I had ascended the Montgomery BART station in an elevator, the stench of piss as strong as any you may have encountered elsewhere, seeming to emanate from all walls of the elevator. But saving myself a trip up the stairs with my bicycle was worth the nasal assault. Walking toward the usual busstop wasn't a big deal, but the busstop was not my next stop, to my surprise.
I crossed the forward gaze of a young guy, sitting crosslegged on a neatly collapse mat of cardboard boxes. It wasn't cold, it wasn't warm, but he was huddled, looking cold, his knees tucked into his chest. Fear was his aura.
Why was this a unique experience, especially for San Francisco?
It wasn't unique to pass a person on the street in San Francisco. What was unique was the invasion of a particular idea, so close to the moment of passing this person, that not turning back to talk to this person in a sea of forward walking working people, who by not stopping are electing to give up on people on the street.
I thought I could help, by offering some food or cash. If I didn't, that would have meant to me, in a bizarre way a confirmation of this scary robotic element in today's human condition, that negating this robotic work life, tiptoe-ing outside the norm would sully or infect us workpeople, that we'd be tempted by compassion to quite our jobs, take up daily pot-smoking, that a human in the street apparently giving up on his self-progress would confirm the scary element of human progress, that progress is being automated.
Emotions are not easy to automate, and perhaps for this reason we should fear AI, as the floating of a person from one emotion to the next, spanning all the degrees of the human experience is something to engage with, not to ignore, no matter which you are, happy or sad, hopeful or dejected.
"I just want some conversation...I'm not crazy...I'm depressed."
And what better place to feel depressed, than downtown San Francisco, a place that feels without capacity for patience, mercy or conversation.
We talked. I told him, "things usually turn around", and I've been cold and alone, thinking nothing will change, but it does, it has. We shook hands. I went on my way.