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    Who Are You Calling Old?

    By Joanie Juster–

    I recently did some grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s in downtown San Francisco. Leaving the store with three heavy bags, and too tired to take Muni, I trudged wearily across the street to the Marriott Hotel, where a line of taxis awaited. Then this happened:

    Me to Taxi Driver #1: “Are you available?”

    Taxi Driver #1: (waving vaguely off into the distance): “Um, uh, no, I’m waiting for someone.”

    Taxi Driver #2 (angrily jumping out of his cab to yell at Taxi Driver #1): “Are you kidding? You have to take her! She’s old!”

    A bemused crowd of tourists standing in front of the Marriott Hotel, awaiting their Ubers, looked up from their phones to see who the old lady was.

    (Me, internally: “Can the sidewalk just open up and swallow me now, please?”)

    The Battle of the Taxi Drivers escalated for several minutes, with Taxi Drivers #2 and #3 yelling loudly at Taxi Driver #1 that he was violating the rules by discriminating against an old lady. They finally chased him down and reported him.

    Taxi Driver #2 eventually claimed victory in the battle and drove me home, proclaiming loudly throughout the ride that it is necessary to respect our elders, and that other drivers shouldn’t neglect old people, even though everyone knows there’s no money to be made off of them. (And yes, of course I over-tipped him.)

    Later than night, I posted about the incident on social media, still stinging a bit from being loudly and publicly branded as old. The responses ranged from sympathy to hilarity, but a comment from my wise friend Bob provided some much-needed perspective: “To laugh or to cry. Choose wisely.” 

    By that time, I was indeed able to have a good laugh at the situation. But it also made me think about what being “old” means.

    Many of my friends and family, as well as myself, have reached, shall we say, a Certain Age. We are dealing with issues that seemed impossibly far away when we were in our 30s or 40s, or even 50s. We were young for a very long time, then middle-aged for a pretty darned long time. But after a certain point, if we’re truthful, there’s no denying that even middle age is behind us. All too often conversations with my peers turn to late-in-life issues: wills, downsizing, funeral plans, long-term care, loss of mobility, and, sadly, the loss of our loved ones.

    At the same time, many of us are still holding down jobs, actively engaged in our communities, busy with volunteer work and social activities, and fully participating in life. We are not ready to be put out to pasture and forgotten, and while we may technically be old, we aren’t quite ready for the more judgmental term “elderly.”

    How we see ourselves, and how the rest of the world sees us, can vary day by day, or hour by hour. There are days when I’m feeling good, getting a lot accomplished, and feeling like I’m contributing to my community. On those days, I just feel like myself, not thinking about age, just living my life. But those taxi drivers didn’t know me, or what I am capable of when I’m at my best. All they saw was a tired white-haired lady struggling down 4th Street with too many bags of groceries. They simply saw an old woman. And they were not wrong.

    There’s a well-worn meme that declares: “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.” It’s true. Each of us contains a multiverse of identities, from the child we once were to whatever age we are now. It is up to us to accept and embrace all those versions of ourselves, and try to see others for more than just what they look like now. That white-haired person you see walking slowly with a cane may have rocked the dance floor years ago. Honor and celebrate all the people they have been.

    ‘Tis the Season for City Budgets, and Fundraising

    It’s budget season in San Francisco, and every agency is fighting hard to hang onto funding to support their programs. But everyone familiar with the process has warned that this year’s budget negotiations are going to be a brutal process.

    For the HIV community, this can be especially challenging: agencies large and small all depend on city funding. This is why supporting two of San Francisco’s longest-running and most beloved fundraising events is particularly important this year. With city and federal budget cuts looming, the money raised from the community for AIDS LifeCycle (June 2–8) and AIDS Walk San Francisco (July 17) is more important than ever.

    AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully-supported, 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The event is co-produced by and benefits San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Taking part in AIDS/LifeCycle isn’t for everyone: it takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources to train for and participate in the ride, but anyone can support it. To support AIDS/LifeCycle, or a specific participant, go to:

    AIDS Walk San Francisco will return to Golden Gate Park on Sunday, July 17. This event has always been dear to my heart for many reasons, but two in particular: Anyone can participate, no matter what their resources. And AIDS Walk provides a way for smaller local agencies to raise funds that they might not have the resources to raise on their own. Many of our grassroots organizations depend on the money raised by AIDS Walk to keep providing services to the community. I will be writing more about AIDS Walk over the next couple of months, but in the meantime, you can go to their website to support a walker, a team, or the Walk in general:

    Pride Month Safety

    Pride Month is days away, and federal agencies are warning of potential threats to LGBTQ+-related events and venues, according to a public announcement issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on May 10.

    While the announcement didn’t specify any particular threats, they advised, “Foreign terrorist organizations or supporters may seek to exploit increased gatherings associated with the upcoming June 2024 Pride Month.” The announcement made reference to the fact that June 12 marks the eighth anniversary of the horrific attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded.

    As we head into Pride Month with all its festive and fabulous events, now is a good time to brush up on safety procedures and precautions. A good place to start is Castro Community on Patrol’s website, which features many safety resources. Please be prepared, and enjoy Pride Month—and every day—safely:

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    In Case You Missed It
    Published on May 23, 2024