The Black/White divide – San Francisco

San Francisco


In 1981, they’re finally realizing a long-held dream—a trip to San Francisco. Their hotel is half a block from Union Square, an ideal location to visit and appreciate much of what the city has to offer—Pier 29, Lombard Street, the Exploratorium which delights the adults as much as it does the kids, the cable car museum. Of course, they’ve ridden the cable cars several times.

Today they hop on a bus to another museum, only to arrive and find it closed. Not a big problem. They’ll take the bus back downtown and check out some of the stores.

A few minutes later, they begin to think there may be a problem after all as they don’t recognize the route. Another few blocks and they’re the only whites on the bus. Then the driver stops, gets off and a black driver gets on. The streets they pass are rougher and rougher with each turn of the bus wheels. Much too late to get off now so they stay where they are nodding politely as passengers pass down the aisle.

Within a short time they are the only passengers on the bus. The view out the window is of derelict houses, broken windows, weeds, and little sign of habitation. The driver stops and turns to look at them.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

They shake their heads.

He grins. “This is the end of the line. Cross the street.” He points to another bus stop. “Catch the next bus to get back downtown.”

They thank him and do as they are told. On the way back the black/white driver exchange occurs again. All of it such a foreign experience for this Canadian family.








6 comments on “The Black/White divide – San Francisco

  1. Fifty something years ago I lived in North Florida, and worked for a candy and tobacco company. I sold and delivered my goods from a large truck which I drove to Orlando for restocking every Friday morning. On the way down I stopped at a black “juke joint” outside Crescent City. One Friday I was late and couldn’t stop on the way down. I called the owner and told her I’d stop on the way back. At 9 pm I pulled into what had always been a deserted parking lot on my morning trips. There must have been 200 cars there. When I walked through the door every eye turned toward me as someone pulled the plug on the juke box which had been blasting. In the absolute silence that followed my friend called from behind the bar, “It’s alright, he’s the cigarette and pig’s feet guy. The Wurlitzer and everyone in the place sprang back to life as though nothing had happened and from that time on I always stopped on Friday night. Had I been given the choice I’d have chosen black – maybe next time…
    Thanks Darlene – great post

    • Wow! What a cool experience. I can picture the scene vividly. Thank you for telling me about it. When I lived in Bamako many years ago there were very few whites in the city and we lived in a local area, not in the ambassadorial enclave. The little kids always ran up and touched us and then looked at their hands to see if the “white” came off.

  2. This happened to us in New Orleans when our daughter was about ten. All ended well, but there was the terrifying moment when I realized not only were we the only whites on the bus, but we were the only tourists.

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