Walking through San Francisco, I kept thinking of the words “global capital flows.” And “flow” seems just right: There is a sense that all that big new money just washed over this rickety old city, a rising tide that lifted a hell of a lot of boats but inundated a few others, before the waters of big new global money did what all such waters do and began to recede. There are a lot of Teslas on the streets here, but a lot of U-Hauls, too, and while the Google/Facebook/Andreessen Horowitz party is still going strong in much of the rest of the Bay Area, the city of San Francisco is grim, ravaged by COVID-19 and wretched misgovernance. It is easy to forget that there is a thoroughly ordinary city here underneath all the madness and quaintness and money and glamour and grime. Tesla employs fewer people in the Bay Area than does Sutter Health, and Kaiser Permanente employs three times as many locals as Facebook. Sure, there’s a pretentious vegan café in the airport, but this is a city that needs CVS, Walgreens, and Target.
And those stores are under siege, falling one by one, closing up shop.
The ORCs are here.
First it was the razor blades and the cologne. Those were the first things in the all-night pharmacies and convenience stores to go behind locked cabinet doors. But at this CVS in San Francisco’s financial district, it’s damned near everything: booze, of course, though not all the booze, pistachios, mixed nuts, dental floss, toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, hair-care products, pain medicine, multivitamins — mostly not things that the vagrant and semi-vagrant members of the sandwich-philanthropy-receiving population are looking to scoop up for their own use, though a few hours before I got there one free spirit did apparently walk out with a bottle of white wine, the weather being fine and life being one long picnic.
If you want to buy some toothpaste or a Slim Jim, you have to press a little call button, like you are summoning the attendant on an airplane — and, of course, you’ll have about as much luck. A clerk earning minimum wage can wait out almost any shopper. It depends on whether you want that Benadryl bad enough.
Some of the stats say property crime is actually down in San Francisco, but that is probably a reporting issue, because some store managers have stopped bothering to waste their time filing police complaints. There’s a uniformed security guard here at CVS, but these guards are not allowed to touch thieves, so all they can do is try to reason with them — which, you know, best of luck with that. If they do call the police, the police will take half an hour or more to show up, if they show up at all, which they often don’t. One store clerk says that thieves will sometimes boost a few beers, walk out the door, and stand right there and drink them in front of the store, fearlessly enjoying their afternoon cocktails alfresco. Locals trade videos of thieves filling up their backpacks as security guards speak sternly to them:
“I’m calling the police!”
—“The ORC Invasion,” Kevin D. Williamson, NRO, October 28th.
In their years at the Tailwind, the Aboud brothers have never been held up—a record that Aboud attributes to the family’s honest business practices and its militance. “When we caught shoplifters we never used to call the cops,” said Aboud, preferring the past tense. “We took care of things in our own way. If somebody killed my brother, I’d get even, that’s the type of family we are. People who think we’re crazy are right—we are crazy. But we don’t look for trouble. We’ve got a friendly store. Come over any night and you’ll see.”
The following Friday I took him up on his offer. After all the horror stories I had heard, I was surprised by the relaxed atmosphere in the Tailwind. Customers, mostly black, bantered with Aboud and his brother Mike, exchanging neighborhood gossip. John Aboud flirted amiably with several of the young women and they flirted back. Over the cash register there were snapshots of kids from the block.
After each customer left, Aboud provided me with a thumbnail biography. Some were solid working people, but many were drug addicts or dealers, teenage mothers and ex-cons. Each story was told in a flat, nonjudgmental way. Aboud is a merchant, not a missionary, and he accepts the foibles and weaknesses of human nature philosophically.
Aboud’s tolerance has not impaired his vigilance, however, and the Tailwind’s security system could be fairly characterized as forbidding. The front door has a permanent squeak, to let the brothers know when someone comes in. They work behind a thick shield of bullet-resistant glass (Aboud told me that when they come out from behind it, they wear bulletproof vests) and on the shelf behind the counter there was a small arsenal: a .44 Magnum, a 9-millimeter pistol, and a couple of AR 15 semiautomatic assault rifles—tools of the shopkeeper’s trade in Detroit.
—Devil’s Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit, Zev Chafets, 1990.