This is a photo of the corner of O’Farrell and Stockton, in the heart of Union Square, San Francisco, circa 2000.
I’d probably gone downtown to shop, even though I had no money because I was in grad school and only worked part-time.
I’m sure I was just looking out the window of the bus at the people moving on the street – tourists and workers and street vendors. Everything that makes a city so electric and alive to me.
That first time, I didn’t have a camera with me (long before they invented cell phone cameras). I saw the sign and bam, it hit me. This was the title for a chapter or section of the novel I had begun to write.
Returning another time with a camera, I snapped this photo.
Soon after, I scanned it and turned it into black and white. I have since lost the original color photo but I prefer the black and white anyway. And the fact that everyone is walking away from the viewer.
Odd that no one was crossing the street toward me as I took the photo. But that speaks directly to what I was trying to capture in the story.
I’ve always imagined that the person who made that sign or owned that store meant “welcome everyone” but that an error in translation led to the more specific and meaningful “anybody.”
The novel didn’t worked out (not yet, anyway) but the story did, and “Welcome, Anybody” has been the name of my story collection since I first started thinking about my stories as a collection.
When Dan and I were back in San Francisco last fall, we walked by this corner. The “welcome anybody” sign was gone, but the same anonymous electricity of the city was still there.
We’re planning another trip next April and I think I will take another photo of that corner and see what else has changed and what hasn’t.