“But Why?” My existential trip to gain a Residential Parking Permit.

Van NessToday I ventured to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency office to obtain yet another Residential Parking Permit. Having moved 5 times in the 15 years that I’ve lived here, this is certainly a task I’ve done before. This morning’s conundrum was a debate of taking the 2-year-old with me or waiting to go by myself. For those of you San Franciscans that have completed this task, as I would guess the majority of you have, it’s an interesting trip in and of itself. Located at an unappealing stretch of “South Van Ness” the crowd surrounding the area and the actual citizens waiting at the office make up a varied and diverse population. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily feel unsafe going down there. What gives me pause are the not one, but two ARMED security guards, the metal detector to enter, the bullet proof glass enclosed customer service agents with their “safetyCOM” intercom used to communicate with each person. And because this is the office that handles parking tickets and disputes too, WITHOUT FAIL, there is always an altercation of some sort around the paying of parking tickets, booting of cars or disputing of charges. I’ve born witness to these disputes every time and not being a fan of conflict of any kind, count the seconds until I can get my green placard and get the heck out of there. I’m guessing these disputes account for the presence of guns for the security team and employees, carefully ensconced behind a protective barrier.

So, this morning I decided that I WOULD bring my daughter on our field trip and actually have found in the past, that strapping a baby to your chest and trekking to the office ensures immediate if not instantaneous line cutting, as they try to shuttle you quickly through the process. A strategy that I’ve used on more than one occasion. Our trip was easy and uneventful while inside the office. My daughter actually softened up one of the beleaguered staff that helped us who chatted up my daughter through the aforementioned “safetyCOM” and gave her some paper and pen to draw with as I gained my permits.

As an aside I always walk up to the window when my number is called and want to give a preamble explaining that I’m NOT there to rip them a new one, I promise to be pleasant, cordial, have all of my documentation in place and simply want to complete this transaction quickly so that they, too, can take a break for their lunch or whatever next respite they have from this evil window. Inevitably they all start out the transaction the same way (a) either, dukes up, assuming you’re a slightly hysterical or crazy nut, ready to tear into them for a parking infraction that they had nothing to do with or (b) already rolling their eyes at what they assume to be an ignorant newbie to the city without the proper documentation to obtain the required RSP (Residential Parking Permit.) “NO! You CANNOT use a printed check as proof of residency, no your driver’s license certainly doesn’t count and can’t be used either. And where is your updated car registration?!” DENIED!” I actually can’t think of many more unpleasant jobs in the city. But I digress….

So, this morning’s interesting twist came as we left the office and my daughter, embracing the freedom of walking and the desire to do much by herself, ambled out of the building down South Van Ness avenue, wearing a backpack and sunglasses that she insisted upon and true to her nature, started to try to engage everyone we came upon. It really wasn’t that big of a deal until we passed a homeless man, curled up on a backpack, taking a mid-morning nap on the sidewalk. I KNEW intuitively that she would find this fascinating. And of course she did. Despite me taking her by the hand and trying to distract her and move her along, she started yelling (which is her version of talking), “SLEEPING!” “SLEEPING!” She pulled away and went for a closer look. “SLEEPING!” If left to her own devices I’m sure she would’ve squatted down on her little legs, cocked her head to within a few inches of this man’s face and tried to wake him up. A trick she’s mastered at home on various family members. Because she’s only two I was able to simply respond with “Yes, he’s sleeping. He’s sleepy and taking a nap.” And that was that, we moved on to engaging with the nice man at the Goodwill drive-thru cleaning the driveway with a blower. FASCINATING! According to my daughter.   As I drove away I began to think about my 4- year old and how his questions around the man sleeping on the sidewalk would have been more sophisticated, more numerous- one after the other, eventually leading to, “but why??” as most questioning sessions do with the 4 –year old. As a parent I find that what starts off as a simple question and answer session, can turn quite existential after the 4th or 5th “but why?” And the tired mom in me sometimes has to resort to the “I don’t know. It just is.” “Just because.” Sigh. Having done no research on the best way to talk to our children around the homeless population I was curious what other people do. Certainly, as kids reach school age there are more appropriate ways to cover this topic, but within the 3-5 year old age I’m at a bit of a loss in how to deal with it. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a home.” “But WHY?”…. And you can see where this leads after the 3rd, 4th, 5th “but WHY?” Raising kids in the city, this is something that I’d like to get ahead of, but haven’t given it much thought. And now it has me thinking….without many answers. Candidately, I think I could host an adult dinner party, broaching the topic of the SF homeless population and really dig into some serious issues by following the lead of the 4-year old and pushing into the “why” of it all.

Until then, I’m interested in figuring out how other parents have dealt with this in the city. Do you have a good response? City Mouse would certainly love to hear.

Until next time,

The City Mouse

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