O’Farrell and Van Ness

O'Farrell and Van Ness, San FranciscoMuch of Van Ness Avenue used to be known as “Auto Row”—the place where car dealerships showcased their finest wares  to drivers whizzing by on Van Ness Avenue. Now traffic is so heavy along this stretch of Highway 101 connecting to the Golden Gate Bridge that the only whizzing going on takes place on some of the street’s more dive-y stretches where the homeless folks hang out. You can still see a few buildings with grand architectural displays.  One of the best places to step back in time is the lobby of 1000 Van Ness, a building that now houses a multiplex theater, a gym, and some luxury condos. There’s also a classic car museum maintained by the Academy of Art kitty-corner from the theater where you can gawk at classic cars through the glass while waiting for a bus towards Market Street.  Since the 38 Geary is a convenient bus route from my home, I’ve spent a lot more time recently at this particular transit juncture. Most of my bus-waiting experiences are uneventful but there was something that happened couple of years ago that was a surprising first.

Toast of New York, a Revlon classic

Toast of New York, a Revlon classic

It was a chilly winter evening and I was feeling under the weather, but I was going out anyway. I had a ticket to a see a musical performance that a friend was involved with so I was feeling the influence of strong internal drives: Not Wanting to Miss Out and Not Wanting to Let Someone Down. Remembering the mantra espoused by Billy Crystal’s character on Saturday Night Live that “It is better to look good than to feel good!” I topped off my usual, street-practical attire of t-shirt, jeans, and sturdy boots with my newest accessory—some of Revlon’s “Toast of New York” lipstick. I’d never worn lipstick regularly, but my new friend D. convinced me that this shade suited me and that I should try it.

Although I’d normally walk to Van Ness, I wanted to conserve my limited energy and caught the Geary bus, disembarking at O’Farrell to wait for the bus to take me to the show in the Mission. It was a Monday or Tuesday night and there weren’t many people waiting for MUNI. I stood back from the main bus shelter on a raised area in front of the window of the car dealership-turned-museum. Hands in the pockets of my jacket, beanie hat pulled down over my ears, I bounced around in place a bit, trying to keep warm and convince my body that it was excited about heading out to see live music when I could be home watching Criminal Minds re-runs with a mug of hot tea. I hadn’t been waiting there long when a man walked up to me and asked me a question. People are always asking me directions on the street—I must have an open and inviting countenance—but this was not a plea for street guidance, but for street services. With no other preface he stated “Would you like to spend some time with me for $400?”

Donna Summer's "Bad Girls"

If I’d been dressed like one of Donna Summers’ “Bad Girls” I might have expected the attention.

I knew the Mitchell Brothers’ infamous O’Farrell Theater was only a block away but I didn’t realize that other commercial elements of the Tenderloin’s skin district had drifted this far. As I stood there, open-mouthed, unable to answer this totally unexpected conversational gambit, many thoughts raced through my head. $400?! Is that the going rate for a corner girl? Do hookers dress this casual? That’s a lot of flippin’ money! Maybe he would be OK just spending some time together at Mel’s Diner down the street? I’d even treat with my cash windfall! Fortunately the 49 Mission pulled up and gave me a convenient out. “Uh, no thanks…I gotta get on the bus!” I darted over, paid my fare, and headed out for my night on the town, still in disbelief that a man had propositioned me while I was wearing jeans, a zipped-up jacket, and a beanie hat, and feeling crappy as well. Then it hit me. It must have been the lipstick. If I hadn’t been convinced before about the power of the right warpaint, I was now.

The next time you’ve got plans but you don’t REALLY feel like going out, make sure you put on some flattering lipstick. You might not feel like a million bucks, but $400 isn’t so bad either.



  1. I see the making of an interesting science experiement here….

    1. A study of which shades of lipstick inspires solicitations o n the street? I wish it worked with more of my target audience 🙂

  2. So just in case I’m ever short of $400 — care to share that shade of lipstick? You know, as one professional to another 😉 ?

    1. Of course! If I’m not around to borrow from you can usually find it at any drugstore–or online! http://www.drugstore.com/revlon-super-lustrous–creme-lipstick-toast-of-new-york/qxp36049

  3. Love this! Thanks for writing it. It made me laugh, as a former Toast of New York wearer all the time. I thought I looked great in it, although no one ever told me $400 great. I recently got some and tried it again. Ugh! Sooo brown. Had brown lips ever looked good on me or was I just that confused in the 90s??

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