Live from the Tenderloin
LIVE FROM THE TENDERLOIN
In the heart of the Tenderloin, amid the crowded corners and occupied stoops, there’s an anomaly that’ll catch your eye. It’s a man in a suit and a fedora, clutching a microphone that reads: TL TV. A few feet away is a camera guy with a large DSLR propped up on his shoulder ready to roll. This is the duo behind the Mister Geoffrey Show.
You won’t find this show on any television channel, you’ll have to find it on YouTube. But the real magic is what happens live. The host of the show Geoffrey Grier, walks around the Tenderloin, asking residents about their experience in the neighborhood. His show isn’t the typical drive-by reporting you usually hear about this part of town. It’s because Mister Geoffrey is no tourist voyeur.
“Not only was I living in the Tenderloin for a long period of time, I was on the street, I was homeless,” says Grier. “Three years, I lived here. I slept in the hospitality house. I stood on each one of these corners.”
Now that Grier’s on the other side of the addictions that sent him to the curb, he’s reporting from what he calls Ground Zero. There, he doles out questions to get some real talk from people on the street.
“There’s somebody who can beat my story every single time. There’s no competition, trust me, but it’s great to talk and interact.” Grier says, “Even the most degrungent person can look at you and tell you are genuine. If you are genuine, people can tell.”
I followed along as Mister Geoffrey walked around the Tenderloin for the latest episode of his show. The topic of this episode is The Gold Rush—meaning the influx of technology companies and the new high-priced real estate that accompanies them—on the edge of the Tenderloin. Mister Geoffrey wanted to find out if residents felt included in the changes taking place to their neighborhood.
One of the first people we run into is a man that Grier worked with at the CBD office for years. He tells me that Wilton once had his own office. Now, Wilton is living on the streets. Wilton remarked that he has adapted to his living conditions on the street, and that his life is online, a place where he thinks more people should be organizing in order to be a part of the changes in the TL.
As we walked away, Grier explains that Wilton wasn’t always living on the streets.
“Four years ago, Wilton had all of his teeth, he had about 25 more lbs, his hair was looking good, as you can tell he was very tech savvy. Wilton was doing really well, he was looking good, he looked healthy,” says Grier.
“[Now] Wilton’s teeth are completely rotted out, he’s got the familiar meth sores. He’s shrunken up to the size of a noodle. He’s rambling. But he’s still out here.”
Grier tells me that he runs into familiar people often. He thinks that they enjoy running into people like him, familiar faces who’ve “gone the other way” in their battle with addiction.
As we continue to circle the Tenderloin, we approach the historic Black Hawk Jazz Club on Turk and Hyde streets. There, Mister Geoffrey approaches a man named Robert.
“Robert, since there’s a lot of changes happening here, you got the buildings coming up buildings going down, do you feel like you’re included in this whole change?” Grier asks the passerby.
“Absolutely. We have to find a way to fit in here. We don’t destroy where we stay, our own communities. What we do, is we build on it we thrive on it, ya know what I mean? It’s not about being somewhere and destroying it because ‘Oh this is the Tenderloin, this is a bad place, these people smoke crack.’ So what? It’s not about one person. It’s about humanity.”
Grier let’s Robert know that his voice will be heard on his Youtube channel, and as we part ways from Robert, Grier leans over to me, pleased saying “He got a little passionate it, didn’t he?”
Mister Geoffrey’s reporting differs from the usual media coverage on the Tenderloin. Grier says the media doesn’t really talk to it’s long time residents in depth.
“They’ll drive by and shoot a story right quick , ‘hubcap blew off the street, hit three people, guy shot and killed 3 ‘o'clock in the morning in the Tenderloin.’ That kind of story, but they don’t sit down and do a one on one interview with people,” says Grier. “Like, we were talking to the guy back there, he’s been here 20 years. 20 years! He’s not a transient, he’s part of the makeup of the Tenderloin.”
As we made our way through the Tenderloin, another prospective interviewee mistakes Mister Geoffrey for someone who works for the NAACP. Mister Geoffrey explains that he’s part of TL TV and wants to ask residents about their feelings on the changes taking place in the Tenderloin. The man introduced himself as Rio. He’s been hanging outside the Brown Jug, a long-time neighborhood bar, for the last ten years.
“I think they should keep some of the establishments they got out here and make sure they got a place where people feel like they can come for vacation,” says Rio. “But I don’t think that people who are out here on permanent vacation should be out here permanently. If you ain’t doing nothing with your life, man, why you in the TL?”
Rio is the last interview of the day before Mister Geoffrey and I part ways. He gives me his signature signoff and reminds me:
“All sorts of mysterious things happen when you’re walking the streets of the Tenderloin you never know who you’re going to run into.”
This story originally aired in April of 2015.
For more on the Mister Geoffrey Show or Geoffrey Grier’s SF Recovery Theater head to his website.