Terry on the Ferry: The woman with the blue face

Terry on the Ferry: The woman with the blue face

Terry Winckler

Perhaps you've seen the woman with the blue face on the walking part of your commute from the San Francisco Ferry Building. She sits, often splay-legged, on the sidewalk in front of the Subway sandwich shop, staring at people walking by. Her gaze paints you like sonar seeking a target, which you are, and you can feel it.

Actually, her face isn't painted blue anymore; she changed it over the winter to a reddish-brown, and now it's kind of dotted. Her name is Deborah and she's working the commuter crowd for a living.

"You! Yes, you. I mean it!" she barked once with her hand held out. Like a holdup victim, someone gave and escaped. Others stayed far out of range. Me, too.

But one day, Deborah wasn't looking at anyone. Her eyes were closed. So were her fists, and they were punching her face. Smack, smack. Over and over. I felt like she was punching me in the heart.

The next morning I veered close and looked into her eyes, not sure of what I saw, and kept walking for a few yards and turned back. I knew my wallet only had a $20 and, wishing it were a dollar, I hauled it out and handed it over. I hadn't handed out a $20 on the street for years. Not since that hardworking dumpster diver one Christmas Eve.

"Oh, wow! Oh, wow!" she yelled as I walked away. The yells followed me down the street until they were drowned out by the sounds of saxophone music blown by Rodney, a street musician I've gotten to sort of know. Rodney is working for money, too, and plays so sweet you feel like you're at a concert. I usually give him a buck each time I walk by – a fair price of admission – but the day before I only had a $5 and told him to give me five days’ credit. He laughed, we fist-bumped, and then I noticed that he wasn't in his usual spot between the shoeshine stand and the BART station entrance. He shook his head when I asked him about it.

It's those Jehovah's Witnesses, he said, jerking his head at three silent Witnesses standing next to their rack full of Bible tracts. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had beaten Rodney to that busy BART corner, silently hawking their form of Christianity, which isn't exactly how Rodney sees Christianity. It rankles him, but at least the Witnesses aren't competing for money. They want your soul.

Just a few yards away in front the BART entrance – getting first crack at the constant flood of travelers coming up the escalator – Michelle clearly does want your money. Her sign sez so: "Lost everything. But not my best friend. Please help." Her best friend, Bella the boxer dog, is at her side. What the sign doesn't fully explain are all the reasons Bella needs help. My friend Ray found out, launched an online campaign and raised a bunch of money for her.

Michelle's needs go on and on, extending beyond what Ray's best efforts can provide. For that matter, it's hard to imagine that money can do much for what ails Deborah. Rodney can use the cash but what he really wants is to be discovered. Those Witnesses know that money and fame can't buy what we all really need, and all they want is a chance to talk about it, but who has time to talk about salvation on the commute? Putting money in the collection plates will just have to do.