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Noe Valley Confession
By Danielle Trudeau
Four-year Noe Valley resident
It was an absolutely gorgeous Saturday morning. The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect. I didn't even need a coat. (Of course, I took it with me anyway. I do live in San Francisco, after all.)
I stepped out of my apartment building on Church and 24th and started walking towards the Wells Fargo ATM. My rent was due in a couple of days, and I needed to deposit my paycheck.
I crossed the street to walk in the sun and, for the first time in a while, had a good look around Noe Valley. Everything seemed clean and bright. The trees in front of Martha's were in full bloom, and the sun danced off the stained-glass panels in the window on the corner. There were children and dogs, happy and frolicking, by the door to the juice place. The flowers on the sidewalk danced in the wind. The same warm inland breeze pushed me from behind, and I felt as though I were floating up the street.
It had been such a cold summer this year. Now, with the wind at my back and the sun warming my body, I felt great. I walked past Just for Fun, stared at their window display -- always a highlight of my walks -- and crossed the street to the Wells Fargo machine. Although there were people with dogs and children milling around, there was no waiting. Life seemed perfect. Smiling from ear to ear, I remembered all of the reasons I chose to live in San Francisco and why I loved Noe Valley.
The ATM quickly inhaled my paycheck and exhaled a solitary piece of paper. I stood aside for the guy next in line, who had double-parked his BMW on 24th, and glanced down at my receipt. The numbers staring back at me jolted me back to reality: it was going to be a tight couple of weeks. Sure, I had enough to cover the rent, food, and maybe one dinner at Pasta Pomodoro, but there wasn't much more. Dinner at Miss Millie's or Bacco, or a new pair of shoes from Rabat -- they were out of the question. I'd be lucky if I had $5 left over to put in savings.
As I turned and walked back home, it felt as if the fog rolled in, just over me, and I saw the real Noe Valley. There was the guy singing soul tunes next to the entrance to Tien Fu, and the older man with the headphones, sifting through garbage in front of the toy store. The people who are asking for handouts are as much a part of Noe Valley as anyone else, I thought. Yet I had ignored them on the way to the bank. As usual, they had asked me if I'd like to hear a song or buy a Street Sheet, but I had walked right past them, acknowledging them with a halfhearted "Sorry, maybe tomorrow." But realistically, there would be no "tomorrow."
Had I lost all compassion for the homeless? Had the city hardened me? Sure, I was tired of being asked for spare change, but I knew, deep down, I still cared. Then why didn't I go ahead and hand them a quarter?
At that moment I made a hard realization: It's difficult enough for me to live in Noe Valley, without giving money away. I work hard at my job, and if I lived anywhere else in the country I'd be doing pretty well. By now I'd probably have a house, a reliable car, and maybe even a kid. But instead, I take Muni and spend half my pay on rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment.
The sad truth is: Unless I experience a sudden windfall, I'll never be able to afford a house in Noe Valley or push a baby carriage down 24th. I'll never have the look of excitement I saw on the faces of a young couple as they removed the "Sold" sign from their new home on Diamond last month.
I make ends meet, and I try to enjoy every day for its simple pleasures, but if I choose to stay in Noe Valley -- the neighborhood I love -- I am living now the way I always will live.
Danielle Trudeau works as an assistant manager in a hotel. She is also writing a novel and producing a documentary on the Amunge people of Irian Jaya in Papua New Guinea.