streets during peak hours of seedy activity.
Not long after I started dating Chris, he introduced me to the covert thrill of “sneaking out.” This involved either staying up until (or waking up at) 1 or 2 AM and then creeping out of the house. I guess that the appeal came from the adrenaline rush of doing something sneaky and forbidden since we didn’t do much once we were out—there wasn’t some after-hours nightclub for teens. I could only sneak out when I stayed at my grandparents’ house. In the small apartment I shared with my mother I would have to walk through her room to get to the door (and she was a light sleeper). I stayed with my grandparents regularly and they were conveniently located even closer to where my boyfriend lived. We’d meet at a phone booth right outside the gym under St. Brigid’s church. Whoever got there first had a place to take shelter and duck in to hide if a cop car cruised by (since we were breaking the curfew). We would then proceed to well, just walk around. Exciting stuff!
There was only one time when we snuck out with a destination in mind. His friend Derek lived in an apartment on Post at Larkin, and his mom worked at night so it was a free zone for teens. As we approached his apartment, I noticed that the area had a lot more activity than what I was used to seeing during our walkabouts in the wee hours. I had enough urban education to figure out that the women dressed in various skimpy outfits were prostitutes waiting for business. Whether they were actual “ladies of the night” or dudes that looked like ladies was something I didn’t know enough about to consider at the time.
Derek’s had a street-level apartment and Chris rapped on the window to get his attention to gain entrance, adding to the covert feel of our visit. Once inside, there wasn’t much to do other than the long-standing teen tradition of “hanging out.” Besides Derek there was another guy there, Sonny. The three of them jammed hardcore songs under the name Kaotic Disorder. (I don’t think they played any gigs, but they had cool flyer art.) Sonny and Derek were passing a small brown bottle between them, which they called “rush.” (I later learned this substance was also known as “poppers” a popular drug in the city’s gay bathouse scene.) Chris introduced me to all kinds of intoxicants but he was not down with huffing inhalants (or smoking cigarettes, thankfully) and did not ask them to share with us.
The novelty of this scene wore off pretty quickly for someone not playing guitar or getting buzzed off chemicals. I got antsy about getting home and convinced Chris, who still wanted to hang out and jam with his bandmates, that I’d be fine getting home on my own. But the late-night street action made me nervous. At Sutter and Larkin, I passed a gaggle of streetwalkers, towering over me in their high heels. I don’t know whether they actually said anything to me or if I just spooked myself, but I started to feel very exposed and out of place. I power-walked until I was out of the bustling commerce area and eventually gave up any pretense of coolness and started to jog. I was pacing down the home stretch a block from home when someone called out “Hey! Do you need a ride?” I froze, convinced it was some creepo-jeepo who had tailed me from the hooker zone but fortunately it was just a concerned taxi driver. I said no, and turned into a nearby doorway to give the appearance of having reached my destination, fumbling with my keys for added effect. Heart pounding from adrenaline and my post-midnight run, I got to my real doorway and made it up the stairs and into bed undetected.
My interest in these excursions faded after that night. Two decades later when I lived on Green and Larkin, my friends with cars would often drop me at home after driving right through the heart of the lower Larkin street action. Seeing the area with more experienced eyes, I’m glad that my younger self’s safety radar finally trumped the adrenaline rush of sneaking out. I still did plenty of other stupid things as a teen, but skulking around the edges of the Tenderloin in the middle of the night wasn’t one of them.