As a friend noted last week, the presence of sociologists from all over the world descending upon San Francisco to hang out in the Hilton and discuss the conference theme of “Hard Times” while the homeless begged outside helped put things in perspective. Because of that, I was struck by Ana Velitchkova’s post at Mobilizing Ideas where she discusses her stay in the Tenderloin district, both a few blocks and worlds away from the conference hotel. She writes, in part:
The hotel reviews depict the place as located in an area where homeless people, drunks, and drug addicts loiter. Some reviewers even report bed bugs, which horrifies a San Francisco friend of mine most of all. While waiting for my room to be ready−I was being treated to a brand new bed [a sigh of relief!]−the manager, who is also a concierge, repairs guy, and anything else that he needs to be, regretfully informs me that “My only problem is the homeless and the drug dealers in front”. Indeed, the place isn’t that bad. The room is large and clean (I am not a fan of the smell of the cleaning products used but I can live with that for a few days, I try to convince myself). It has a bathroom en suite, free Internet, and coffee 24 hours: the traveler’s essentials.
The first morning challenges my poise though. One of the cute little conference outfits I had been so happy to pile in my suitcase makes me feel uneasy when I leave the hotel and walk the one block to Mason street, which separates the “good” part from the “bad” part of the neighborhood. The dark-blue business-casual dress matched with a white cardigan, red flats, and nylons, contrasts flashingly with the baggy jeans, tank tops, and sports jackets of the residents hanging out in the neighborhood. After eyeing me continuously, one man greets me with an exclamation, after I pass by him: “Good morning!” I barely have a chance to respond with a confused “Good morning” back, when a woman looks me over and mumbles something disapprovingly incomprehensible. I try to breathe normally and maintain a fast and steady stride as I make my way through the block. Beyond Mason street, I feel a tension release and realize my body had internalized a sense of fear of the downtrodden. Then, I start to wonder: ‘Who is really more in danger, they or I?’ (But notice the distinction this statement already implies.)
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, then consider the ASA’s position (WARNING! Read only the first post on that page, read nothing else! Trust me!) on the difficulty of making the conference more financially accessible even for faculty members and spend some time thinking about hard times.
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